Dennis Nickell shaves his girlfriend Kyli Steck’s head while she beams from ear to ear in face of the breast cancer she is battling.

Dennis Nickell shaves his girlfriend Kyli Steck’s head while she beams from ear to ear in face of the breast cancer she is battling.

Young cancer victim shares awareness

Kyli Steck is responding to treatment but urges all women to get to know their breasts

A young Vernon mother battling an aggressive form of breast cancer is proof that this is not just a seniors’ disease.

At just 37-years-old, with no family history of cancer, Kyli Steck is fighting the disease that even doctors didn’t believe was likely for the healthy, physically fit young woman.

But in fact, it all started five years ago when Steck found a lump in her right breast.

“It took a while for them to even check it,” said Steck, who was stressed about the hard, marble-like lump and insisted on an ultrasound and a biopsy.

“Finding a lump in your breast is a little nerve-racking.”

While the results were negative, that first scare made Steck much more aware of the potential — resulting in regular self exams. And it’s those self exams that caught the next lump, five years later, this time on her left side.

“I thought, this was different, it’s not moving.”

An ultrasound revealed that it was most likely a fibroadenoma but wanted to check it out further due to irregular borders. Yet a mammogram was denied.

“I requested and pushed but radiology said, ‘no because of your age,’” said Steck, who would later discover that she had aggressive invasive inductive carcinoma.

Her diagnosis was surreal.

“All I heard was ‘aggressive’ and ‘breast cancer,’” said the dental assistant, who has been off work since she got the news in early February.

Thanks to her vigilance, doctors told Steck: “Because you were on it I believe we caught it early.”

Only then was she finally granted a mammogram, but it turned out to be useless.

“Nothing showed up. Our first line of defence that’s being pushed says there’s nothing there.”

But when the surgeon wanted to perform a full mastectomy, Steck put on the brakes.

“Why would you put me through a mastectomy if I’m riddled,” she questioned, as her thirst for knowledge grew deeper.

Chemotherapy and surgery seemed to be the only option, but Steck wanted to see if there was more.

“It’s scary, it (chemotherapy) is poison,” said Steck. “I don’t want to put that in my system.

“I was holding out hope. I needed to check all my avenues.”

After learning about the Hoxsey Bio Medical Center in Tijuana, the lure of a full analysis and alternative therapies piqued her interest. And a week after being in her surgeon’s office, Steck was in Tijuana. But the doctors there came to the same conclusion that surgery would be necessary (although she was given a tonic to help her through the process).

She returned home, got a second surgeon and learned that there was an urgency to treatment as she was in grade three (the highest of the breast cancer grades).

Her new surgeon explained: “If you don’t do chemotherapy and you don’t take this as aggressively as it came on, I feel you’re not going to be here.”

That was the game changer. Even her naturopath agreed that chemotherapy was the best option but was able to assist her in the process and educate her on it.

“You’re taking yew bark,” the naturopathic doctor confirmed of one of the alternative therapies she was using. “Well that’s a main ingredient in chemotherapy.”

Taxol, a chemotherapy drug used in cancer treatment, is isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. But taking yew orally is poisonous.

So Steck is now undergoing treatment, which has resulted in the loss of her gorgeous blonde hair. But it has failed to dull her shine.

It has slowed her down — she’s only able to hit nine holes of golf, versus the 18 she used to. But after just two rounds of chemo, the lump in her breast had already shrunk. She knows the second half of treatment could be even harder on her, yet her smile remains as broad as ever.

To help Steck — a mother to 10-year-old Jakob and eight-year-old Isabelle — her partner of two years, Dennis Nickell, has been raising funds to take the financial pressure off, and has already generated more than $4,500. Friends have hosted bottle drives, and accounts are set up at both Chasers and Interior bottle depots where you can donate the money from your sorted empties.

A fundraiser is also in the works for May 27 at the Vernon Recreation Centre. Featuring live music by the Noble Crew, the dinner and dance starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25. There will also be an online auction beginning May 21, where those at the event will have the chance to place the final bids on these and more items. For more information, search Kyli’s Fight on Facebook.

“I’m so grateful and overwhelmed by the support, it’s shocking really,” said Steck, with tears welling up in her eyes over the generosity of friends, family and complete strangers.

But even more than the support, Steck hopes her story raises greater awareness about the vital importance of self exams.

“The day of it being a seniors’ issue is gone,” said Steck, a 1997 Fulton Secondary graduate.

“Women of all ages need to get to know their breasts, as funny as that sounds.”