Editor's Note: Look each Monday in October for @Ford Online to profile some more of Ford's own breast cancer survivors…the company's very own Warriors.
WAYNE, Mich. - Judy Kies is a fighter.
Five years ago, Kies – supervisor of Parts Control at the Michigan Assembly Plant – went into septic shock following a severe bout of pneumonia. She lapsed into a coma and was on life support for four weeks.
The doctors didn’t expect her to survive, but she did.
“When I woke up, I couldn’t lift a spoon to my mouth much less get out of bed,” said Kies, who had to spend eight weeks in acute care rehabilitation re-learning how to walk and strengthening her weakened muscles.
Kies, 50, says the experience changed her outlook on life.
“You realize that the little things don’t matter because there are many more important things in life to worry about,” she said.
But Kies’ resolve was tested in July of 2010 when she discovered a suspicious lump in her breast.
“It was a complete shock,” she said. “The last person you ever think is going to get cancer is you. When I noticed the lump I was thinking to myself that the statistics say one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and I thought about my eight best friends,” she said. “None of them had cancer so I figured I was going to be the ‘one in eight.’”
Kies’ doctor immediately arranged for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
“After they did the biopsy they had four people come into the room, and at that point I knew I was in trouble,” recalled Kies.
Two days later her fears were confirmed.
“I was in my car driving home from work when the doctor called,” she said. “He said, ‘I don’t have good news for you.’ That was all he needed to say.”
Within two weeks of that phone call, Kies had a unilateral mastectomy. Doctors told her she was “cancer-free” following the surgery but they recommended that she undergo six rounds of chemotherapy as a preventive measure.
“My body rejected the chemo port so just before the fifth treatment, they had to put me on heavy duty antibiotics just to keep the port in place,” she said.
As a side effect of the chemotherapy, Kies lost her long blonde hair.
“It was horrible,” she said. “You feel so uncomfortable with yourself without hair.”
Because Kies tested positive for what is called the “HER2 protein,” doctors recommended that she also participate in a clinical trial that involved taking six tablets of an experimental drug every night for a year.
Kies was still on that drug when she returned to work in April of this year after an eight-month absence.
“I had side effects but I was still able to work with them. The inside of my nose was just raw constantly. My stomach was always in turmoil, and I was very fatigued,” she said. “But you can come to work or sit at home and feel sorry for yourself. Work keeps your mind off it and gives you something else to focus on.”
Kies says she was happily looking forward to Aug. 30, 2011, when the treatment would come to an end. But things didn’t work out quite the way she had hoped.
“The doctor told me that the drug I was taking was found to be not as effective as the standard treatment for HER2, which is Herceptin,” she explained. “So they had to put another port in me, and I will have to have Herceptin infusion treatments every three weeks for a year.”
One of the things that Kies says touched her the most throughout her journey – which continues to this day – is the unwavering support she received from her family and her co-workers at Ford.
“They called me and they checked on me all the time,” she said. “To know that people care and will go out of their way to do something nice is just beyond words.”
Many of Kies’ friends and co-workers joined her in May to walk in the Komen Detroit Race for the Cure.
"That was phenomenal,” she said. “To look around and see not only the survivors but all the support that was there for them was unbelievable.”
Kies says her advice to others is simple.
“I would tell them to do the monthly self-exam because the sooner you can catch it, the better off you are,” she said.