“I’ve gotten through some terrible days simple because they were there fighting with me,” western Lincoln County resident Kristin Bartone said of her family’s support the last five months of her battle with stage-two breast cancer.
Bartone recently completed eight week of intense chemotherapy treatment, taking drugs referred to as “the red devil,” named after both the substance’s coloring and agonizing side effects.
She not only lost her hair and abilities to concentrate and taste but also frequently felt nausea, nerve pain and shortness of breath, following a reaction to one of the medications.
“It was pretty terrible,” she said. “There were times when it was even hard for me to put sentences together.”
Doctors remain unsure as to whether or not certain side effects will be permanent.
Although chemotherapy is over for the time being, her fight is not finished, as she now endures radiation treatments for nearly two months.
In spite of her aggressive form of cancer — infiltrating ductal carcinoma of the breast — doctors have given her a “hopeful” prognosis due to her young age — 32.
“It’s more of a wait and see kind of thing,” she said.
Following daily radiation for the next seven weeks, the Vale resident will take Tamoxifen for five years, a drug known to cause harsh side effects, including other forms of cancer.
“The real test will be if I’m cancer free five years from now,” she said.
Bartone has also received double mastectomy and needs more reconstructive surgery and skin removed since “her margins weren’t clear” the first time around, she noted.
While her mother also suffered from breast cancer, it wasn’t genetics that contributed to a second generation of the disease.
Instead, doctors told Bartone the breast cancer more than likely stemmed from the environment.
She said she found the lump through a self-exam, confirmed by a test at Gaston Radiology in March, after one of her girlfriends was diagnosed with cancer, encouraging her to check out her own body.
One of the main rules Bartone set for herself over the last several months was not to lookup her illness on the Internet.
“Every case is completely different,” she said, “and just because one person had one experience doesn’t mean your experience will be the same. Cancer cases are like snowflakes; no two are alike.”
Bartone was hardly shocked when medical officials told her the disheartening news this past spring because she had a feeling she was sick.
“I wasn’t scared when I heard my diagnosis,” Bartone said. “I had an overwhelming feeling it was all happening for a reason, and there was a purpose for my journey in life to go down this path.”
More specifically, she views her cancer as preparation for fostering children.
She and her husband Frank have had a desire to serve as foster parents, she said, but believe her encounter with cancer will only better equip them for the “mentally challenging” parenting process that fostering involves.
The couple already have two children, daughter Ryan, 7, and son Frankie III, 4.
In addition to her daily struggles with fatigue and other medicinal side effects — still working a part-time job as a corporate transcriptionist and academic editor — Bartone has the financial burden of paying back $16,500 in medical bills.
However, a friend recently established a donation website in her name to help raise funds.
So far, the site has collected more than $3,300.
While most would consider Baritone a strong woman, she still feels weak inside when people stare at her bald head or pity her from a distance.
She was most encouraged this past June at Lincolnton’s annual Hog Happenin’ event when a biker approached her and told her to “just keep fighting,” she said.
At the time, Bartone had a glitter tattoo of a pink breast cancer ribbon on her head.
“I’ll never forget him because he totally made my day,” she said.
Hopeful she will beat her illness one day, Bartone is already looking ahead to her life after cancer.
“I’ve learned many life lessons going through all this,” she said. “I have big plans for paying it all forward, and I just can’t wait until this is all behind me so I can start that chapter of my life.”
To donate to Kristin Bartone’s medical bills, visit gofundme.com/3snjt8.