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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Women's Center leader faces own health crisis

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Amid a lifetime of giving health care, Kim Weiland finds herself unexpectedly seeing medicine from the patient's point of view this season.

She sees her own serious illness as just one more opportunity to help care for others.

As director of the emerging Women's Health Center at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, she has been working to make women and their families aware of the very same kinds of health challenges that she now faces personally - breast cancer.

"Here I am, director of women's health services at the hospital, and not only that, I'm the lactation consultant, helping with breast feeding and all of those issues," she said.

"Here I am with breast cancer, and what an opportunity to get this out to other women," she said.

Weiland hopes to use her experience to help other women on a new level - one of first-hand understanding.

"This is one of my passions, to educate women," she said. "Women don't need to be afraid or know what is there, but they need to know how they're feeling and when it is different," she said.

Her own battle began in September when Weiland found the lump while doing a self-exam. "I found it and thought, 'No, it's just my imagination,'" she said.

She had a mammogram five months earlier which did not find anything. "I was certain I had never felt it before, and I was faithful in doing self exams."

The next morning, the lump was still there. After talking with her husband, Weiland set up an appointment with Dr. Jon Hruska in Storm Lake. He ordered an ultrasound which confirmed his suspicions.

That same day, Weiland went to Sioux City and a radiologist who specializes in breast cancer. Weiland had been seeing her regularly after being sent to her for a suspicious cyst five years earlier.

Another mammogram revealed nothing.

Something that amazes Weiland is the quality of the work in both hospitals. "Dr. Maurice Huffman was right on the ball in Storm Lake," she said. "You think when you leave town and go elsewhere the quality is better - that's not always necessarily the case."

Weiland underwent further tests, and on Oct. 1 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "The cells showed malignancy," she said. Further exams showed the cancer had spread throughout her breast.

Weiland decided to have a radical modified mastectomy, after meeting with her oncologist, Dr. John Michalak, in Storm Lake.

It was a difficult decision, and one she made with her husband, Tony, even as they attended a conference on women's health in Florida.

"I chose to have both breasts removed simply because looking at what the reoccurrence rate was and the type of cancer it was, I didn't want to chance breast cancer developing on the other side," Weiland said.

She had a sister who died at 45 from cancer and her father died at 47. "They were different types of cancer, but it's still in the back of your head," she said.

She plans on having reconstructive surgery done, probably next year. The same surgeon who did the mastectomy will do that surgery.

Weiland said she is more afraid of the chemotherapy than she was of the surgery. "Being a nurse, I know with surgery it's step one, step two - you just kind of do what you have to do," she said.

"I have to honestly say I'm a little more apprehensive about chemo. It sounds odd, but I think it's because I saw my sister and everything she went through," she said.

She will receive chemo for about three months, and probably will not return to work until after Christmas.

"Losing my hair is not a big deal, but I don't like to be sick. I'd rather be taking care of people than being taken care of," she said.

However, Weiland and her family have received support from throughout the area, as family, friends and even strangers have given well over 300 cards to the Weilands and countless gifts of food and help.

"I think more importantly were the prayers, and I can feel that - people have just been unbelievable," she said. "I'm a firm believer that nothing happens by chance, there's always a plan. Strong faith makes a big difference, and people have just been unbelievable."

She has also discovered the support from other breast cancer survivors, many of which have called her out of the blue. Weiland said she never realized how many have been affected before.

"Those women so much just want to reach out and help," she said. "People have told me, 'You're so positive,' but I think it's because of all of them I'm so positive. How could you not be affected being around those women?"

She feels blessed having the support of physicians in the community and other health care professionals. "But what about those women that don't have that?" she said. "I feel obligated to help them. It's hard enough for me with the professionals and support and guidance.

"I keep thinking we need to figure out a way to navigate that path that helps them as well," she added. "It's scary if you don't know which way to turn."

Everything Weiland goes through now will help her as women's health director. Some of that can be the tiny details one often overlooks when being treated for breast cancer.

And that can be a lot. Right now, while she is preparing for chemo there's more tests to take, but also other things, like shopping for a wig and visiting a dentist. "The chemo affects your white blood counts, so you're more prone to infections," Weiland said.

On top of all that, there's also Christmas shopping to do.

Weiland feels she'll be able to continue to help women in some capacity through her own experiences and at the women's center at BVRMC

"My biggest message is just because you have a mammogram does not mean you're clear, you've got to do all three things - a yearly mammogram, a monthly self breast exam and a yearly clinical exam with your health care professional," Weiland said.

"So many people think just because they have a mammogram that's OK - but 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers do not show on a mammogram. I was a perfect example of that occurring."

Issues surrounding breast cancer touch on other issues surrounding women's health, Weiland feels, and fits into her own message of holistic health care.

An area added to that list is family, Weiland said. It's something she is constantly learning about through her own experiences.

After one visit to Dr. Hruska, he asked how her husband was doing. Weiland said she didn't know exactly how to answer. "Dr. Hruska said, 'Don't forget sometimes men suffer silently,'" she said.

"That is so true," she added. "Husbands and families have their own issues and have been going through this in their minds. They need that support.

"In my mind, there's something we need to do in families," she said. "It may be about women's health, but women's health as far as I'm concerned equates to family health. It's about everyone."

While the future is never known, Weiland said she is eager to meet it head on.

"As scary as this is, I think this is where I'm suppose to be," she said. "It's a journey and oddly enough it is kind of exciting to be along for the ride.

"I know people say they've realized what's important in life with life-altering experiences. I thought I have had some life-altering experiences - but I think this is the one," she said.

And while her and her family deal with this, Weiland continues to refine her philosophy of health as being holistic.

"It is mind, body and spirit. You have to take care of all of those to be as healthy as you can," she said. "It means physical, mental, spiritual health, and includes nutrition, stress reduction and other lifestyles.

"I don't know what the future holds for me, but I am committed to helping women be as healthy as they can be," she said. "But I also have to take care of myself."

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