Good Sport: NOLA Native Stands Up For Breast Cancer Patients
Most people count themselves unlucky to get cancer once. New Orleanian Kim Sport has had it three times; her husband, Mike, is also a survivor.
“I did not have a genetic predisposition to cancer,” Sport said. “However, I received a radiation treatment to my thymus at six months old.” She explained that doctors used to think that the thymus, a specialized gland of the immune system, was responsible for upper respiratory issues and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In reality, there was no connection. In the 1940s and ‘50s, thousands of infants and children were exposed to radiation because of this myth, and research reveals a higher rate of thyroid, breast and other cancers among those exposed.
Sport, who holds a B.S. in health sciences and a law degree, is an attorney, former Director of Community Relations at the Louisiana Supreme Court and former executive counsel to the chief justice. She was glad of her medical and legal background as she entered the world of cancer treatment. “I was able to do a tremendous amount of research on my own,” she said, “and I developed the ability to ask pertinent questions of my doctors.”
Sport’s first diagnosis came in 2001, when she found a lump in her breast. After a lumpectomy, six excruciating rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, she “thought all was well.” But the year after she finished her radiation therapy, Mike was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though her husband’s cancer was not as advanced as hers had been, “Of course he was concerned, and I was concerned,” Sport said. The couple knew friends who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and done well with therapies like radioactive seed implantation; after this treatment, Mike’s cancer went into remission.
In 2008, Sport’s annual PET scan revealed a different primary cancer in the same breast. Knowing radiation wasn’t an option the second time around, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. “The most important thing about treating cancer is that you have faith in the decisions you’ve made about your care,” said Sport.
With years of civic involvement already under her belt, Sport became an advocate for breast cancer and reconstruction awareness. “I’ve spent a great deal of time working with cancer organizations,” she said. In 2011, she founded Breastoration, a nonprofit to educate women about their rights and options during and after breast cancer treatment. “We have laws in Louisiana covering what — and how — a woman should be told at the time of her diagnosis,” said Sport. These laws require that the patient is told verbally and in writing of all of her treatment options, including reconstruction, before cancer treatment commences. Perhaps most importantly, women need to know that reconstruction is not a cosmetic procedure; insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, are required by law to cover it.
Upon discovering that seven of 10 breast cancer patients were not fully aware of their options for reconstruction, Sport worked with the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to create an informational brochure that physicians are required to give to every woman diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, an endeavor of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Plastic Surgery Foundation, launched its first campaign in New Orleans because of Breastoration, Sport noted. BRA Day now occurs annually on the third Wednesday of every October. This year, it coincides with the New Orleans Film Festival — an opportunity that Breastoration is using to screen “Decoding Annie Parker,” a 2013 film about the true story of Parker, a three-time cancer survivor, and Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who mapped the breast cancer-causing BRCA-1 gene using Parker’s DNA.
After having twice overcome breast cancer, Sport was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009. She was hospitalized in isolation while she underwent radiofrequency ablation therapy, and had a thyroidectomy.
Her yearly PET scan still causes Sport apprehension. “Cancer changes your life,” said Sport. “Any time you get a blood test, any time you have to go in for your annual checkup, you always have that fear that it will be back.” This July, the scan showed what could have been late-stage lung cancer; Sport waited on tenterhooks to receive a diagnosis.
Luckily, it was not cancer, but “that one test result scared the crap out of us,” she said. Within days of finding out that she didn’t have terminal cancer, she and Mike had scheduled a vacation with their grandchildren and bought a lot in Florida where they plan to build a house.
As breast cancer rates continue to rise, Sport will continue to lobby for patient education and awareness. “If it should ever occur to a woman that she should have a mastectomy, that woman should have all the information and the coverage that she needs to make a choice whether she wants to live with or without breast reconstruction,” she said.