To say that breast cancer changed Kina McMillian’s life would be an understatement. To say that breast cancer changed her life in a profound and meaningful way would be more accurate.
Kina has the unique ability to find the good in most everything she sees. She has taken a difficult and overwhelming part of her life and transformed it into a tool she uses to help others. Above all, she is brave and unflinchingly passionate.
“To me, it’s been a blessing, because I’ve been able to talk to other people… and just walk them through it, walk them through my experience,” says Kina.
She has used her diagnosis as an opportunity to become involved in the fight against breast cancer.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that may be my reason of why I got breast cancer to begin with,” she says.
Since her diagnosis, Kina has been involved in a number of events in her community aimed at fighting breast cancer. From modeling shoes in a fashion show to participating in walks and speaking at luncheons, Kina has dedicated herself to the cause. And she doesn’t plan to stop.
“I’m going to do it for the rest of my life,” she says convincingly.
In 1995, Kina noticed a lump in her breast. A biopsy proved the lump to be benign, but she has been no stranger to mammograms ever since. In 2012, when she found another lump in her breast, a biopsy proved yet again that the lump was benign.
In October 2012, Kina found another small lump in her left breast. Assuming it was most likely benign like the others she had found, she didn’t take it seriously and chose not to do much about it.
It wasn’t until December of that year that Kina saw a cause for concern when she mentioned the lump to her gynecologist during her yearly check-up. Since she had already had her annual mammogram, her gynecologist scheduled her for an ultrasound.
On her way home from the doctor’s office, a lump seemed to appear in Kina’s neck. She called her primary care physician, who told her to come back to the office the following day. They ran some tests and began to suspect that Kina had lymphoma.
Kina told her doctor about the lump in her breast. Deciding not to wait for the ultrasound she had already scheduled, Kina’s doctor sent her to Rose Medical Center for a biopsy.
The biopsy concluded that Kina had Stage 4 breast cancer. It had spread from her left breast, up to the lymph nodes in her underarms and onto the lymph nodes in her neck.
“I honestly think that lump growing like that saved my life,” says Kina. The lump in her neck was the red flag that triggered a quick response from Kina and her medical team.
After Rose Breast Center mammographer Dr. John Lewin called Kina with the results of the biopsy, he proceeded to connect her with Dr. Dev Paul, who took on her case. Acting swiftly, Kina began chemotherapy in the week following her diagnosis.
From December 2012 to April 2013, Kina underwent six rounds of chemotherapy. In May, she had a double mastectomy by Rose breast surgeon Dr. Stephanie Miller, and that procedure was followed by radiation therapy for six weeks. Kina is currently in remission.
“I think he’s great. He’s funny,” Kina says of Dr. Paul. “I think he’s a really great doctor, and I’m grateful for him—for all he’s done for me. I guess for the fact that I’m still alive… so I guess he knows what he is doing. Even though my mom questions him all the time,” Kina says, laughing. “She’s like, ‘Are you sure she needs to be taking this medicine? Why are you doing this?’, so anyway he can put up with my mom, he’s alright with me.”
Jokes aside, Kina is grateful for all of the support her family has showed her. She has decided to pay it forward in a variety of ways, like going to sit with other patients during their treatment.
“I was so blessed because my mom and dad, my in-laws and my cousin Alexis just dropped everything and came here from Texas and sat with me—I never sat by myself. So I didn’t want anybody else to have to sit by themselves.”
The most difficult part of it all, Kina says, was watching how it affected her family.
“The radiation burnt my skin totally off, and I was in pain, but I could take that more than I could hear my brother cry,” she says.
Her brother, whom she still refers to as a “little brother” despite the fact that he is 36 years old, wasn’t the only one to take her diagnosis especially hard.
“My husband, he was trying his best to be strong,” she says, describing their first meeting with Dr. Paul. “To see him try to fight back the tears [when] he couldn’t…I had to stay strong. I never let any of them see me cry.”
Of course, Kina is not the only one relieved about the progress she has made.
“Everybody is ecstatic,” she says. Everybody, including her 5-year-old nephew.
“My brother explained to him ‘Auntie’s hair is like mine now, so don’t be shocked,’ and he was all excited because I went home after my hair started growing back, and he’s like ‘Oh! Well I see your hair is growing back!’, so I think everybody is just happy to see that I am getting healthier.”
Kina makes it very clear that the encouragement from those closest to her gave her the courage to keep fighting, and that she is thankful for the strength they gave her.
“I had the best support system ever. My family, my sorority sisters were the best, and my friends—everybody,” she says.
She also offers some support of her own:
“Stay positive because I think that, as long as you keep a positive attitude, it will get you through it. I honestly believe that,” she says. “Keep doing what you do. Don’t slow down.”
The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Kina is our survivor for October.