Concord Hospital nurse overcame breast cancer while pregnant

  • Concord Making Strides Chairwoman Kathi Russ (right) hugs Catherine Detty at the Red River Theatre on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord Making Strides Chairwoman Kathi Russ (left) hugs Katie Detty at the Red River Theatres on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 8/16/2018 4:04:04 PM

When Katie Detty became pregnant with her first child, she knew she couldn’t prepare herself for everything that comes with motherhood.

Detty expected to face challenges along the way, as all parents do. She couldn’t imagine a problem she and her family couldn’t face together.

Then, in July 2014, when Detty was 31 years old and a few weeks into her second trimester, she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.

“My world was shattered,” Detty said. “In a split second, I went from my biggest worry being what color to paint my nursery, to what if I don’t survive to see my baby grow up?”

Detty shared her story on Thursday in front of a crowd of team leaders for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Concord. The room inside Red River Theatres was decorated with pink lights and posters adorned with pink ribbons to celebrate the opening event to kick off fundraising for the walk, scheduled for Oct. 14.

After her diagnosis, Detty, who lives in Manchester, was transferred to the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, where, at 20 weeks pregnant, she began her first of four rounds of the cancer-killing drugs Cytoxan and Adriamycin.

In the midst of the birth of her son, Levi, she received a lumpectomy and a bilateral mastectomy, removing both breasts. In her first year of motherhood, she underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation.

By the end of her treatment, Detty was pronounced cancer-free. But she said it took more from her than she could have ever anticipated.

“In the same breath that I can tell you how happy I was, I’ll tell you how angry I was about what cancer took from me: A normal pregnancy, the hope of breastfeeding, and even the ability to pick up my child at certain points of recovery,” she said.

In the four years since she beat cancer, Detty has become a committed advocate for those fighting the disease. She has done that through her work as a nurse at Concord Hospital, and through her work with the Making Strides walk in Concord each year. Her team is called “Fighting for Two.”

Concord’s Making Strides Walk raised $524,528 last year, which is the most money per capita in the country, the organization said.

Mark Goldberg, chairman of the American Cancer Society of Eastern New England, said Concord’s walk is known throughout the United States.

“I realize that Concord is not the biggest city in the world. It’s not the biggest city in New Hampshire ... but what’s very clear to me, from what you’ve all accomplished over many years, is that there’s no city with a bigger heart,” said Goldberg, who teaches at Harvard Medical School.

The money raised from walks in 2017 helped fund 162 grants focusing on breast cancer research totaling $91 million, Goldberg said. One goal of the research is to learn more about the human immune system and the biology of tumors. That way, doctors can design medicines that are toxic to just tumor cells without also affecting normal cells.

Goldberg said science has made some headway. The rates of women surviving five years with breast cancer has gone from 84 percent to 91 percent since 1989.

This year, at least 260,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Detty said the fear that her cancer could return is
always in the back of her mind. What makes her feel powerful, though, is participating in events like the breast cancer walk that supports research and the advancement of breast cancer treatments.

“As my fellow survivors are painfully aware, there’s currently no cure for breast cancer. We anxiously await each checkup and scan, agonize over every lump and bump, worry if a cough is maybe lasting just a little too long, or something doesn’t feel right,” Detty said. “I walk with the hope that in my lifetime, those diagnosed with stage four breast cancer will also be able to stand before you and declare, ‘I’m cancer-free.’ ”

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(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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