A young mom’s story… Unified, loving family helps 2016 Norlanco cancer survivor move forward

By on March 16, 2016

 

This year’s honorary cancer survivor, representing Norlanco Relay For Life 2016, is Kim Andrew, 31, the newest sweetheart of Ephrata.

Her battle with cancer started at a time when her life was filled with new joy.

Photo by Michele Walter Fry Eric and Kim Andrew with children Evan and Britney.

Photo by Michele Walter Fry
Eric and Kim Andrew with children Evan and Britney.

“I have been married to my amazing husband, Eric, for almost eight years now and we have two beautiful kids, Evan, who is 5, and Brit who is 3,” said Andrew.

“My journey with cancer began shortly after having Evan when I had a strange-looking mole removed from my hairline and it came back as melanoma.”

Andrew is open about her Stage 4 melanoma and wants to bring awareness.

“I began keeping a blog shortly after my diagnosis, not really expecting anyone to read it, but it has grown into something really cool — a place for sharing my faith, a place for raising awareness, and a support system for people in similar circumstances,” she said.

“It’s an exciting prospect for me to share my story in this way as my type of cancer desperately needs awareness. It’s something we are all at risk for, literally anyone can get it regardless of age, sex, or race, and it’s also something that can be preventable altogether or at least more manageable if found early.”

Andrew’s cancer was sneaky and fooled her and Eric more than once.

In 2011, she had a lesion removed from her forehead and “didn’t think any more about it. It came back with clear borders.”

“It was quickly forgotten until the Fall of 2013 when a few of the lymph nodes on the right side of my face kept getting bigger, and once tested they were found to be melanoma that had metastasized from the original lesion,” Andrew said.

She had surgery to remove noticeably large and sore lymph nodes on the right side of her face and neck, began radiation, and a clinical trial of chemo. Once this was over, they thought cancer was once again in the past.

“I began having seizures in May of 2014 and it was found that I had spots of metastasis in my brain, lungs, and hip bone and was now officially Stage 4,” Andrew said. “I was given very little hope, as typically once mets (tumors spread outside the original cancer origin) are in the brain, there are usually only a few months left.”

Andrew’s type of cancer was in the perfect position and time to take advantage of Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug, in place of chemotherapy. The drug does not have ill side effects and doesn’t kill healthy cells like chemo does. The drug enhances the immune system, but doesn’t actually kill the cancer. It intensively boosts the immune system so the body recognizes cancer cells as a disease and the healthy cells kill the cancer.

This is the same drug Jimmy Carter took for a similar cancer and has now declared himself cancer-free.

The drug has been eagerly awaited and costs $150,000 a year.

Kim Andrew shares her story as Norlanco Relay for Life event leaders Sharon Groff and Shelby Hoover listen.

Kim Andrew shares her story as Norlanco Relay for Life event leaders Sharon Groff and Shelby Hoover listen.

“I had that from June 2014 to June 2015,” said Andrew. “My scans are showing an improvement. I stopped after a year because I had two clean scans. My doctor has a guarded excitement about me. I still have a brain tumor, but it’s inactive. It may be dead.”

Andrew had the option of continuing treatments every three weeks for the rest of her life.

“I chose to stop last June and have not had any recurrence at this point,” Andrew said. “With this type of cancer, the recurrence is inevitable. Once they found it in my brain they said basically they’ll just be chasing it around.

“But here I am, with no evidence of cancer in me, at least according to my latest scans!

“I’ve found cancer to be an unfortunate circumstance, certainly, but it has been a time of growth both personally and spiritually. Our family, friends, and church have come alongside us and helped in ways that are beyond measure and for that we are infinitely grateful.”

Eric Andrew is this year’s honorary caregiver. Eric and Kim met in 2006 where she worked at Neffsville Veterinary Clinic and Eric was working as a foreman on an electrical job at the clinic.

Eric graduated from Ephrata High School in 2004 and Kim graduated from Manheim Township in 2002.

“In 2011, I saw a mole on her head and I looked at her one day and said she should probably get that thing scraped,” said Eric. “We didn’t think anything of it and didn’t hear back from the dermatologist for three weeks.

“Apparently it’s common to have a mole removed and have the borders come back clear. All it takes is a couple of cells for it to come back.”

Kim was not expected to make it past Christmas 2014. She would gasp for breath in bed and was told to either call hospice or try the new drug.

“It made me realize what we were really saying when we took our vows of ‘in sickness and in health’,” Eric said. “It’s incredibly hard to watch the strong woman you married deteriorate before your eyes.”

It was a “complete roller coaster” for everyone involved, he said. Twice they thought the cancer was gone because of “clear borders” for the first incident and the second incident was “downplayed” by doctors.

“After the first time, I remember her saying that she can now say that she’s a cancer survivor,” Eric said.

When she was declared Stage 4, emotions dimmed.

“Caregiving has meant being emotional support, physical support in times of healing or weakness, and as seizures left her unable to drive, she always needed rides to appointments and treatments,” Eric said.

Kim’s mom (Peggy Unterburger) retired from her job to help.

“This is where I shouldn’t get all of the credit as our families, friends, and church were such crucial help to us, especially our parents who spent many hours driving her to-and-from Philly for appointments and watching the kids while I worked to support the financial burden that cancer causes, and while Kim wasn’t feeling well,” Eric said.

Eric is a service manager at Meadow Valley Electric. He is full of praise for the support the firm has provided him and his family.

“My company, through this whole thing, has been amazing,” Eric said. “At the point where Kim was her worst, they told me that they would salary me for 40 hours a week and I could work as much as I could.

“Some days I had to be at the hospital with her in Philadelphia and they said the last thing they wanted me to worry about was a paycheck. Alex Hurst, my boss and our operations manager, he connected with me one-on-one and understood. That really took a lot off my shoulders.”

Kim’s cancer journey has been tough for the couple’s children, he said.

“The kids don’t remember a time when mom was healthy,” said Eric. “I believe fighting to stay with them is a part of why Kim is still here today.”

The Andrews had planned to have a larger family.

“We knew we wanted several kids, and although Brit, our daughter, was conceived and carried at a time where my cancer was growing, we didn’t know,” he said. “It would be not in a child’s best interest for us to try to conceive again as malignant melanoma is one of the few cancers that can be spread to a baby through the placenta.”

“Unfortunately, I am not considered well enough for us to adopt, which was a goal of ours,” Kim said.

Some doctors advise mothers to terminate their pregnancy is similar situations.

“We never faced that, but I can say with 100 percent confidence that even under the leading of my medical team (who are amazing and I trust them very much!), I would never terminate a pregnancy,” she said. “I would have stopped treatments and done what was best for the baby no matter what might be best for me medically.”

“We are grateful to God, our families, and our community for being so helpful in all of this,” said Eric. “We are honored to be a part of Relay for Life.”

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at michelewalterfry@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *