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Kocher Reflects on Breast Cancer Journey

Kocher Reflects on Breast Cancer Journey

October 19, 2017

Amber (center) is pictured with her husband, Darius, and her daughters, (from left) Kensley, Lexanna, and Whitley.

Amber Kocher is a busy woman, just like many women her age. She works full time, is a mother, step-mother, grandmother and wife. She is also a survivor. Nearly three years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It’s just such an overwhelming feeling when you hear that diagnosis. There are so many unknowns at the time, so many questions that can’t be answered right away,” says Amber of her initial thoughts on her diagnosis.

It all began in November of 2014 when she came to Carle Richland Memorial Hospital for her annual mammogram. She was 45 years old at the time and had had mammograms in the past. During her initial mammogram, there was a small spot in her left breast, one that wouldn’t have been noticed if it weren’t for the 3-D technology CRMH had recently began using. She was called back in for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound a few weeks later, and from there had a needle biopsy. She received the call from Dr. Stephen Reid’s office on December first.

“I don’t remember my exact first thoughts, but it was like everything was changing, but at the same time, still stayed the same. I still had to go pick up my youngest daughter from school, I still had plans coming up for Christmas, but at the same time, there were so many other thoughts and emotions too,” says Amber.

Amber and her husband already had a trip planned to Seattle to see her step-daughter and family right before the Christmas holiday. They told her immediate family of her diagnosis, but waited to tell her youngest daughters until right before her scheduled lumpectomy on December 26.

“That was tough. My daughter, Lexanna, at the time was 16 and her first question was ‘Are you going to die?’” remembers Amber.

Dr. Reid performed the lumpectomy at CRMH. Afterword, he met with Amber and said due to the cancer having unclear margins, they could either need to do another lumpectomy, or a mastectomy. She chose to go ahead with the mastectomy and was referred to another hospital due to beginning reconstruction at the same time.

“I would have had all my surgical procedures done here at Carle Richland Memorial Hospital, but since I elected to begin reconstruction immediately after the mastectomy, I had to travel out of the area.”

Amber was very impressed with how coordinated her care was between CRMH and her doctors who performed the mastectomy and reconstruction.

“They were so great about working together. I got all my labs, CT scans, X-rays and any other testing possible done right here so I didn’t have to travel for it. Dr. Reid was even allowed to remove my drain two weeks after my surgery so I didn’t have to drive over there to have it done,” notes Amber. “I can’t say enough about how great Dr. Reid and Angie (Garrett) have been.”

She had her first meeting with Oncologist, Dr. Hanna Saba on February 25 of 2015. Dr. Saba is with Crossroads Cancer Center in Effingham, but sees patients two days per week at the Physician Clinics on the second floor of Carle Richland Memorial Hospital.

It was decided that Amber would have chemotherapy every three weeks, but did not need to have radiation. She had a port put in place and began her chemo treatments on April 1st. She ended up with a blood clot related to the port and had to have it removed part-way through, so finished up her chemotherapy treatments and labs with just an IV.

While she only had chemotherapy every three weeks, she had to have a Herceptin infusion each week for a year due to being HER 2 positive. She would also receive a shot of Neulasta the day after each chemotherapy treatment.

With the chemo came the side effects to be expected.

“I put off shaving my head for as long as I could. For me, it was more devastating seeing my hair fall out in clumps than it was for me to just shave all of it off. The only downside for me after that was my bald head would get cold,” joked Amber.

Amber notes that the toughest part of her journey was having treatments while trying to do everyday tasks that some people take for granted, such as going to work and taking care of her family. It was hard to go through the treatments and think of her family and all the times she wanted to be there for her kids.

“That’s one thing that I think is hard for people to understand. Between the chemo, surgeries, labs, doctors appointments, and physical therapy, those go on for years. It is a very long process. The person with cancer just wants to be better and be there for all the future big moments for their family, but sometimes it gets tough with everything going on. That’s when you need to stay positive. Stay strong. Take one day at a time and lean on your family and friends. We were so grateful for all of our family, friends, and co-workers who went out of their way to help and support us. We were blessed with everything from home-cooked meals, to fundraisers that raised money for us, home-made gifts and so much more,” said Amber.

Her daughters’ sports teams also found ways to honor her, surprising her both times. Her daughter, Lexanna, played high school volleyball at the time, and the whole volleyball team came out in special shirts they had made to honor Amber at an away game against Flora.

“Head Volleyball Coach (Emily Rusk) coordinated it with the Flora coach and the whole team came out with matching shirts, said a few words, and had me come down to stand with them,” remembers Amber.

Her other daughter, Kensley, is very big into dance. Her dance instructor (Tessa Dicks) put together a whole routine to the song “The Fight Song” and the group performed it for the first time at the annual Spring Recital and again at the Relay for Life event.

“I had no idea about that one either. They both managed to surprise me at these events,” laughed Amber.

Amber had her last reconstruction surgery in May of 2016. Since then, she has been declared cancer free, but continues to go every three months for lab work and to see Dr. Saba, and still gets her yearly mammogram. The last year has been a big one for her too. Her oldest daughter got married and she got to spend time with all seven of her and her husband’s children and grandchildren. Her middle daughter graduated high school and moved to college, and they took a trip to Disney over the summer with her youngest daughters dance team. This December will be three years since her diagnosis and her and her husband are going back to Seattle to visit her step-daughters family once again.

Amber felt very confident in the care she received from several departments at Carle Richland Memorial Hospital. During her cancer journey, she was regularly a patient in Radiology, General Surgery, Surgical Services, Laboratory, Physician Practice Clinics and Physical Therapy.

“They were all wonderful. I had a good experience no matter what department I was dealing with, and I got close to several people who took care of me on regular basis. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to help me through that time,” notes Amber.

Due to the early detection of Amber’s breast cancer with the 3-D technology at Carle Richland Memorial Hospital, Amber has enjoyed many special moments with her family and looks forward to many more in the future…two new grandbabies coming soon for starters!

If it’s time for your annual mammogram, contact Carle Richland Memorial Hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging department at 618-395-7340 ext. 4615.