Birch passes on mother's lesson in tackling cancer

Authored by Jim Langham on Jun 18, 2012

When Adams Memorial Hospital CNA Katie Birch discovered that she had breast cancer she had a good cry and then turned to her immediate family and the person she felt could understand and assist her in the next several months as she fought the dreaded disease.
It was nine years ago when Birch's mother, Kathleen Gross, walked the same journey in fighting the same disease in her own encounter with breast cancer.
"I knew she would help me," said Birch. "My mother has always been there for me forever. She raised me and she has helped me raise my kids. My mom showed me how to do it when she worked through it.
"I am very excited to be part of Relay for Life," continued Birch. "My first reaction was, 'oh no, I don't deserve an honor like this; there are so many people who have gone through this.' There are many people out there who deserve this more than I do. I feel very fortunate, things could be a lot worse."
It was March of 2011 when Birch first had an inkling that something wasn't quite right.
"My breast itched; it itched so bad on the right side that it was driving me insane," said Birch. "The doctor suggested that I do a baseline. After all, I was only 37, so we did a mammogram. Nothing was found on the right side but they found a couple of cysts on the left side."
A year passed and Birch was still itching. She had another examination in March of 2012; this time the lump appeared to be a little larger, but the itching persisted.
"I had an ultrasound and they found it, very close to my chest wall between my chest and my breast," said Birch. "I also did a mammogram at the Breast Diagnostic Center in Fort Wayne. They said that they strongly suggest that I have a biopsy.
"On March 26, I got a call while I was at work at Adams Memorial Hospital. They did five biopsies and all five came out positive. I called my mom and talked to my husband. I went home to be with my husband and my children."
Birch said that the first step was to see surgeon Dr. Alan Yahanda with Indiana Surgeon Specialists in Fort Wayne. There she was advised to have surgery to have the cancer removed. She was also advised to see a plastic surgeon, Matthew Shambaugh, concerning the possibility of reconstructive surgery.
"My sister-in-law suggested that we go there; I respect her and have a lot of confidence in her so we went. They are such a wonderful group of people," observed Birch. "I was told what reconstruction options I had. Because of my strong family history of breast cancer, I decided to have it removed.
"Right now I have forms to keep my skin stretched. They will stay in until after I finish radiation," continued Birch.
Birch is currently on six months of chemo treatment on a three-week rotation basis. Then she will have 35 radiation treatments, five days a week for seven weeks. Her forms will be in until that point.
"I was really considering not doing any kind of reconstruction but I am 38 years old and have a lot of life ahead of me," Birch said. "I felt like I needed to do some reconstruction for my femininity."
Birch said that she arrived at her conclusions after conferring with many trusted people.
"I've had lots of support, that is so important," said Birch. "I would hate to go through this alone. I'm a really independent strong person but I couldn't do this alone. I was given wise council that openness and honesty in every step is the best way and that has proven to be true.
"It's impossible to be strong all of the time but you do your best. I have a wonderful supportive husband (Matt) and children. I cry when I need to, laugh when I need to, and get upset when I need to. My mother showed me how to do this and now I need to show my children how to do this. I have to be strong through this; with the history that I have, I've got to be positive," stressed Birch.
Birch's support took a unique twist when a group of Bellmont High School students initiated a fundraiser under the guise of, "Project Pink Vest."
Cody Walters, a close of friend of her son Isaac from the Bellmont football team, initiated a website to accept money to help his buddy's family. At first, he set the goal at $100 but he was forced to reset the goal many times. In the end, through a bank account at the First Bank of Berne, the effort raised over $5,000 and a free ticket for Birch to attend the Bellmont prom earlier this spring.
As part of the fundraising campaign, Walters had launched an additional phase to get all of the football players and anyone else going to the prom to wear pink vests on their tuxedos, in honor of Isaac's mom. The night of the prom, Katie and her family made an appearance at the "pink prom" to express their gratitude for all of the efforts.
"I have stacks and stacks of cards. I have gifts from people I know and people I've never met before," said Birch. "Co-workers at Adams Memorial Hospital have collected money and gift cards. They brought frozen foods to help through the time. Many sat up accounts that could be deducted from their paychecks to help with this.
"Those are all of my small miracles. I get them every day," continued Birch. "It doesn't have to be money; it can be a laugh with my kids. That's a special miracle. Tammy Smith, a mother of a boy that our son Maverick plays basketball with, set up for meals during the mastectomy."
Katie and Matt Birch have three children, Isaac 18, Maverick 16, and Gabby 11.
"I have gotten so much help. My family is wonderful," observed Birch. "My husband has been outstanding. I don't see how anyone could make it through something like this if they don't have a good spousal relationship. Matt is truly a rock; He takes care of business and gets it done. We will be married 18 years in July.
"This is something that has given the kids a different perspective," continued Birch. "They've seen how something good can come out of something bad. My perspective is different. You think about things more. You settle down a little bit and take advantage of the little things."


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