Photo: Lisi Wolf Photography
At 33, Kim Allison was on top of the world. She had a college degree from Princeton and advanced medical degrees. She had a loving husband, and two small children, one only seven months old and being breast fed. She also had a great job. She had been named Director of Breast Pathology at the University of Washington Medicine Health System in Seattle. That meant she would review the biopsies of four to eight women each day where breast cancer was suspected. Usually she ruled it out. But then everything changed.
Kim had been noticing discomfort in one of her own breasts. It was probably from the breast feeding, she thought. She ignored it. But she continued to mention it and finally her husband insisted she go get it checked. She had a mammogram. But during breast feeding that imaging does not provide clear answers. So she had an ultrasound and a biopsy in the area of discomfort. She carried her own biopsy back to the lab to have her peers review it. The next day two of them came to her office on the verge of tears. This time, in a younger woman – their friend – the result was cancer, and an aggressive kind called HER2 positive. The breast pathologist had cancer herself.
Kim was floored. She looked at the slides in disbelief. Now she was a patient too, just like all the other women she had diagnosed. It was personal. Treatment began: months of chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation, breast reconstruction. That was in 2006. One of the chemo drugs she received was Adriamycin, red in color and famous for side effects. Many women call it “The Red Devil.” But Kim chose to see it as powerful healing medicine so she named it “Red Sunshine.” And she kept a journal. Over time, as a doctor with cancer, and as a young mother, she decided to turn her journal into a book to inspire others and also detail, from a patient-doctor’s point of view what treatment was really like. The book “Red Sunshine” comes out September 27, 2011, just before Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
You can meet Kim right now by listening to my interview with her on PatientPower in the program “My Journey from Pathologist to Breast Cancer Survivor” at http://goo.gl/OCe6W