Political reporter back home with no sign of breast cancer following treatment in Texas
Political reporter Meg Kinnard sits beside the same second story window of her Richland County home where she first shed light on a personal battle with breast cancer this past spring.
Dressed in a vibrant red dress with lips to match and long black hair much like her own, the 41-year-old recently returned from Texas where she underwent surgery and radiation at the renowned M.D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
It’s been a long journey in a relatively short time.
The Nearly Missed Diagnosis
Nine months ago, a pebble like lump thought to be a calcium deposit was deemed potentially life threatening, but misdiagnosed as a common and easily treated kind of cancer.
A second opinion from doctors at M.D. Anderson revealed what Kinnard really had was inflammatory breast cancer; rare and aggressive. They repeatedly told her the tumor had some unique features.
“That’s not necessarily something you ever want to hear, that it’s unique and that it looks different,” says Kinnard.
But it was and it did.
Kinnard underwent months of chemotherapy, yet the tumor refused to shrink the way doctors wanted. It was persistent and tough, much like the well-known journalist for the Associated Press who continued to break stories while facing a frightening new deadline.
If the tumor did not substantially shrink in six weeks, doctors could not remove it.
Kinnard tackled it holistically. She restricted her diet to lean proteins and no sugar. She also increased exercise to at least twice a day while continuing chemotherapy. By August, the tumor was small enough.
As Kinnard’s three children headed back to school, she moved to Texas for treatment.
Treatment in Texas
She underwent more tests before finally taking that long journey on a gurney to an operating room. Kinnard was in surgery for 12 hours. Doctors performed a double mastectomy and meticulously removed other areas where cancer had spread, including 64 lymph nodes.
“It turned out too, that so much skin on my left-hand side, my inflammatory side, had to be removed that there wasn’t enough left to close me up,” says Kinnard.
With little skin left to stitch, Kinnard woke up to a collagen patch and a wound vac holding her together. She says she wasn’t scared, instead grateful and fascinated by the science now saving her.
Next came radiation.
A fitted face mask bolted Kinnard to a table. Twice a day, for 22 days, she’d hold her breath so her lungs would expand protecting her organs for the radiation meant to kill cancer. The treatment itself didn’t hurt. But the cumulative effect on her skin was scorching.
“It hurt,” she says. “There were blisters. There was redness. It was awful.”
An inflamed patch of skin still glares from Kinnard’s left collarbone as she reflects on those final, tough days in Texas.
She says work kept her going, as did sharing her story on both local and national television. She continued to advocate for self-exams, mammograms and second opinions which she believes should be more accessible.
Kinnard donated her tumor to M.D. Anderson for further study and agreed to let a private company take samples in hopes of developing medications.
She also signed up for a clinical trial as she undergoes hormone therapy to keep cancer from coming back. The trial requires frequent trips to Texas, but it also provided an early scan.
That scan, she says, came back showing no signs of the disease.
“It’s hard to say that cancer is 100 percent gone,” says Kinnard. “But from that scan they could say there was at least no evidence of it and that’s good enough for me.”
After getting the news, Kinnard quickly boarded a plane. She hadn’t been home in nearly three months.
"From that scan they could say there was at least no evidence of it (cancer) and that’s good enough for me.”
Her husband recorded the moment she landed, and her daughter dashed across the tarmac calling out, “Mommy”. Kinnard admits she was in tears, long before the girl tightly wrapped her arms around her.
Mother and daughter held onto each other for some time.
“You know, my skin was so sensitive and delicate at that time,” says Kinnard. “I don’t even think it hurt when she gave me the bear hug that she did.”
Kinnard knows cancer will always be with her. Hopefully though it will only reside in the back of her mind.
She says its lessons will be with her too about life’s simple treasures, like the embrace of a child.