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Picking up the Pieces



Kristan Phipps is picking up the pieces of life again, grateful for the Sanford Bemidji physicians and cancer team that supported her through a tumultuous battle with breast cancer. Only 42 years old at the time of diagnosis, Phipps said she will never forget Dec. 19, 2011. “That was the day my world turned upside down,” she said. “I learned the biopsy results were positive. No one else in my family had ever had breast cancer and I was supposed to be too young.”

The diagnosis struck a deep-seated fear. Her first husband was diagnosed with brain cancer on their first wedding anniversary and she cared for him through his illness and death. She couldn't bear the thought of her children being subjected to watching her struggle with cancer. They already had their own challenges: Joseph was stationed in Afghanistan; Seth has autism, and as a result, special needs; and Meghan was still in high school.

Health problems had already emotionally and financially drained her family. Her current husband, Kelly, had suffered a heart attack followed by a long recovery. Her father had died of complications related to cancer. Earlier in 2011, Sanford Bemidji Surgeon Dr. Allan Campbell performed gallbladder removal surgery on both Kristan and Kelly. Then in December at a routine wellness exam, Phipps had her first mammogram followed by an ultrasound and the fateful biopsy.

That was just the beginning.

Within the next seven months, she had two more surgeries: a lumpectomy and a total hysterectomy. Between surgeries, she had chemotherapy treatments followed by radiation treatments.

“It all happened so fast, it was such a blur for me,” she reflected. “It was just like my brain went into shut-down mode.”

The staff at Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center became a familiar fixture.

“They were all so wonderful to me,” she said. “One day I was in radiation having a treatment and I was so stress overloaded that I just laid there and cried. I knew they were watching me on the camera, but I couldn't stop. One of the girls came in and gave me a huge hug. It was like my guardian angel was right there. All of the people in that department have become like a second family to me. And the radiologist, Dr. Matthew Lee, is a supremely awesome man. All my doctors were awesome!”

She’s also grateful for her primary care physician Dr. Thomas Haas at Sanford Health Walker Clinic. He urged her to have a baseline mammogram at her annual physical. She complied, thinking it wasn't necessary. Now she knows how necessary it was. On June 12, 2013, Phipps marked one year of being cancer free.

Generous donors to the Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center through the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota help provide cutting-edge diagnostics, equipment and treatment so patients like Phipps can beat cancer.

To learn more about the Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center or to make a gift, visit foundation.sanfordhealth.org or call (218) 333-5505.

Posted Date: January 2014

Picking up the Pieces

Kristan Phipps is picking up the pieces of life again, grateful for the Sanford Bemidji physicians and cancer team that supported her through a tumultuous battle with breast cancer.