Local cancer survivor: 'I'm the same person'

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- One aspect of Kimberly Hutcherson's job as a radiologist is interpreting mammograms.

She spends a fair amount of time in a dark room at Gwinnett Women's Pavilion examining digital X-ray images of women's breasts looking for any abnormalities, hoping she finds none.

In 2007, after experiencing sharp pain in one of her breasts and subsequently undergoing a mammogram, the Suwanee resident found herself the patient rather than the doctor.

"I really was not expecting to find anything on there," she said of the images, having had a mammogram just seven to eight months prior.

But after looking at the X-ray images of her breast on a monitor herself, Hutcherson saw something of concern.

"It was a very small, little area," she remembered, "but a clearly distinct mass."

Hutcherson then underwent a breast ultrasound that revealed a fluid-filled cyst -- which would account for the pain she was experiencing -- but a portion of the mass had an irregular border.

"At that point I kind of knew, but, you know, you're sort of hopeful and prayerful and trying to tell yourself, 'Maybe I don't know what I'm looking at,'" Hutcherson said. "Of course all the time in previous life I prayed I knew what I was looking at so I was able to diagnose these patients. In that particular moment, for myself, (I hoped) perhaps I didn't know. Maybe this is one time I might be wrong."

After immediately undergoing a biopsy that same day, Hutcherson received a call the next morning from her pathologist and colleague, who confirmed she had breast cancer.

Despite having given other women such terrible news, Hutcherson was no more prepared emotionally to deal with the diagnosis than they were.

"Most people get the news of breast cancer and they're just devastated and they're trying to pull it all together and I think I did break down probably that Sunday after I heard on Saturday," Hutcherson remembered. "I realized I couldn't handle this. I was no longer the doctor. I was the patient. I sort of handed all my anxiety and my nervousness over to God."

Now facing decisions about treatment, Hutcherson knew how she wanted to proceed with treatment.

"I wanted to be aggressive," she said. "I didn't really want to have to go through the lumpectomy and radiation, things like that. I just wanted to have a mastectomy with reconstruction."

On March 15, 2007, Hutcherson underwent surgery to have both her breast removed and then reconstructed through plastic surgery. After six months of chemotherapy, being on intravenous medication for a year and taking oral medicine, Hutcherson's treatment was over.

Having been diagnosed with breast cancer and survived hasn't changed Hutcherson as a doctor.

"I think overall I'm the same person I've always been, which I'm kind of proud to say. I was always the person who went 150 percent for every patient, wanted to make sure that they received the best care possible and I still do," Hutcherson said. "But I think that difference is that I'm able to put myself in their shoes and have had patients say, 'Have you been through this before,' when you're doing something to them and actually I have."

Hutcherson celebrated her three-year survivorship anniversary Monday, the same day she served as the survivor speaker for the American Cancer Society's Hope Fashion Show, an annual fundraising event to support the fight against cancer. While the event wasn't scheduled to coincide with Hutcherson's anniversary, the overlap was a fitting coincidence.

"It's meant to be, is what I say," Hutcherson said. "It really was meant to be."