Kristen Grider joined me on this week’s episode of Behind the Pink Ribbon to share her story. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2017 at the age of 31 years old following a self-breast exam. Kristen talked about her diagnosis, coming to peace with having breast cancer before the official diagnosis, and her treatments. She shared the struggles she has faced with reconstruction and the decision to explant, which will literally be a weight off of her chest.
Kristen Grider was diagnosed with stage 2 DCIS in September 2017 at the age of 31. During her monthly self-breast exam, Kristen had found a lump that had gone unchanged for several months. After meeting with her doctor, she was referred for a diagnostic mammogram that indicated that the lump she had felt was a fibroadenoma but there was something close to it of suspicion. A month after her mammogram, Kristen was sent for a biopsy that indicated two atypical cells and one that was DCIS.
Though she had no family history, Kristen knew in her heart that it was breast cancer and during the time between her mammogram and when she received the news that she had breast cancer, she had already made peace that it was breast cancer. She researched and created her own plan for treatment, which was to go flat. However, Kristen’s mother, husband, and doctor encouraged her to consider a nipple-sparing bilateral mastectomy. With Kristen’s history of body dysmorphia, her mother was uncertain that she would be able to accept being flat.
In October, Kristen underwent a nipple-sparing bilateral mastectomy with delayed reconstruction. She had expanders placed followed by implants in April 2018. The implants were defective and immediately rippled. She underwent surgery to replace the defective implants. Due to cancer’s response to estrogen and progesterone, as well as a history of endometriosis, Kristen underwent a hysterectomy.
While the doctor was able to successfully spare her nipples, Kristen shared that she has endured more mental struggles because of the nipples. In addition, she has had difficulty with healing fully due to the nipples. Kristen had fat grafting completed to help with the implants but she developed neuromas at the site on her hips.
Kristen has experienced health issues since having new implants to include weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, and not feeling comfortable in her own body. In January 2020, for her birthday, Kristen will undergo explant surgery. Kristen will be going to an explant expert in Cleveland to have her surgery completed. It has been a long road to get to this place, but she is ready to have the implants removed. She is hopeful that some of her health issues will be resolved once she has explanted as there is a concern of possible breast implant illness. Having her implants removed will literally be a weight off her chest. She hopes to be able to spend more time with her family and her son who has only ever known his mom to be sick. While she is only in her 30’s, she feels like her body is 70 or 80.
Kristen shared that Kentucky, where she resides, does not have very many resources for women with breast cancer and even fewer resources for women under the age of 40 with breast cancer. She found a support group through My Pink Navigator and has since joined the board. She serves as a patient navigator. This has provided Kristen an opportunity to heal through her own journey but to also help and make a difference in the lives of others.