• Cancer meets a tough competitor - Chris Adams

  • Chris Adams had just returned from a very successful National Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament last summer and was ready to cross a few things off of her to-do list.

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  • Chris Adams had just returned from a very successful National Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament last summer and was ready to cross a few things off of her to-do list.
    As the debate coach at Truman High School, she had been busy throughout the 2011-12 school year, teaching and traveling to competitions. So, with the completion of the last tournament of the year, she had finally gotten a chance to make yearly doctors’ appointments that she had been putting off.
    “I called the eye doctor and made an appointment. I scheduled my physical. I got my dental cleaning scheduled, and I called to get my mammogram scheduled. It was a very productive day,” she said. “Then, I got a call that they could get me in that afternoon for my mammogram. I thought, ‘perfect. This was great timing,’ so I traveled up north to have it done.”
    That was the Tuesday that would change the Independence teacher’s life.
    “Feeling great today on day 2 of Chemo. Meds for nausea working. Slept great. Appetite normal. You are being killed Triple Neg BC!”
    Adams said she has always had what is called fibrous breast tissue. She said most women have the condition, which is attributed to the amount of caffeine that is consumed daily and the early age most women start drinking caffeine. So she said it is not uncommon to have an ultrasound following her mammogram to get a closer look at some areas. This year was no different.
    What was different, Adams said, was the technician informing her that a doctor would have to look at the results.
    “He didn’t like what he was seeing,” she said. “Something had changed.”
    Adams said she had noticed a change in her right breast some time around February 2012, but did not think too much of it. The next day, a Wednesday, she met with a surgeon, and by Friday, the tumor was out. She then had to wait four days to find out if the tumor was cancerous or not.
    “That moment when I got the phone call was the worst,” she said. “When I heard it was cancer, my world kind of stopped.”
    Not only did Adams have breast cancer, but she had one of the least common forms called triple negative breast cancer. According to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer has many subtypes. These subtypes are diagnosed based on the presence, or lack of, three receptors that are known to fuel most types of breast cancer. These receptors are estrogen, progesterone and hormone epidermal growth factor. Treatments for breast cancer will target one or all of these receptors.
    However, for women with triple negative breast cancer, none of these receptors are found. This means that the traditional course of medication, chemotherapy and radiation is not effective.
    Page 2 of 4 - What is positive, according to the TNBC Foundation, is that this form of breast cancer responds well to chemotherapy. So when Adams’ diagnosis came in as triple negative, she was immediately put on a round of chemotherapy even before the lumpectomy was finished.
    “What was different was my treatment. It was out of order from the norm,” she said. “Normally, you would have the lump removed right away, but because this form of cancer responds so well to chemotherapy, I started that right away. Then I had the rest of the lump removed, and then another round of chemo. I finished with a course of radiation.”
    “Feeling just a little tired after four hours at Truman today. Felt good to be there. Kids helping set up room tomorrow.”
    Because triple negative breast cancer is not responsive to targeted treatments, it can be an aggressive form of cancer. When Adams’ lump was removed, it measured 1.8 centimeters. That might not seem large, but she said 2 centimeters is typically the cut off between curing the cancer or remission and a chance for reoccurrence.
    “My first emotion really was shock. Not to sound cliché, but it was shock and awe,” she said of the diagnosis. “I only had one minor emotional moment when I told my husband. That was it, though. I am the kind of person that when there’s a problem, I want to find out how I am going to fix it. I never thought I was going to die.”
    Because Adams’ students are so important to her, one of the first things she did was tell them what was going on. So she called a special meeting in Truman’s lecture hall in July.
    But as teenagers often do, they had made up their own minds about what she was going to tell them. They were even more confused when Adams rolled into the room using a knee walker.
    “Cancer wasn’t enough, so I broke my fifth metatarsal,” she said with a smile. “I’m an overachiever.”
    Adams said when she told her students about the cancer, there was a wave of relief that went through the room.
    “Many of them thought that I was going to be retiring or changing schools,” she said. “Their opinion was that a cancer diagnosis was something they could work with, and win that battle.”
    Adams documented her cancer battle on Twitter, posting updates throughout the year.
    July 25 – “Another good day! Made 2 casseroles, so we don’t starve this weekend (since I’ll be sleeping A LOT). Rd. 2 tomorrow. Praying for same ease!”
    Aug. 3 – “Before I forget to update again…all is well. Antibodies tanked again, so again doing 5 days double-dose Cipro to ward-off evil bacteria.”
    Page 3 of 4 - Aug. 28 – “Digestion a bit rough today, but otherwise, feeling pretty good.”
    Sept. 20 – “Taxol flowing into poison cancer cells right now. Have a new plan to compact joint pain this weekend-pray and cross fingers!”
    Nov. 9 – “Surgery went well-great pain meds too. Tests of lymph nodes shows CANCER FREE!! The power of prayer and great KU doctors.”
    Adams said she was lucky in many ways, as many of the tweets show, because she had few, if any, side effects from the chemotherapy.
    “I was very tired. I slept a lot during those treatments,” she said. “Some people say their appetite changes or their taste changes. But that didn’t really happen to me. I had some minor changes to my taste, but nothing really major. If I was hungry, I ate. If I wasn’t, I didn’t. I didn’t even lose one pound.”
    “A glorious day! Feeling great and taught today. New meds rock!”
    Adams said what was most important to her was maintaining a normal life as much as possible. She said she has seen what cancer can do to people and did not want that to be her fate.
    “I have always been a somewhat upbeat and positive person, and I always wanted to be able to accomplish that,” she said. “Cancer can really change a person, and I knew that I did not want that to happen to me.”
    So Adams did what she could to lead as normal a life as possible through chemotherapy. That meant going to school for about three days between rounds of chemotherapy to see her students.
    What she said really took the most stress off was having Georgia Brady, a longtime fixture in Eastern Jackson County and a retired debate coach from Blue Springs South, agree to fill in as her long-term substitute teacher.
    “That was one of my greatest blessings,” she said. “She treated the kids like her own and that let me be at home recovering without any stress. It took a complete load off because I didn’t worry about a thing.”
    By Thanksgiving, Adams was back in the classroom full-time. She said at first, she was not able to stay after school much, needing to go home and rest. She started a three-week course of radiation in December as a precaution. She was selected for a special trial that cut the treatment in half.
    “The radiation did not affect me at all. No loss of energy. Nothing,” she said. “Once all the poison (from the chemotherapy) worked its way out of my body, I started feeling normal again.”
    “RADIATION IS OVER!! I am a cancer-free woman with only periodic checkups from now on! Thank you for all the prayers.”
    Page 4 of 4 - When Adams got her diagnosis a few weeks ago, she said there is no way to describe the happiness she felt.
    “Elation. I did a little dance,” she said. “I am cancer-free. I have had all kinds of blood work and scans, and they are using the word cured. I am truly blessed.”
    Adams said because the cancer was caught early and had not spread to surrounding tissue or her lymph nodes, her prognosis is good. Now the goal is to spread the word that early diagnosis is key.
    “Early detection really does matter,” she said. “Even people without insurance, there are options to get those yearly mammograms. A lot of times if you catch it early, it’s curable. As soon as women are old enough, they need to start getting those mammograms. It is especially important in men because it can be a silent killer.”

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