Survivor: “Breast cancer does not end when your active treatments are done”

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 5:29 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Radiation, chemotherapy and surgery are often exhausting for cancer patients.

Cancer doesn’t just end, either. Many survivors have to adjust to a new normal, new medicine and a new way of living because of the changes cancer can affect on every day life.

The same is true for Lincoln woman Katie Ohnutka. Cancer has been in Katie’s life for years. Her mother, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer three times. Her dad, Mark, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the age of 30, Katie was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer herself. She found the lump during one of her regular self exam, and went to get it checked out.

“I was in the kitchen cutting up a snack for my kids, and I got that phone call,” said Ohnutka. “It was a blur. I heard you have breast cancer. After that, I don’t really even know what the doctor said.”

After that, it was a double mastectomy, eight rounds of chemo, 30 rounds of radiation, reconstructive surgeries and a total hysterectomy as a preventative measure.

“Mentally it’s like, how am I going to get through this? How am I going to put on a brave face for my kids every day?” said Ohnutka.

Katie’s own mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was a teen. She said her mom was determined to live a normal life. Katie said she now more deeply understands her mother’s strength during her fight.

As Katie’s own chemotherapy and radiation treatment wrapped up in 2019, things took a turn for the worst. Her mom was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer a week after Katie completed her own treatment.

”I was so proud of myself that I had fought it, but I knew her diagnosis, she couldn’t win in the end. It was very hard to watch her go through that,” said Ohnutka. “She ended up passing a few days before my 1-year cancer free anniversary.

I have a lot of guilt, like survivor’s guilt, why am I here, why did she have to go so soon after my diagnosis?”

In the time since, Katie had an implant that became infected and then was totally removed. She said the cancer takes a toll, not only physically, but also mentally, especially after completing chemotherapy or radiation.

“Breast cancer does not end when your active treatments are done,” said Ohnutka. “They just kind of send you into the world, like congratulations, but picking up the pieces is very hard.”

Katie has been a part of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a network of fundraising events to benefit cancer and research, since her mom’s first diagnosis with cancer in 2004. Now, as a volunteer co-chair, Katie is throwing herself into remembering her mom, and preventing others from feeling this type of loss.

“After my mom died, I had a huge need to raise money for research, because I can’t stand to watch other families lose their loved ones to this disease,” said Ohnutka. “People rallied around me during my stuff and I just want to give back.”

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