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October 10, 2012

Profile: Breast cancer survivor Kim Cromwell

Active lifestyle helps New Albany woman throughout battle with disease

NEW ALBANY — After a typical afternoon of lap swimming at the YMCA, Kim Cromwell was lying in a bath when she felt a pain in her chest.

The New Albany woman first thought the pain was the result of overexerting herself in the pool.

She soon realized, however, the pain was a bump - a bump that would lead to 12 months of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and multiple surgeries.

For the then 38-year-old, her breast cancer diagnosis in November 2009 would mean a year or more of making tough sacrifices.

Cromwell knew she would miss out on her favorite activities, playing with her children, now 8- and 10-years-old, and keeping up her athletic lifestyle of participating in road races, including the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon and triathlons.

“As much as I knew it wasn't a death sentence or anything like that these days, it still made me so frustrated that I knew I was going to lose a year of my life doing what I wanted to be doing,” Cromwell said. “That was the hardest pill to swallow.”

While the journey would not be easy, Cromwell's active lifestyle and healthy diet would help to make the road a little less rocky.

* * * *

The diagnosis was not only discouraging for the General Mills project engineer, but unexpected.

“It is inconceivable when you get the diagnosis,” Cromwell said. “You may have zero symptoms of feeling bad, like me. And, in a few short treatments, you have gone from feeling completely healthy and normal to feeling like you have had the flu for months. You can't believe how fast you just deteriorate.”

After having a benign tumor removed from her back only months earlier, she thought she was free and clear of medical complications for the time being.

“I already had my time with the tumor,” Cromwell said, recalling her reaction to the cancer diagnosis. “I was like, 'I should be done with that.'”

While Cromwell didn't fear her diagnosis to be life threatening, the treatments often left her ill and unable to leave bed.

“There is a reason cancer has the reputation that it does because it does make you feel really bad,” she said. “Those medicines are fantastic, but they are awful at the same time.”

Cromwell said during the treatments the physical pain was overshadowed by the anxiousness stirred by the unknown.

“I felt the hardest part of cancer is not knowing when you are finally going to feel good again,” she said.

Cromwell realized early on that cancer was going to be a more formidable foe than the tumor removed from her back, which forced her to take nearly eight weeks off from work to rehabilitate.

“I already knew how that had slowed me down,” she said. “I thought, 'Okay, this was going to be a lot worse than that.'”

During the months of treatment and rehabilitation, Cromwell found time for self-reflection. She learned she wasn't as patient as she had thought.

“You think raising children you get probably one of the biggest patience tests you could get, but when there are not easy answers or definite answers and direct answers when you are going to feel better, you can only take one day at a time,” she said.

However, things Cromwell had been doing all her life helped make her recovery a little easier.

At one point her oncologist said he always looked forward to her appointments because she was one of the few patients who was in the right range of the Body Mass Index. In addition, her heart function tests following the chemotherapy looked much better than most of his other patients.

“Exercising and getting up and going has a lot to do with feeling better sooner,” she said. “You are definitely healthier through it.”  

She added that having physical fitness as a priority in a person's life makes it easier to cope with the extended cancer treatments.

“It gives you motivation to want to get up and do those things again and not lay around and feel sorry for yourself,” she said.

Cromwell said a lifetime of healthy eating also played a role in getting her through the harsh treatments.

“Luckily, I had parents who gardened and things like that, and it was instilled to eat right and to eat balanced,” she said.

Also, because of her professional experience working at General Mills, Cromwell is very aware of some of the deceptive practices sometimes used by companies in the food industry.

“I see the hidden ways that the food industry can fatten people up without them realizing it,” she said.

As an example, Cromwell said product labeling may sell a food as low sodium, but sugar and corn syrup solids may be added for flavor.

“So, you are substituting one evil for another,” she said.

She tries to stick to the basics when it comes to her diet by avoiding processed, pre-packaged and frozen foods.

 “The fewer things done to the food the better, in my opinion,” she said.

She also makes fruits and vegetables the go-to snacks for her and her family.

By including a lot of fruits and vegetables in her diet, Cromwell said she is able to stay away from pills and powders that promote the secret to good health.

While she is selective when it comes to food, the cancer survivor does not completely rule out anything from her diet.

“I don't have a real firm belief that particular foods necessarily lead to cancer,” she said.

What Cromwell does have a firm belief in is taking charge of one's health through an active lifestyle, healthy eating and preventative care.

Cromwell acted quickly after discovering a lump in her chest while in her bathtub nearly three years ago and suggests others do the same.

“Preventative care is the best care. Don't wait until something is further than it needs to be. If you think anything significant is wrong, you need to get it checked out,” she said. “Be in charge of your own destiny.”

Since April 2009, Cromwell underwent surgery to remove a tumor from her back, chemotherapy treatments, a double mastectomy, seven weeks of radiation and two failed breast reconstruction surgeries, with a third scheduled for this month.

With the cancer now behind her, Cromwell is back to work, playing with her two young boys and preparing to participate in a half Ironman event in 2013.

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