The Taxol is working, hanging aside its drip-kit sidekicks Benadryl and sodium.
Linda Kazemier and her five-wheeled IV stand are on the third floor at Spectrum Health Cancer Center’s Lemmen-Holton Pavilion. She received word this morning that she would need two more treatments, three hours each, and a little longer before she can undergo breast cancer surgery.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” she says, rolling her hazel eyes to the left. Her waist-length hair is gone; a multi-purple bandanna covers her scalp. She is spirited and sometimes a little saucy.
Kazemier, 53, has stage 4 breast cancer.
The lump was dime-sized at first, but she was without health insurance when temporarily living in Florida. That went on for perhaps a year and a half. Returning to her hometown of Lowell, Michigan, in February, she found a free screening at a friend’s insistence.
By then the tumor was golf-ball sized, and she was in some pain.
On April 1 she got the word. Cancer from her left breast had moved to the ninth rib in her back. It has not spread further, she is told.
“I beat myself up for the longest time because it was my own fault, but it was all about getting a job and getting insurance,” says Kazemier, who is told her cancer is treatable, but not curable. “All I can do now is I tell every woman and every person I meet, ‘I don’t care how old you are, get checked.’”
At Kaiser’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Lowell since 1945, a post-lunch crowd lingers. Today’s special is barbeque pork and tater tots, for $5.99. There is a gumball machine and vintage Coke dispenser.
East of the eatery is City Hall, built in 1909. A perhaps 60-foot flag pole towers above, topped by United States, Michigan and Vietnam POW flags. The five and dime variety store is nearby. A Relay for Life Banner spans Main Street.
Kazemier waitressed at the diner, one of its “four Lindas.” If you called to have your coffee topped, it’s best to be specific. Fundraising information was available there, until a bowl with details was recently removed at Kazemier’s request. The car wash neared.
This day, it’s a cool Saturday, about 61 degrees not long before noon. The sun is waiting for a break.
At the RiteWay car lot in Wyoming, down from a cherry red Ford Mustang convertible, Kazemier sits alone, her busy family nearby, cousins and their children, spouses.
On the table is a pink-wrapped donation box. Two similarly colored cancer ribbons are chalked onto the pavement.
Kazemier looks forward, not backward, mostly. Every other Friday, she was administered the tumor-shrinking Taxol at Lemmen-Holton. The next day, she was back for an immune booster shot.
“They are amazed at how well I’m doing,” she said. “It takes a toll. I’m handling it quite well. White counts are nice, not a lot of nausea.”
“It is just a great place,” she adds. “I have a full team—social, oncologist, primary, my surgeon, a radiologist.”
Amy Vander Woude, MD, a medical oncologist with Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, said Kazemier “did very well.” Soon radiation will be used to target the one spot of cancer.
In that sense, Kazemier is fortunate, Dr. Vander Woude said. “Usually when you have stage 4 breast cancer, there are multiple spots. She only has one. That is not usual.”
The single spot can be treated “a lot more aggressively,” Dr. Vander Woude said.
Kazemier’s 28-year-old son, Justin, however, “is taking it quite hard for the fact his father also was diagnosed a year ago with leukemia,” Kazemier says.
She coughs occasionally. She also wears a bandanna this day, for the car wash.