SAN ANTONIO – Cancer does not discriminate, and Katherine Perry’s story is proof of that.
Perry, 29, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer on March 1. She recalls the mixed emotions she felt the day she received the call from her doctor.
“Shocked and terrified and angry,” she said.
Triple-negative breast cancer is known as one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer because there are fewer treatment options, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you’re diagnosed under 40, it’s most likely triple-negative breast cancer. That’s what affects younger people the most. And my particular brand of tumor was growing at a 95 percent rate,” Perry said.
Perry said she felt a lump on one of her breasts in October 2019.
“And I thought, surely this cannot be cancer. Like, I was just at the doctor in August. There’s no way,” she recalled. She tried to ignore the lump but it “just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
She decided to go to the doctor and get it checked out on Feb. 12, one day after turning 29 years old. She said even her doctors didn’t expect it to be cancer.
“If I hadn’t gone in, I don’t know that I would be here because that’s how fast it was growing,” Perry said.
She started chemotherapy in mid-March, and because of the pandemic, she had to do all of her treatments and doctor visits alone. But, she said, her medical team at the Start Center for Cancer Care helped fill that void.
“I got really close with the nurses in the center. I was not sad to end chemo, but I was sad that I wasn’t going to see them every week because I loved them and they were supportive,” she said.
In addition to family and friends, the staff and students at Jackson Middle School and North East Independent School District have also been “an amazing source of strength and support."
Perry, who is currently an 8th grade English and Reading teacher, has been teaching at the school for five years. Despite battling cancer, the San Antonio native kept teaching virtually, at times, from the hospital as she was undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“I didn’t want my identity to be Kat Perry, cancer patient. Like, it was so important to me to still hold on to something. And so, teaching was a way for me to do that,” she said.
On Aug. 31, doctors told her she was cancer free after undergoing a mastectomy and finishing her chemotherapy rounds.
“It’s still scary. Even now, knowing that it’s gone, but triple-negative (breast cancer) has the highest rate of recurrence,” Perry said.
Perry has decided to have prophylactic, or preventative, mastectomy to remove her other breast next summer to reduce the chances of the cancer returning.
She is currently undergoing radiation as part of her final treatment. She said she is looking forward to having a party with family and friends to celebrate that she no longer has cancer once the pandemic is over. Perry has also promised herself to do what she calls a “grateful getaway” every Thanksgiving.
“I’m going to spa my way across America to pay honor to my body and everything that it did,” she said. She’ll be starting this year at Hotel Emma.
Perry said there is no history of breast cancer in her family which is another reason why she was shocked to hear the diagnosis. She encourages everyone to follow the Feel it on the First social media campaign which encourages people to examine themselves the first of every month.
“If you are a person with breasts, which is everybody, you should be feeling them for changes because especially people under 40, most of the time you go in because you found the lump, it was not found by the doctor,” she said.
Perry said she hopes her story of survival brings awareness to her type of breast cancer and the need for more research.