Relay's keynote speaker tells of miscarriage and battle with rare cancer
Kimberly Testo stood at the podium of Relay for Life Saturday and explained that hers is not the usual cancer story.
Testo, 28, got pregnant last year. Sadly, she miscarried a month later.
Surgery followed, and during fairly routine pre-surgery tests, doctors discovered that Testo’s results were a little abnormal. She wasn’t that worried and waited for the follow-up appointment.
But when she returned to the doctor, she and her husband, Raymond, learned she had gestational trophoblastic neoplasia, or uterine cancer, a rare form of cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, gestational trophoblastic disease is a group of rare tumors that involve abnormal growth of cells inside a woman’s uterus.
“The disease does not develop from cells of the uterus like cervical cancer or endometrial (uterine lining) cancer. Instead, these tumors start in the cells that would normally develop into the placenta during pregnancy,” according to the American Cancer Society website.
“You get it from getting pregnant,” Testo told the crowd gathered along the track at Foran High Saturday for the annual Relay for Life.
“I was the 1%,” Testo said. “It was the card I drew.”
The young woman said that while the diagnosis was devastating, she realized she had options because of medical advances.
“I had options, I had many options,” she said.
Doctors told her she could pursue a strenuous or a less strenuous course to attack the disease, and she chose the most rigid, determined to win.
She started chemotherapy last Sept. 21, and while she sometimes fell victim to the “why me” attitude, friends and family helped keep her strong and hopeful.
After eight rounds of chemotherapy, on Dec. 21 she was proclaimed cancer-free, and then on Dec. 27 she did one more round “for good measure,” she said.
But Testo and others at the event who had battled cancer said it’s always in the back of your mind that it will come back. For Testo, there was another worry: What had the cancer and the treatment done to her body, and would she be able to conceive again?
The answer is “yes,” Testo said, announcing that she is 15 weeks pregnant.
“We’re all fighters,” she told the crowd on Saturday.
Hot sun poured down on participants in the 2014 Relay for Life at Foran High School for a couple of hours Saturday.
At about 3:30 p.m., not long after the 2 p.m. event kickoff, skies turned gray, thunder rumbled, and many of the students and adults gathered for the event headed into the Foran High auditorium. Then the rain fell.
But the event is rain or shine, said Vinny DeRobertis, one of the organizers. As soon as the lightning had passed, the group went back outside to continue.
“We were inside for about an hour and a half,” DeRobertis said.
More than 650 people registered for the relay this year, organizer Kathy Olsen announced as the event was getting underway Saturday afternoon.
Relay for Life raises funds for cancer research, and draws together people who are battling the disease, those who have battled it, and those who lost loved ones to cancer.
As of Monday, the event had raised about $55,000, and money was still coming in.
Relay participants take turns walking around the high school track throughout the night, many camping out on the high school field overnight. It is an overnight event, Olsen said, “to represent the light and darkness of battling cancer.”
“When they’re leaving in the morning, they are like the cancer patient finishing that last treatment,” Olsen said. “It’s also overnight because cancer never sleeps.”
Most of the people at Foran over the weekend had faced cancer in one way or another.
School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser spoke during opening ceremonies, and she said she lost three brothers to cancer. She also mentioned some Milford people who died recently, including Dylan Fortunato, a young Milford student who died in May after battling cancer.
But she said the battle goes on, and people have to continue to fight.
“We will not let this disease beat us,” Feser said.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg stopped to talk to a couple of cancer survivors before heading to the podium for opening ceremonies.
Lil Barnum told her she recently battled lung and brain cancer. “The chemotherapy and radiation knocked me on my keister,” Barnum said.
She said she’s been cancer-free about a year but there’s always that worry that the cancer will return.
Rita Wilson said she battled cancer, but has been free of it nearly 20 years.
“You have to have a positive attitude,” Wilson said. “You have to be around people who make you feel loved. You can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
When Slossberg stepped to the podium, she thanked people like Barnum and Wilson for giving people hope, and she talked about two close friends with cancer. One just started treatment, and one finished treatment and is cancer-free.
Probate Judge Beverly Streit-Kefalas recently lost her father to the disease, and she said “the grief doesn’t go away.”
But looking at the survivors, many of whom sat in front of the podium, she said, “You inspire me and all of us with your survivor ribbons.”
Pete Lanier wore a purple survivor ribbon: He has been free of cancer for 13 years.
“I’m 76 and I’m still going,” he said.
Lanier is a custodian at Foran High School, and he was at the relay with his son, Matt, 32, who recently finished surgery and chemotherapy following a cancer diagnosis at the beginning of the year.
Matt is cancer-free today. While he was battling the disease, one day his beard fell out into his cereal bowl, he said. Now, he’s determined not to shave it, and said in years to come he will be the man at relay sporting the very long beard.
Pete said the cancer may be genetic where he and Matt are concerned: Pete said his mother was one of 13 children, and eight of them died of cancer.
Matt had another theory.
“I think they give it to strong people because we can kick it,” he said.