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It’s a Sweet, Sweet Life
Retired Chocolatier Beats Rare Type of Breast Cancer
Kim Hubbs will tell you she was born for “the sweet life.” Raised in South Knoxville, Hubbs spent two decades in Atlanta where she studied to become a pastry chef. Before retiring to East Tennessee, she worked as a chocolatier and has made a practice of enjoying life’s sweet moments. Even after getting a breast cancer diagnosis, Hubbs was reminded of just how sweet life can be.
As a practice, Hubbs maintains good health and regular physical check-ups. During a routine mammogram last fall, something caught the attention of the radiation technician and she was asked to stay for an ultrasound.
“I had absolutely no trepidation going into that appointment,” Hubbs recalls. “Then they said they found a tumor and that I needed to see an oncologist. I was floored.”
Hubbs sprang into action. She got a biopsy of the tumor that had been detected in her left breast. She was referred to physicians at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for further treatment and care.
Fighting Cancer Together
Her first stop was at Thompson Cancer Survival Center’s downtown location, located on the Fort Sanders Regional campus. She met David Chism, MD, medical oncology specialist, who helped put her nerves at ease.
“My brain was spinning,” Hubbs recalls. “I remember it was like the dream team that comes in to save you. And that’s what they did.”
By dream team, she is referring to each specialist who came into her room, one by one, in the recommended order that she might receive treatment.
“I felt no fear,” she recalls. “Each of my doctors were sharp. They took their time. I knew I could put my faith in them, and I felt good about it. To me, getting a good group of physicians behind me was half the battle, and that half had already been won.
“I decided to do what they said, and I knew God would take care of the rest.”
Planning Next Steps
Hubbs was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. This aggressive type tends to spread to other body parts in its early stages and is less receptive to some treatments. For Hubbs, it was detected early and had not spread to any lymph nodes. Because she received treatment when she did, her risk of recurrence is now less than 10 percent.
Ana K. Wilson, DO, MS, is a surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer, melanoma and other related cancers. She is passionate about walking with her patients through their entire breast cancer journey, from diagnosis to surgical treatment options to reconstruction. Dr. Wilson is one of several physicians who sit on the “Tumor Board,” a multidisciplinary task force that discusses each patient’s care and course of treatment.
Dr. Wilson says, “With all cancers, but especially with breast cancer, discussing the cases with all disciplines is very helpful for everyone involved. It ensures the patient gets the best treatment possible.
“We gather the radiologist, pathologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist, plus a genetic counselor and nurse navigator to discuss each patient. Our recommended treatment all depends on each other. So it’s important to talk to each other frequently throughout the patient’s treatment course and adjust as needed.”
Weighing Her Options
Dr. Wilson performed a lumpectomy to remove the tumor that was growing in Hubbs’ left breast. A lumpectomy is the surgical removal of a discrete portion or “lump” of breast tissue, sometimes including healthy surrounding tissue.
When Dr. Wilson found additional unexpected areas of disease in the breast, she presented her patient with a few options. They attempted an additional lumpectomy to remove the diseased area, but Dr. Wilson describes the remaining cancer cells “as small as a grain of sand.” The team of physicians recommended Hubbs undergo a mastectomy, which is the surgical removal of the breast.
“Some patients are very motivated to be as aggressive with their care as possible,” Dr. Wilson says.
“Everyone is different. Some want to pause and spend time thinking about it. That’s why I try to make sure my patients are educated about all their options. How to proceed with surgery is a very personal decision.”
Dr. Wilson continues, “For Mrs. Hubbs, it was a straightforward decision. She felt as though these unusual pathology findings in her lumpectomies were telling her it was time to remove the breasts.”
At Fort Sanders Regional
Hubbs underwent a double mastectomy in November 2021. She stayed one night in the hospital and was prescribed three months of chemotherapy.
“I have always had wonderful care at Fort Sanders Regional,” she says. “The nurses were so good. Dr. Chism and Dr. Wilson both visited me after surgery, and I wasn’t there longer than I had to be.
“Everywhere in the hospital, I got wonderful care. At the infusion center, they have the sharpest nurses. I would watch them work. They were like a well-oiled machine. If someone’s machine beeped, they were on top of it. They were there to ease everyone’s burden, and you could tell it was their calling.”
Six months after her treatment and surgery, Hubbs is feeling more than great — she feels grateful. She received a good report from her lab work and will continue with regular check-ups.
“I have energy again,” she says. “I shaved my head and lost my hair, and I lost my breasts. I don’t feel like my old self, but that was the old me. Now I have a new and better me. The journey I have been on is a gift. I have learned so much and I am still learning.”
One thing Hubbs learned was that you can be the ‘picture of health’ and still have a tumor growing inside you. She emphasizes the importance of getting a mammogram, which potentially saved her life.
Dr. Wilson encourages all women to perform self-exams each month. “Pick a day, like the first day of the month, and do a self-exam in the shower,” she says. “I think it’s important for women to know what’s normal in their own body so they can recognize when something abnormal appears.”
Hubbs shares, “I had tremendous support from my husband Jack and my sister Janie as well as the prayers and support of many family and friends. I was so blessed to be in good hands throughout all of this.
“I only have today. The good Lord is still working on my tomorrow.”