Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A FAMILY FIGHTS BACK; THE KIMBALL SISTERS Three Have Breast Cancer, a Fourth Has Had a Preventive Double Mastectomy, and the Youngest Is Being Closely Monitored. the Gene Came from Their Father

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A FAMILY FIGHTS BACK; THE KIMBALL SISTERS Three Have Breast Cancer, a Fourth Has Had a Preventive Double Mastectomy, and the Youngest Is Being Closely Monitored. the Gene Came from Their Father

Article excerpt

Byline: MATT SOERGEL

For the Kimball family, life can be divided into two parts: Before all the cancer, and after.

After an idyllic small-town upbringing, the five sisters moved to separate parts of the world and started working on their own families and careers.

Cynthia was living in Okinawa, Japan, in 1994 when she found a lump in her breast. It was malignant.

A few years later, Kristy was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Then Wendi.

All in their 30s.

Breast cancer has become their cruel, statistically freakish reality.

All five sisters have a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, a mutation that raises the risk of breast cancer to 85 percent, often at a young age. The chances of ovarian cancer increase, too, from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Genetic testing showed that the mutation came from their father's side of the family. The girls had a 50-50 chance of getting it. But Wendi, Cynthia, Kristy, Tamara and Jennifer - it was there in all of them.

Kristy Kimball laughs. "I don't know if we should go to Las Vegas," she says, "or stay away from Las Vegas."

Wendi, Cynthia and Kristy all went through chemotherapy, radiation, hair loss, nausea, vomiting. They have all made decisive and difficult decisions since then: They had their breasts and ovaries removed. They underwent hysterectomies. And they had reconstructive surgery on their breasts.

Tamara and Jennifer have been cancer free, but Tamara has had a preventive double mastectomy. She has two children, and, her mother says, wants to make sure she's there for them. Having her breasts removed can reduce a woman's chance of getting breast cancer by 90 to 95 percent, doctors say.

Meanwhile, Jennifer, the youngest at 38, waits and watches vigilantly, undergoing mammograms and MRIs every six months.

The toll - physically, emotionally, mentally - has been tremendous.

"But here we are, we're doing well," says their mom, Shelby Kimball. "As a mother, it's been very difficult, but the girls are my strength. They're stronger than I am."

The ordeal has brought them closer together.

"It's been a tough road for all of them, it really has," Shelby Kimball says. "I think they take care of each other, are there for each other."

Kristy Kimball, a registered nurse with a 13-year-old son, says the sisters even tease each other about the implants they got during breast reconstructive surgery.

"We'll argue: Mine are bigger than yours," she says with a smile. "As my plastic surgeon said, 'You're a work of art.' "

Eric Winer is director of the breast oncology center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, as well as chief science adviser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an advocacy group that battles breast cancer. He's treated all five sisters for more than a decade, and says the odds of all five having the gene mutation are astronomical.

He's impressed with how the Kimballs have faced it: "They're a strong family, a close family, and, as is often the case when people face adversity, they figure out how to meet their challenge. It's always remarkable how people cope."

Don and Shelby Kimball raised the girls outside Syracuse, N.Y. Don owned car dealerships in the area. The sisters were tomboys. They played sports: field hockey, basketball, lacrosse. They rode horses at a nearby stable. They went pumpkin picking and apple picking. They went swimming, sailing and fishing at a vacation home on Lake Ontario. They went skiing and ice-skating.

For a while, when the girls were young, four teenagers moved in with them - Don's orphaned younger brothers and sisters. Nine kids in one house.

"Never a dull moment, that's for sure," Shelby says.

The family moved to Wilmington, N.C., for about 18 years before Don and Shelby came to Jacksonville in 1998.

For the parents, fighting cancer has meant numerous out-of-town trips, hospital visits, mounting medical costs, and caring for their girls through radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.