As National Breast Cancer Month comes to an end, my mother, Jeanne Krans, shows that big things like a cancer diagnosis can be nothing more than a bump in the road.
My mom was born to be a mother, and it’s a job she does well.
Jeanne Bohn was the oldest of seven children born to an excavation company owner and his wife. With my father, Dale Krans, she would later marry and live not more than half a mile from where she grew up. My parents invested their money in two things: their three children and the home that they built themselves.
My mom is as small-town American as they come. She loves having people over and cooking them good food, especially around the holidays. She’s so hospitable that when I asked her what she would do if the zombies came, she replied, “Oh, I’d probably make them a nice dessert.”
While my mother is a cookie-baking sweetheart, she’s also tough as nails, something she proved when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Cancer picked the wrong person,” was our family mantra.
In late September 2009, my mom found a lump in her right breast. She was 59.
She wasn’t too concerned, because her annual mammogram in April had come back clean, but she went through with an ultrasound and biopsy to be safe. Although she never smoked and having a glass of wine was a special occasion, she got that call from her doctor in early October, which happens to be National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“He told me, yes, that it was cancer and he told me he already had an appointment for me to see the surgeon at 9 a.m. the next morning,” she said.
But cancer would have to wait. A reunion of old employees from First National Bank—where she met my dad—was scheduled for the following week, and she still had to make all the food.
“I couldn’t have surgery,” she said. “I had to put things in priority.”
When she was ready, she underwent a right breast mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, which involved a series of eight treatments every three weeks. After that came 28 radiation treatments spread over five weeks. Because her cancer was HER2-positive, she also underwent treatments with the drug Herceptin.
During her treatments, she told doctors never to tell her the stage of her cancer. To her, it was merely a number, and as a banker, she was used to dealing with numbers.
“It didn’t matter what stage I was in,” she said. “I was going to fight it no matter what.”
During her entire ordeal, my mom missed only four days of work. It was her choice to keep working, even if some days she was only operating at 50 percent. While before she lived to work, now she was working to show that beating cancer was just one of many things on her ever-expanding to-do list.
“Work used to be my top priority. The cancer made me change my priorities, but what I needed was a purpose to get up and work was that reason.” she said. “There were days when I could have very easily stayed in bed or got up and curled up in my chair, but I think it gave me a purpose to get up and get moving.”
Most days, she would walk down the hill from her job at River Cities Bank to the University of Wisconsin Cancer Center Riverview, and bring some work with her.
Mentally, she tried not to let her diagnosis or treatment affect her more than it needed to. She trusted her doctors, especially her oncologist Dr. Ron Kirschling.
“They are such wonderful people there,” she said.
Her white blood cells never dropped to dangerous levels, and never once did she vomit after treatment. When she lost her hair, she wore a wig so that she wouldn’t draw any extra attention to herself.
“I didn’t ask for sympathy, I asked for support. I just wanted to fight it, and, well, just get through it,” she said. “You can say I was pretty lucky that I didn’t have all the side effects that other people do. Then again, you can say I’m a tough one.”
My mother normally keeps her house spotless. However, when she was undergoing cancer treatments, her energy wasn’t always high, and she preferred to use whatever reserves she could spare on her family and friends.
“I could only do what my body would let me do,” she said. “If there were dust bunnies, I had to let them be until I had the energy to get to them.”
For her, being able to mow the acre-plus yard with a push mower—a ritual that’s both exercise and meditation—was an accomplishment in the spring.
“It took a while before I was able to do the whole lawn with the push mower again, but it was one of the things I needed to be able to do,” she said.
After a year of coping with cancer, my mom thought she was finally due for a little celebration. On Dec. 23, 2010, she filled her home with guests to celebrate her final cancer treatment.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said.
Throughout her treatment, my mom said she wasn’t going to give up for one very important reason: she wasn’t done being my mom. Now, three years cancer-free, my mom offers her support to friends who face similar diagnoses, and she’s looking forward to becoming a grandmother soon.
“Never once did I wonder ‘what I did to deserve this?’ I just thought, ‘Okay, what’s this trying to teach me?’” she said.