Kayla Janak – Reflections of a Breast Cancer Survivor

Kayla Janak

Kayla Janak

By Linda K. Eaves | Photos by Nesossi Studios –

When Kayla learned the type of breast cancer she had, she said, “At that moment, all the happiness was sucked out of my life. I was in shock. I wasn’t expecting that diagnosis. I was very overwhelmed, and I didn’t know which way to go or what to do.”

Kayla discovered a lump in her breast during a self-exam late January at the age of 41. She wasn’t alarmed at all. She had a fibroadenoma in the same breast before, so she assumed she was dealing with the same issue. Six months earlier she had a negative mammogram. She and her family went on vacation.

When she returned a week later in early February, she made an appointment with her OB/GYN. The doctor could feel the mass. The mammogram didn’t show anything; however, the approximately two-centimeter mass showed up on the ultrasound. A biopsy was recommended.

Stephen and Kayla Janak.

Stephen and Kayla Janak.

The biopsy revealed she had triple negative breast cancer, a typically aggressive type of breast cancer with a high recurrence rate.  Methodist Sugar Land Hospital Breast Cancer Navigator Maria Socci and the radiologist informed Kayla of the diagnosis. “Maria was absolutely wonderful. She hugged and comforted me. While I tried to absorb what was happening to me, she took the time to set up all of my appointments for me.”

“I called my husband, and he came over right away. We were both in tears and in shock. I’m a nurse anesthetist at Methodist Sugar Land, and a few girlfriends came over to comfort me. At first, it was awful. Not having a plan and not knowing what to do was ad-ding to my stress.

“When we picked up our kids from school that afternoon, I was overcome by a dreadful feeling. The week before I was on vacation, skiing and enjoying the mountains. A week later, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to see my kids grow up. I realized how life can change in the blink of an eye. Then I thought: What’s going to happen to me?”

The next morning, Dr. Kelly Demp-sey laid out her surgical options. “I felt better when I left Dr. Dempsey’s office because she’s very honest, vibrant and feisty. If you’re facing breast cancer, you definitely want to have her in your corner. She pumped me up and told me I was going to beat this.”

Kayla, Peyton and Grant Janak.

Kayla, Peyton and Grant Janak.

Her next appointment was with Dr. Chevray, her plastic surgeon, followed by Dr. Darcourt, her oncologist. “Both comforted me and told me I was going to be fine, and that’s exactly what I needed to hear. After my appointments, I felt much better because I had a game plan and a better idea of what I was dealing with. During the next several days, I had several decisions to make regarding my surgery, chemotherapy and participation in a clinical trial.”

Kayla opted for surgery first, a double mastectomy, with Dr. Dempsey at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, followed by placement of tissue expanders with Dr. Chevray. She declined to participate in the clinical trial. After surgery, Kayla received chemotherapy for five months.

Kayla said, “Everything was done in a timely manner. I’m still surprised how quickly my treatment moved along. I was very happy with my experience at Methodist Sugar Land. It was convenient, five minutes away from my home. I was very pleased with the care I received.”

Unconditional Support

Kayla’s care included support from her friend Maria. “Maria Socci was always there for me and asked if there was anything she could do for me. She came to my appointments when my husband was at work.”

Maria Socci, Usha Pillai, Kayla Janak and Theresa Boundy on the day Kayla received her certificate from the infusion clinic.

Maria Socci, Usha Pillai, Kayla Janak and Theresa Boundy on the day Kayla received her certificate from the infusion clinic.

Kayla recalled her recovery, which was her next challenge. “After the double mastectomy, it took about six weeks before I felt somewhat normal. It was tough. I had good friends and family who helped me get through it. One friend spent the night with me in the hospital. The second day after surgery was the worst. I didn’t think I would be able to move. I remember my friend saying, ‘You can do it.’ That afternoon I was walking around the nurse’s station.”

On April 9th, Kayla started chemo. “My family was wonderful and coped very well. My husband and I were close before, but it brought us even closer together. When I started losing my hair after chemo, he shaved his head. That meant a lot to me. My four-year-old didn’t completely understand. My six-year-old had a better understanding of what was going on. They were great. They helped me around the house, and they understood sometimes I was tired and couldn’t do things with them.”

