By BECKY MALEWITZ
Heather Wright-Renick and Megan Kramer refer to themselves as "breast friends."
The duo, who have known each other since high school, have a lot in common. They are in their early 30s, married with children, live in Cimarron and they are both battling breast cancer.
"She picks me up when I'm down, and I pull her up. I mean, if I didn't have her, I probably would not be doing this well because you get in these little funks once you get down it's so hard to get back out of it, and we're not afraid to kick each other's butts when we need to and tell each other, 'you're being a wuss, just suck it up and go,'" Kramer said.
Kramer, 33, was diagnosed with stage four (very aggressive) inflammatory breast cancer at the age of 29, just six months after giving birth to her third child. The cancer, which is found in the tissue of the breast not as a tumor, was treated with the then experimental drug Herceptin to stop the spread, followed by doses of chemotherapy and radiation, followed by a myectomy nine months later, when Kramer was declared in remission and stopped taking the Herceptin.
Nine months after that, her doctors once again found cancer cells in her lymph nodes. Kramer now travels to Houston every 28 days for treatment and testing so that the cancer cells don't spread.
"It's just something I'm going to have to deal with forever. I've come to terms with it," Kramer said.
Throughout the process, Kramer has been surrounded by family and friends, including Wright-Renick, who even held fundraisers when Kramer was first diagnosed.
Fast forward to this past spring, when Kramer received a phone call from Wright-Renick that would change their friendship forever.
Due to family history of breast cancer, Wright-Renick, 34, who is a nurse at St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, had been watching a lump in her breast diagnosed by her doctor as a fibromyoma since October. After the lump began to grow and cause pain, she returned to the doctor, who confirmed that it was cancerous and scheduled a double mastectomy for June 12, her daughter's 14th birthday.
"When she called and told me that, honestly I think that I was more upset for her than I was for myself. I had just gotten back from my first trip to Houston. I remember her calling me when I got back, and I was shaking I was so upset for her because it makes me so angry that it happens to the nice people," Kramer said.
Wright-Renick, used to being a caregiver, found it hard right after her diagnosis to realize that the control was out of her hands.
"I'm used to taking care of people, not being the one taken care of," Wright-Renick said.
Due to early detection and surgery, Wright-Renick's tests came back negative. But due to the aggressiveness of her type of cancer, her doctor put her on two rounds of chemotherapy in case even a single cell remained. She started the second round on Wednesday.
Throughout the whole ordeal, Wright-Renick has been surrounded by family and friends who have been her reason for fighting so hard.
"Truthfully, I try to be as upbeat and optimistic as I can, but I have the best support system. I don't know how people do it that don't have access to what I have," Wright-Renick said. "People that don't have an adequate support system, I don't know how they make it through things like this because if I have a bad day, there is always someone there to pick me up. I don't feel like I've ever been alone on this whole journey, which makes it easier when you are not carrying the whole burden by yourself. Everyone helps carry the load. It really makes your load lighter."
According to Wright-Renick, Kramer has been a big part of that support system.
"She's been one of my biggest support people because she understands. She gets it. The things that are hard to explain, she gets it," Wright-Renick said. "For instance, some people think that bone-tired is just a phrase that people use. No, bone-tired is something that truly exists, but you don't know it until you've gone through it."
Talking about Kramer and other breast cancer survivors she knows, Wright-Renick says, "When I say, 'puking my toenails out,' they get it. When I say, 'I feel like I'm moving through slow motion in quicksand,' they get it. When I say, 'I don't know if I can do this anymore it's so hard,' they say 'yes, you can. You're almost there. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. You got this."
Kramer agrees that having the support of a friend going through the same thing is a big help.
"I'm not glad that we both have it, but I'm really glad that I have someone to share it with that knows what I'm going through ...," she said. "A lot of times, when people ask you how you are doing, you have to just smile and tell them you are doing great because it is more for them. They don't want to see what you are really going through, and you don't care anybody to. So, it's really nice to have somebody that you can say 'God I feel like crap today,' and they know it exactly. They don't feel sorry for you, they don't pity you, they just know."
"I'm very blessed to have had her in my life." Kramer said. "I say, 'fight like a girl,' that is our motto. We fight like a girl every day, and we do it well."