Brigid Kaelin is a singer-songwriter who plays more than 10 instruments and tours Europe annually. She has a supportive husband and two sons, in preschool and second grade. She also has a long family history of cancer. Both of her parents died of the disease, and she spent time acting as a caretaker for both of them.
Every woman on her mom’s side of the family has gotten breast or ovarian cancer at some point, and every man on her dad’s side has been diagnosed with prostate or colon cancer. So Brigid knew she needed to take her cancer screening seriously.
Shortly after her dad died of cancer last summer, Brigid began to take better care of herself and started to realize that something didn’t feel right about her body. She was losing her appetite and felt a tingling pain up and down her shoulder that wouldn’t go away. They were small symptoms that most people attributed to her grief, but she didn’t want to just pass them off as nothing, because her dad did that with his sinus cancer, which the doctors believed was allergies.
When both a mammogram and an ultrasound of her breasts came back clear, Brigid still felt like something was amiss and asked for an MRI just to be sure. After all, a mammogram had missed her mom’s cancer the first time too.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused her appointment to be pushed back three times, delaying her diagnosis for several months. Finally, in September, she was able to get the scan done and learned that she had breast cancer.
“It was part relief in that I got an answer that was definitive,” says Brigid. “Uncertainty with the pandemic is what’s driving us crazy. That’s what it is without the cancer diagnosis, it’s just pure uncertainty.”
Brigid’s doctors recommended a simple lumpectomy to get rid of the 8-millimeter tumor in her right breast. But Brigid wasn’t messing around. “Nobody can tell you you’re going to be fine,” she says. “And anyone who does? What do you know?”
Having finished having children and breastfeeding them, the 42-year-old Louisville musician knew she didn’t really need her breasts anymore and decided to go for a full double mastectomy.
“This is clearly heredity,” she recalls thinking. “Get them both removed.”
So she went through with the double mastectomy. Doctors originally offered her a surgery date in mid-November, but she pushed back, wanting to get things moving as quickly as possible. Her surgery was then rescheduled for October 8th.
“I’m young,” she says, recalling that first week after her diagnosis. “I’ve got these kids. I’m going to live. You’re not going to push my surgery off.”
Brigid’s surgery turned up four small stage 1a tumors in her right breast, some of which would likely have been missed if she’d had a lumpectomy. Now she’s waiting for testing to determine whether she’ll need chemotherapy and radiation therapy. She plans to seek a second opinion either way just to cover her bases.
Brigid had originally planned on keeping her breast cancer a secret. She remembered the pain she went through after her mother was diagnosed with the disease, and she didn’t want to cause that type of pain to her friends and family.
However, Brigid soon realized that sharing her experience was one of the only things she could do to help raise awareness and remind others to do their self-exams and get regular mammograms. She hopes that her story can inspire others to advocate for themselves when they believe something is going wrong in their body.
Brigid is currently working on a memoir about her time caring for her parents during their cancer battles. She never expected the book to have a plot twist where she was diagnosed with cancer herself. Sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to.
If you’d like to support Brigid on her cancer journey, there’s a GoFundMe page set up here to support her.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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