Fight Like a Girl!

by Tami Charbonnet

Kate Stark of Houma, Louisiana is the youngest of four sisters.   As a mother, it was always important for her 3-year-old daughter, Valentina, and her soon-to-be-born daughter, Yvette, to understand that women are equal to men and powerful enough to accomplish anything.  “I always wanted them to see that, as women, we can juggle multiple things at the same time.  Then, the unbelievable happened.  At 34 weeks pregnant, I found a lump in my left breast.” 

Kate says the cyst was “hard, rubbery and seemingly showed up overnight.”  She immediately underwent a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and had it tested.   Twenty-four hours after the procedure, her water broke, and Yvette was born five and half weeks early.  Kate explains, “I will say that I never imagined I’d bring a baby home from the hospital and get diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day … But, then again, the real troubles in your life will always be the things that never crossed your worried mind.”   

She continues, “But nonetheless there I was, 34 years old, with a beautiful, healthy 4 day old and a new breast cancer diagnosis.  I didn’t know what to do, where to start.  The next three weeks of grueling tests and final diagnosis determinations made me feel like I had gone to war, and my mental well-being was taxed to the max.”   

Kate’s inspiring attitude and strong faith shine as she explains her experience in the PET scan machine.  “You can’t really explain the feeling of entering a PET scan machine until you’re faced with it.  But I remember rocking Bruno Mars in my headphones and literally laughing out loud in the chamber while they took the images because really? … How did this become my reality?” 

The most shocking part of her story is that Kate has absolutely no history of breast cancer, and her BRCA gene test results came back negative.  It was simply a “random mutation that no one saw coming.”  But she is just one of the many young women without any type of genetic predisposition to develop the disease.  Doctors at MD Anderson told Kate that they do not know why women under 35 are the largest growing age bracket of new breast cancer cases.

Without a scientific explanation, Kate turned to a higher power for answers.  As a Catholic, her faith brought her to the realization that “if Mary could watch her son be crucified then surely, I have got this.  I went from despising waking up every day and remembering what I had to face, to being thankful for each day I had to fight this battle.”   Her spiritual awakening made dealing with the process a little easier.  “I remember that on the day of my double mastectomy, I had this odd peace.  No fear at all.  When it was time to start chemotherapy, I remember thinking that it should be mind over matter.  I wasn’t going to be sick; I could handle the doses. And when I lost my hair, I thought, ‘Oh well, I always wanted to wear wigs and change my hairstyle at the drop of a dime.  Here is my chance.’”   

Kate’s faith and positive outlook let her create grace and strength out of her greatest fear.   She feels blessed to have an amazing family – her loving husband and two, precious daughters.  Regarding her husband’s love, Kate says, “He always makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.  This disease really strips women of their beauty.  To put it bluntly, I cut off my breasts, have no hair or eyelashes and he doesn’t bat an eye at that.  I can’t even use it for sympathy in an argument because he thinks I am some hot, alien woman, ha!  But seriously, he is always there to listen to me cry or rant, and he just smiles and reassures me that this is a phase – and it will pass.  2018 is “our year,’” she says .   

If anyone can “ROCK” breast cancer, it is Kate Stark, a smart, beautiful, strong warrior from the inside out! 

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