During chemo, Kayla had a great deal of support from family, her parents and in-laws. “I always had someone to help me with the kids. My dear friend Stephanie Reed arranged meals for my family for three months.”

Kayla’s best friend, Melissa Bourgeois, has stage 4 breast cancer and was diagnosed at 29. “She’s been my inspiration and role model. She so strong and positive, it’s unbelievable. I’ve seen what she has gone through and what she’s still going through. Fighting cancer is definitely a battle.”

Another girlfriend, Usha Pillai, also a breast cancer survivor, was very supportive. “I don’t think I could have made it without my friends and family. I also had a tremendous amount of support from my co-workers at Greater Houston Anesthesiology and Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. My neighbors in Greatwood were wonderful, too. I feel so blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.”

A New Outlook on Life

Immediately after Kayla was diagnosed, she met with a counselor at River Pointe Church. “That’s where I broke down in tears. I felt defeated, and I had not even started treatment. It was the fear of not knowing what was going to happen.”

Kara and Stacey Aune, Carolyn, David, Kayla and Stephen Janak with Tom and Matthew Aune.

Kara and Stacey Aune, Carolyn, David, Kayla and Stephen Janak with Tom and Matthew Aune.

The counselor told her, “God has a special relationship with those who suffer. Through your illness, you will gain more clarity. It’s true.  It opens your eyes to the world around you, and you see life differently. You realize what’s important, what really matters. My faith in God has definitely helped me. Over time, I realized that the worst thing that happened to me is clearly becoming the best thing that happened to me. Now that chemo is finished, I realize that I experienced a transformation. I feel like I have emerged from my ordeal spiritually and emotionally recharged. I feel like I am a ‘new and improved’ version of myself.”

Battling cancer has enhanced her relationship with God, her family and friends. “You realize who your friends are. Before, I never paid attention to small things like holding my daughter’s hand when we walked to school. I savor that every day now. I don’t know what my future holds.”

Due to time constraints, Kayla stopped writing even though she loved it. Now, she’s trying to write every day. “I write for Smart Girl Politics Action. I also love to write in my journal. I’ve had a story in my mind for a long time, and I’ve decided to write a book. I want my children to know my thoughts and feelings. Even if it takes a while, and I have to self-publish my book, I want them to have it. I write for my children.”

Kayla is also very passionate about politics. “I began volunteering with Smart Girl Politics Action before my diagnosis, but afterwards, I became more vocal about my opinions and where I stand. Before I was very quiet – I didn’t want to rock the boat. Now I’m much more opinionated.”

“Battling cancer brought out that fighting spirit in me. It’s taught me so much. I worried about ridiculous things before. I don’t do that anymore. I feel like I can live more freely now with less fear. I’m less inhibited.”  She and husband Stephen have been working on a list of things they want to do –  read the Bible from cover to cover, renew their wedding vows next year for their tenth anniversary and travel more.

Kayla cannot stress enough the importance of monthly self-breast exams. “I did monthly self-breast exams. I felt the mass, but it was never detected on my mammogram.”

Kayla’s strength and conviction was an important part of her battle with cancer. Her breast surgeon, Dr. Dempsey, said, “Obviously, when I first met Kayla, she was terrified, but she was very proactive. I watched her come to grips with the reality of what she was facing and then take a very proactive role in making her decisions and tackling it head on.  Kayla’s an incredibly strong person. Her first fear was how was she going to be there for her kids and how was she going to handle all of this. She turned to her friends, her faith and her family. She has an immense amount of support, and she has risen to the occasion and found strength she didn’t know she had.”

Kayla has had the opportunity to share her experience with friends and offers this advice: “My advice for anyone who is just beginning their battle with breast cancer is simple. Trust in God’s plan, and pray for strength and healing. Lean on family and friends during difficult moments. Most importantly, always stay positive, live your life, and never give up. You will beat cancer.”