Published on October 22, 2021

Breast Cancer Journey at Silver Cross: New Lenox Woman’s Triumphant Story

Kristin DeBoer had been supporting a friend going through breast cancer treatments in the spring of 2018 when she found herself having a biopsy for a lump she had found during a routine check a few weeks earlier. 

“I had a history of benign lumps and regularly screened myself once a month,” said DeBoer of New Lenox. “On St. Patrick’s Day 2018, I remembered it was time to check, and I almost did not. I had my regularly scheduled yearly exam three days later, but I had this feeling I needed to perform the self-check anyway. I felt a lump that had not previously been there.” 

Kristen ringing the bell
Kristen ringing the bell

Still, because she had just turned 37 and her history of benign lumps, DeBoer wasn’t too concerned…until the precautionary biopsy at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. 

“I was young, but I knew cancer was a possibility. During the biopsy, Nurse Mary Tonelli held my hand and comforted me through the procedure. When I left, I thanked her for her support, and she replied with, ‘Any time.’ I responded back, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to do this again!’ 

“On Thursday, April 26, 2018, I received the call that no one wants to get. I cried on the phone with my doctor, ‘It wasn’t supposed to be anything.’ The next hours were a whirlwind of emotion, having to call my husband, Tim, parents and close friends to tell them the news,” she said. 

Her doctor strongly recommended she and her husband tell their two daughters, ages 4½ and 8 at the time. They didn’t really understand, she said, but afterward, she and her husband took the girls to a Family Fun Night at school. 

“It wasn’t easy, but I decided early on in this journey that I wouldn’t let it take away the mother I wanted to be,” said DeBoer, who works for the University of St. Francis College of Education and teaches violin and viola lessons. 

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women, and surgery is the most common way to treat it. But first, DeBoer found there would be chemotherapy. 

She and her husband met Dr. Jennifer Tseng, a board-certified breast surgeon on staff at Silver Cross, and nurse, Stefanie Gagliano.

Dr. Tseng noted the University of Chicago Breast Surgery Clinic on the Silver Cross Hospital campus is only steps away from the Silver Cross Breast Center.” 

“The Breast Clinic offers the latest treatments, clinical trials, counseling and genetic testing,” she said. “We strive to put the patient at ease, knowing they will get the best care available.” 

DeBoer felt their sincerity and professionalism from the first meeting. 

“Both of these women made the best of a horrible time,” she said. “They were kind, understanding and comforting, while also being extremely knowledgeable. We immediately knew we were in good hands.” 

They learned DeBoer had Stage 1 triple positive breast cancer and she would need over a year of chemo treatment. More tests were scheduled, as was an appointment with Dr. Grace Suh, a medical oncologist, who started setting up her treatments.  

“My first course of treatment consisted of AC (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) treatments every other week,” she said. “These were the hardest ones. I would have my treatments on Thursdays so I could be strong enough to teach violin and viola lessons the next Wednesday.  

“I would feel pretty good until Saturdays and then crash. I remember being frustrated because I wasn’t strong enough to stand and hold the hose to water my garden. But it was shrinking my cancer, and we were blessed to quickly see that it was working.” 

After four of those treatments, DeBoer switched to 12 weekly treatments of Taxol, combined on some weeks with Perjeta and Herceptin, which specifically targeted the Her2 protein in her cancer.  

“These treatments still made me tired but were much easier than the first four,” she said. “The Taxol was known to potentially cause neuropathy in the fingers, which is not good if you are a violin teacher! To combat this, I would sit with my fingers and toes in ice for the hour-long treatment. 

“I still can’t believe I did this, but I am happy to say that I am still playing my instruments without any neuropathy symptoms.” 

Following a five-week break to let her body recover, DeBoer underwent a bilateral mastectomy with autologous reconstruction in November, performed by Dr. Tseng performed plastic surgeon Dr. Amanda K. Silva.  

“This is when your own fat is used for the reconstruction, so the weight I gained during chemo turned out to be useful!” she said. “The recovery from this surgery was difficult, but I am very happy with my choice for this type of reconstruction.” 

After recovering from surgery, she continued with 11 more Herceptin treatments every three weeks. She started feeling more normal and her hair began to grow back. 

“Throughout the 27 treatments, I was always shown wonderful care by the infusion nurses who took care of me,” she said. “They brought me warm blankets at just the right time as I iced my hands, asked about my girls and cheered me on.  

“On July 25, 2019, I finally got to ring that bell (to celebrate the end of cancer treatment),” she said. 

“I could not have gotten through this journey without my faith. On the Sunday morning after my diagnoses, two unrelated people emailed my husband and I the verse from Isaiah 41:10: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ 

“This became my fight verse and focus over those 15 months. Throughout the whole journey, the strength that I felt came from all the prayers that I knew were being said for me. 

“The hardest part was the fear of not being there for my children. All those days of complete exhaustion and pain, I was fighting for my family. But through this journey, I felt supported and made lifelong friends. I am stronger because of it. I have learned more of what is important (it’s not hair!), and I appreciate the little things. 

“Before this, I was a mom who lamented when my girls were growing up so fast, and now, I am so very thankful for each milestone I get to walk with them through. 

“I am so grateful to be feeling great! I still have tired days, but am busy with my family and was recently promoted at work. I see Dr. Simona Chivu (Medical Oncologist and Hematologist with University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross) now for my oncology checkups as well as Dr. Tseng about every six months.” 

DeBoer strongly recommends women check themselves regularly and don’t hesitate to make an appointment with their doctors if something is out of the ordinary. 

“If you have been diagnosed and are in the battle, let people help you!” she said. “Let them bring you meals and watch your kids so you can rest and let your body fight.  

“Remember that you are still you, and that will never change. Fears are normal and will always be there, but it gets better. 

“And pray.” 

For more information about breast care at Silver Cross, visit www.silvercross.org

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.