Kathy Thompson: Karmanos Patient and Rebel at Heart

Karmanos Patient and Rebel at Heart

Kathy Thompson is Scrappy.

“I’m a rebel in spirit. If you’re familiar with the Scooby-Doo cartoons, my nickname from my husband is ‘Scrappy,’ after the little dog,” she said. “I can be a little stubborn.”

When Thompson was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in July 2016, her natural personality traits kicked in and she used her stubbornness in the fight against cancer.

According to her doctor, Michael Dominello, D.O., assistant professor of Oncology at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine, “She was outgoing from the start. It was clear that she wanted to play a very active role in her treatment and it’s very encouraging when patients want to partner like that.”

Thompson was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at the age of 43. This form of breast cancer accounts for about 10-15 percent of all breast cancers and can be challenging to treat. Luckily, Thompson had the expert care of the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos to guide her through treatment. This team is comprised of surgical, medical and radiation oncologists; pathologists; plastic surgeons; specialized nurse practitioners; dietitians and genetic counselors who work together to create a customized care plan for every patient.

For Thompson, radiation was part of her cancer treatment. In this form of therapy, special equipment is used to aim radiation directly at cancerous tumors and in her case, where the tumor and lymph nodes had been resected. To be successful, precision was imperative. Part of the radiation process entails marking areas of the body that will receive treatment. To do this, radiation oncologists commonly use tiny tattoos. These freckle-sized dots ensure that positioning is exactly correct for each treatment. Permanent marks are recommended to reduce the risk of fading and ensure consistency if patients need future radiation treatments.

Dr. Dominello knew that getting the right treatment could be a matter of life or death for Thompson, but she had reservations about putting permanent markings on her body. Under the weight of a cancer diagnosis, a tiny tattoo might seem trivial but Thompson explained, “I can’t control the cancer or the scars it leaves but I could control whether or not I got the tattoos and I said ‘absolutely not.’” She told her husband and Dr. Dominello, “If I have to have the tattoos then I’m not having the treatment.”

Dr. Dominello was concerned, but respected Thompson’s wishes. The Karmanos team could see that this was a critical sticking point and began to experiment. They started with henna, a temporary tattoo that stains the skin, but it didn’t work as needed. Then they got creative and used a combination of markers, glue and medical tape to ensure that the necessary markings would stay in place. This required a strong commitment from Thompson. She had to carefully monitor the marks to be sure they never scrubbed off. It was also more intensive for the Karmanos team.

“Patient safety is always the number one priority. We had to make sure that her setup was perfect every day, which meant we had to be vigilant,” Dr. Dominello said.

The vigilance paid off. Thompson is in her fourth year of remission and tattoo-free.

While Thompson’s request was outside of the norm, the Karmanos team is used to being agile since each patient receives a unique treatment plan that is specific to their individual needs.

“We are constantly adapting. We always make anatomical considerations and think about the best ways to deliver treatment based on patient comfort and preferences. We treat cancer as a team and it’s important to remember that the patient is the most important member of the team,” said Dr. Dominello.

Thompson echoes this idea and advises others to be active in their care, get cancer screenings and most importantly, take medical advice from the experts, rather than looking things up online or building up anxiety by guessing about their diagnosis. This kind of expertise is available at the Karmanos Women’s Wellness Clinic, which offers guidance, support and screenings for patients who are concerned about or diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Fear stops us from doing what we really need to be doing. There’s a sense of peace when you know what is going on – knowing is half the battle because you can make a plan,” said Thompson.

A mental health professional, her experience with cancer inspired her to focus on whole-body wellness. To share that knowledge with clients, she opened an outpatient counseling practice to inspire others to do the same. For Kathy, whole-body wellness included a change in diet to reduce her intake of processed food and careful choices about health and beauty products to avoid harmful chemicals. She also stays at a healthy weight to be sure that her body is functioning as well as it possibly can and uses her faith to help guide her and those she serves in the community. "It's a slow process, but with dedication these changes can be done, everyone can benefit, not just those that are currently sick.”

One of the things Thompson asks of her clients is to stay positive. She explained that negative thoughts can impact your body. For example, anxiety can cause your heart to race and in some cases, lead to ulcers and digestive issues. By facing fears and remaining optimistic, the body can function to its most optimum capability.

As her cancer journey continues and with the Karmanos team by her side, Thompson is working to remain positive, active and scrappy in her fight against cancer. Thanks to the accommodation and expertise of her care team at Karmanos, Thompson has her best chance at winning.