Kerri Midkiff received a stage II breast cancer diagnosis in March of 2009, and for Kerri, her husband, and their two daughters (six and four years old), the news came as quite a shock.
At 31, Kerri went through a double mastectomy, reconstruction, a full hysterectomy, and 18 weeks of chemotherapy. For two years after her initial battle, Kerri was clear of cancer. Then, in 2012 the cancer came back and had spread. Twice, the cancer spread to Kerri’s brain, twice requiring radiation as treatment.
“It’s now stage four metastatic breast cancer,” she said, “but with that diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that I can’t live a very long life. All it means is that the breast cancer has spread to a different area. I was very happy that someone actually explained that to me.”
“Finally, I found myself on a trial at Rush (University Medical Center) which I’m still on,” Kerri said. “It has been phenomenal. I do believe that it’s my miracle. My oncologist said that, for a breast cancer patient, stable - where everything is not growing - is just as good a shrinkage, and that I could live stable.”
After her initial battle with cancer in 2009, Kerri decided that, instead of continuing her education to become a nurse, she could open a center that was geared towards helping people and families who were going through similar circumstances. Coming to terms with a life-threatening illness is very hard for adults and it can be devastating and incredibly confusing for children.
“I always vowed that I would never lie to my children so if, God forbid, something should happen, they could never be upset that we had kept the truth from them,” said Kerri. “With our four-year-old it was different than with our six-year-old, Riley. We used the word cancer, we used the word surgery, and Riley was devastated. She didn’t understand and my husband and I didn’t know how to explain it to her.”
After looking and not finding a counselor for Riley, they found a resource center in Mokena, Illinois, which was a three hour drive round trip. Needless to say, after her surgery, it was a challenge for Kerri to be able to make the journey, but one that ultimately led to a revelation for Kerri and her family.
“After our third trip, Riley came out of the room with a yellow Steno pad and the doctor behind her. She said, ‘I have something to show you. Mom this is you!’ There was a person drawn on the page and she said, ‘All of these little dots on your body are good cells and these X’s are bad, so when you have your surgery doctors are going to take them out and you’ll be okay!’”
“There was a peace that had come over her, and she had her smile back,” Kerri described. “All it took was this little drawing for my daughter to understand. I wanted to bring that peace to other people and not have to have them drive so far to get to it.”
With the help of Lowell Church of Christ, the Hope Center was formed to fill a need that not only Kerri and her family had identified.
“I went in to talk to our pastor, Chuck Hochmuth, and he said, ‘Kerri, I cannot believe you’re sitting here telling me this,’” she said. “I was sort of taken aback by this and he said, ‘We have so much cancer in our church alone that I don’t know what to do with!’ He discussed starting it as a mission and it was like God said, ‘Thank you for involving me; we can move on with this now.’”
“Everything over the last three years that has to do with the Hope Center has been amazing,” Kerri added. “It’s not extremely busy which has allowed me to still go through my treatments but the people who come, stay. That’s amazing to me. We’ve lost about five Hope Center family members. That’s been really hard for me because you get so close with them and their families.”
Among other things, the Hope Center focuses their efforts on support groups where people who have relatable experiences share and move the discussion along. The groups are member-lead and there are classes for kids, survivors, caregivers, and another called Hope and Healing, which is for those who have lost loved ones to cancer.
“Everyone can come at the same time and get help separately,” Kerri described. “The Hope Center is for cancer patients because that’s all I know. It’s been wonderful and these families and kids that come through have helped me so much. We always said that if we could help just one family, then it would be worth it.”
When speaking about what else has helped her through the toughest times, Kerri said, “My faith has grown tremendously, first and foremost. There is hope and I do believe there are miracles. Second, but very close to number one, is that I have two beautiful daughters, a phenomenal husband and great parents. That whole little group right there is who I fight for every day.”
“My close friends, my church family, and the community of Lowell, Indiana, over the last eight years, has been amazing. We’ve talked about moving to Colorado, or out of our neighborhood, and we will never move away from Lowell because of the support that we’ve received over the last eight-and-a-half years. We will never find that anywhere else.”
If you’re a cancer survivor or you have a friend or family member that is, please share your story and how long you have been cancer free to firstname.lastname@example.org. Simply send us your name and how long you’ve been cancer free to be added to our growing list of Survivors. We look forward to sharing some inspirational journeys with you through this series!