By now Cynthia Kida is accustomed to occasional stares and whispers when she is standing in line at the supermarket or taking her kids out for pizza.
"You look familiar — where have I seen you?" somebody will inevitably ask. Cynthia doesn't like the attention, but she always smiles and takes a minute to chat. "This is too important," she told herself the first time she was stopped on the street. "This is the reason I'm alive."
So now she always tells people that they probably spotted her in recent magazine ads and a television commercial for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, where she was successfully treated for breast cancer two years ago.
"I owe them my life," she says. "Because of those doctors and nurses, I wake up every day and appreciate the small things."
That the sixth-grade schoolteacher is able to share her story is a miracle. Not only had the cancer spread to her lymph nodes, she was almost five months into a high-risk pregnancy when she underwent surgery before beginning chemotherapy treatments.
"My biggest worry was what would happen to my baby," she says, "but my doctor reassured me that probably the worst that would happen is she'd be born without hair."
Baby Cami arrived four weeks early, perfectly healthy, with a full head of dark hair. Grateful to celebrate her daughter's second birthday last month, Cynthia joined me for a Free Lunch of Italian takeout at the Layton home she shares with her husband, Jeff, and two other children, Brandon, 10, and Kelsey, 8.
A third-generation Japanese-American, Cynthia had no history of breast cancer in her family and had always been in good health. So when at age 36 she found a lump in her left breast, her doctor told her not to worry. It was likely a cyst. Two mammograms and two ultrasounds revealed nothing unusual, "so I was told to forget about it," says Cynthia.
But three months into her pregnancy with Cami, she knew that something was wrong. The lump was painful and irritating. Cynthia went to a different doctor who did a biopsy, revealing that the tumor was malignant and the cancer had spread.
"Nothing prepares you to hear you have cancer," she says, hugging Cami as the toddler makes a mess of her spaghetti. "It was hard to take. I wondered if I'd be around to watch my children grow up. I wondered if I'd see another birthday. For a long time, I was in tears every day."
Because Cynthia's cancer was growing rapidly, a mastectomy was done immediately, followed by chemotherapy. Doctors at the Huntsman Cancer Institute worked closely with her obstetrician to ensure a safe pregnancy.
After four months of bed rest, Cami was born, "a bright spot after all those hospital stays," says Cynthia. "It was a relief to have something happy to celebrate."
Today in the Kida household the celebration continues now that Cynthia is in good health, proof that it is possible to rally against the odds and have a happy outcome.
Things that used to bother Cynthia such as clutter in the kitchen and waiting in rush-hour traffic are no longer troublesome.
"Now when I see people get angry at trivial things, I don't understand it," she says. "The other day a guy started honking and yelling at me in the parking lot. I wanted to tell him, 'Look, life is short. Why are you doing this?' "
Cynthia says she has a message for anybody who is fighting cancer: "Never give up," she says, "and never feel alone. Most people in life are caring and good. If they weren't, I wouldn't be here today."
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