Renee Kosik of Hinckley Township wears a thin silver bracelet around her right wrist, with a pink ribbon etched into each link.
The piece of jewelry not only serves as a daily reminder of her recent struggle with breast cancer, but also as a symbol of the love from her 10-year-old son, Logan, who bought it for her at the Medina County Fair.
â€œHeâ€™s got a big heart, and he cares so much,â€ Kosik said.
Kosik credits her family â€” which also includes her husband, Kevin, and her daughter, Amanda, 13 â€” along with a wide network of friends and relatives, to helping her battle the disease this past year.
But perhaps what was most crucial to Kosikâ€™s successful treatment was an early detection from a routine mammogram she had in March. So early, in fact, that doctors classified the cancer at stage zero.
â€œI never would have found it if I hadnâ€™t gone for my mammogram,â€ said Kosik, who never even felt a lump.
The screening showed a cluster of calcifications in her right breast, which required a biopsy to determine the cause. She was then diagnosed with DCIS, or Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. The good news was that the cancer was not invasive, but it had the potential to be fast-growing.
â€œI was thrown back,â€ said Kosik of when she heard the news. â€œBut I knew I had caught it early.â€
The 41-year-old woman was then faced with two options: a lumpectomy, followed by six weeks of daily radiation, or a mastectomy with no chemotherapy or radiation.
The choices alone were tough, said Kosik, who was the first in her family with breast cancer. However, being able to discuss them openly with her family and with others who had faced similar situations was a big help, she said.
â€œThe support through all of them was phenomenal,â€ Kosik said. â€œItâ€™s what got me through.â€
After talking it out, doing some research and attending about 45 meetings with various doctors, Kosik chose the mastectomy, which she had on June 1. She said she liked that it had less of a risk of the cancer returning, plus the ability to reconstruct the breast after surgery.
The hardest part was waiting, Kosik said. When the mastectomy was completed, that weight lifted right off her shoulders.
â€œI felt a ton of relief once that surgery was done and over,â€ she said.
But not every procedure is right for everyone.
â€œYou have to be completely satisfied with your decision,â€ Kosik said.
Her next choice was to have the reconstruction done at the same time as the mastectomy, which consists of an expander unit that gradually brings the breast to full size with a series of saline injections.
Two months later, it had to be taken out.
The area had developed an infection, and she had to be put on antibiotics right away. When the infection persisted, her doctor informed her the expander unit would need to be removed otherwise she could become very sick. â€œIt has to be done tomorrow,â€ she said the doctor told her.
For now, she waits. Itâ€™ll take about one to two more months to heal, and because she doesnâ€™t want to be in the hospital over the holidays, sheâ€™s aiming to have the next reconstructive surgery in January. In the meantime, she wears a prosthesis, which she knew after two days wouldnâ€™t be a long-term option.
â€œItâ€™s like taking care of a baby,â€ she said. â€œIt has to be bathed, and you canâ€™t drop it.â€
Spreading the word
Kosikâ€™s goal now is to spread the word about the importance of early detection.
â€œI was given a second chance to do something about it,â€ she said. â€œI have breast cancer. Why hide it?â€
Doctors recommend yearly mammograms for women 40 and older, and monthly self-examinations after 20. They can be easy to postpone and forget about, but Kosik said thereâ€™s no good excuse.
â€œWith the knowledge thatâ€™s out there, and the technology thatâ€™s out there, thereâ€™s no reason to wait,â€ she said. â€œThe more women that can be found at stages zero or one, the more ease of treatment.â€
She said husbands and other men have a large role to play as well, by reminding the women in their lives to get screened, and should the results come back positive for cancer, to be as supportive as possible.
â€œMy husband was right there with me through the whole thing,â€ Kosik said. â€œIt actually brought us closer.â€
For anyone who is currently seeking treatment for cancer, Kosik recommends talking to support groups and learning as much as you can.
Bonnie Meyer, the community education and resource center director at Medina General Hospital, agrees.
â€œJust become as informed as much as you can, because then you can make intelligent decisions,â€ Meyer said. The center offers a variety of materials on the topic and on womenâ€™s health in general.
Other than that, Kosik said to just stay strong and have a positive outlook, which is evident in her own approach to the cancer.
â€œIâ€™m going to beat this. Itâ€™s not going to beat me,â€ she said. â€œI look at it as the cancer is gone, and the rest is just a bumpy road.â€
Winn may be reached at 330-721-4053 or firstname.lastname@example.org.