Survivor Spotlight: Debby Kolodziej
It’s apparent when talking to Debby Kolodziej that family means everything to her, so it’s no surprise she credits her need to be here for them with her strong desire to survive. Debby’s breast cancer journey began 27 years ago at a time in her life when the last thing on her mind was her mortality. She was way too busy raising two toddlers to worry about anything so dire.
In 1987 she was a happily married mom delighting in her two daughters (ages four and two at the time). She was also excited about the prospect of welcoming another child, having only recently discovered she was six weeks pregnant. Actually, it was at this juncture she discovered a lump in her breast.
“I thought it was just a milk gland from breast feeding that was acting up because of the pregnancy,” shares Kolodziej. “My doctor went on vacation, so I had to wait about a month for an appointment, but I really wasn’t concerned. When I finally did get in to see my doctor, they said being pregnant in my situation (yes, it was breast cancer) was the worst thing I could do because the hormones were likely to make the cancer much more aggressive.”
“They wanted me to terminate the pregnancy, but as a woman of faith I decided that was not the road I would choose. I opted for as minimally invasive surgery as possible and since the margins were clear, I decided against chemotherapy or radiation. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to allow fear to guide me. I was determined to do whatever I could to be here to raise my daughters!”
“My third daughter, Brittany was born in March of 1988, and I was cancer free for five years and nine months. When I learned the cancer had come back in the same breast, I had my breast removed. I decided against reconstruction. That just never appealed to me, so I started using a prosthetic right away. I haven’t looked back and I’ve been very happy with the results! Heck, I could be a spokeswoman for Amoena since they are the only products I’ve ever used!”
She continues, “Since my mastectomy, I’ve been healthy and getting younger every year. I have always felt it was really important how I live with this because I have daughters. I didn’t want them to spend their lives worrying about breast cancer. Having a good attitude and having faith that God watches us in all situations, has really helped along the way.
“Breast cancer can be a devastating diagnosis, but with three young children, I sort of had to ‘get over it’ so I could get strong really fast and take care of them. That’s been my MO since the beginning. I know I am blessed to have had good health along the way, and I don’t take it for granted!”Debby has no qualms about her age, and, in fact, is quick to share, “I am 62 and I just did my first triathlon, which was very life-affirming. I hadn’t even run for 40 years. I started exercising a bit more vigorously back in February, and on a fluke I announced that I should do a triathlon. I was already doing a bit of swimming, running and biking – so I figured this was a good motivator to help me stay focused. And, yes, you can bet we had a party to celebrate when I completed it.”
Debby also shares that most of the people she meets have no idea she is a two-time breast cancer survivor. “I’m not on the big breast cancer bandwagon. I feel everyone has to deal with their diagnosis in a way that works for them. We are all created differently. For me, I’m always happy to share on a one-to-one basis with someone. Sometimes women who are pregnant will seek me out so they can talk to someone who has been on that journey. I just choose not to surround myself with everything breast cancer related. Perhaps I feel that way because I’ve been one of the lucky ones. All I know is that my family’s motto is: every day a holiday, every day a feast. I try my best not to sweat the small stuff. I like to seek peace and pursue it.
“I’m 26 years out from my original diagnosis, and that’s 26 years more than I thought I would have! My husband Ron has always been supportive, so I’ve been blessed in that regard as well. I think it’s important to always show love and kindness and to let people know you love them.”
When asked what she would say to a recently diagnosed woman, Debby says, “I would say this is not a death sentence and there is life beyond breast cancer. Do your homework and use more than one resource – there is wisdom in the abundance of counsel so get counsel from more than one doctor. Go with the peace you have on the inside and don’t let fear be the determining factor.”
As we mentioned early on, Debby’s family means the world to her. She is thrilled that her daughter Briana and husband Daniel have made her the proud grandma of Ashlee Margaret. Her daughter Brooke’s entrepreneurial success also makes momma proud. And the icing on the cake is her miracle daughter Brittany. “She is now 26 and just got engaged. This was truly one of the high points of my life!”What’s next for this intrepid survivor? Hold on to your hats, because when we spoke to her, Debby announced she and her husband would be leaving for Vietnam shortly for a two-week bike trip. Way to go girl!