Kerry Reilly

Hear Me Roar


October 2022 Issue
Photography by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World

Career: Breast Health Navigator

Happily married to my wonderful husband Lee Jenkins, coming up on our first anniversary in November. He was by my side throughout my cancer experience,
and I can’t say enough about his support, along with our families’,
who all live close by.

Family time, gardening time and horse time! You will find
me either hanging out in my garden with family, stopping over
at my Mom’s house full of Irish shenanigans, or in the barn with
my husband and our horses.

You were an OR nurse when you were diagnosed with breast cancer. How did you detect your cancer? Did being a nurse help
My breast cancer was detected by what is called my baseline screening mammogram, or otherwise known as my first ever mammogram. After my biopsy results came back, I approached Dr. Shelly Ringer in the OR and told her I’d be coming to see her next week as a patient. She gave me a hug and a look that said “I got you.” This second devastating diagnosis of cancer—the first being melanoma—within a year of each other came at what I considered the peak of my career as a nurse. With close to 20 years, I felt I had all the skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver at my very best the nursing care needed by my patients. The experience of role reversal in becoming the recipient of care was a disconcerting and frustrating experience. It is being in a world that is both familiar and foreign; as a nurse I gave up the authority and control in caring for others, while submitting myself as the patient. A form of distress called “insider vulnerability” was experienced due to my understanding of the illness and treatment as compared to that of most patients.

This month’s theme of the magazine is #FightLikeAGirl. What does this mean to you?
If you, or a loved one, has battled breast cancer, your perception of this phrase is strength, endurance, perseverance, hope and love. Let’s start today to “fight like a girl” in everything we do with these same amazing qualities, while we can enjoy and live life to the fullest. Rather than bury them as we get older, or wait until the fight of our life, live each day as a girl...if for no other reason than God made you one and you should be proud!

What was the worse part of having and going through cancer?
There are no exceptions to becoming ill and diagnosed with cancer. It happens without any warning, like a bomb with no timer, deafening me with shock and disbelief, and shattering my entire world when I heard the words “you have cancer.” I learned to channel negative emotions into positive ones and move forward in my journey as I offered encouragement and inspiration to others. It didn’t happen right away, though. About a month went by before I was able to sort through my feelings and attitudes and learn how they could positively affect me and, hopefully, others. As is the case with most things worthwhile, it didn’t come easily.

How did you manage your fear?
Dr. Ringer said “We’ve got this. This is a common kind of breast cancer. We know how to treat this. You are going to be OK.” This eased and made the fear tolerable. I was extremely lucky to have a colleague like her to turn to. The system Dr. Ringer has in place addressed all my needs. In addition, I would think about my patients who might be waiting for me as their nurse. Moreover, the friendship, camaraderie and teamwork among my colleagues in the OR became added motivation and inspiration for me to stick to my job as a nurse.

So many people say cancer ended up being a positive thing in their lives. Does this ring true for you?
Yes. The patient, whether a nurse or not, is required to cope, adapt and develop resiliency to thrive, live successfully with the illness and become a survivor. I used my cancer experience to reflect and enrich my life positively. This journey made me stronger.

As a cancer survivor and now a professional Breast Cancer Navigator at Hilton Head Regional Hospital, what are 4 things you want all women to know?

• Don’t wonder what would have happened if you had never gone for the mammogram.
• Schedule your annual mammogram now.
• A cancer patient’s journey is not an easy one, and each one of my team members at the Breast Health Center, led by Dr. Rochelle Ringer, is compassionate and empathetic.
• I am here for you. I care. You are not alone!

As a cancer survivor do you “live” differently than you did before cancer?
By sharing my story, I can help someone who is facing this diagnosis, and I’m happy to do so. I’ve had so many women who were there for me during my journey. So many women who had gone through the ups and downs of this awful diagnosis and stood by my side. Here is my chance to pay it forward. Also, I now live each minute, hour, day, week, month, etc., to the fullest—to enjoy every day and my family and friends. I do not take anything for granted anymore, I try to be there for others to inspire and support them while they go through this journey. I just try to make the most of everything.

What is the best way for friends and family to support their loved one who is going through cancer?
Telling loved ones and colleagues the news of a cancer diagnosis is a significant challenge. Be by their side. Be their extra set of ears at each doctor appointment. Be ready to celebrate the completion of treatment.
Some of us fight an illness or other life challenge completely alone. Others have supportive family, but as wonderful as it is to have those close to you in your corner, no one can truly understand what you’re going through unless they’ve been there themselves. Having a “Breast Buddy” means you will have someone in your life who “gets it,” someone to connect with, share experiences, talk about medical procedures and medication, give and receive encouragement and support, and above all else, not feel alone. The Breast Health Center has a “Breast Buddy” list of prior breast cancer patients who have gone through their journey and have volunteered to support new cancer patients. A local Breast Cancer Support Group is also available.

What makes you LOL every time?
I don’t know if I LOL, but I smile every time I get a “sweet baby” from my husband, and that makes me smile.

October is breast cancer month, but it’s also Halloween! What’s your all-time best costume or Halloween memory?
All-time, hands-down is being a clown in elementary school. I became obsessed with clowns for years afterwards, and spent all my paper route money on clown dolls. Sadly after the collection travelled the world with me during my Air Force days, I finally took down my clown collection at the age of 30 and donated it to my niece.

What are you currently “roaring” about?
Being a newlywed! I continue to roar about my wonderful husband. I am also looking forward to our horses having babies.