DEARBORN - Forty-four-year-old Kina McMillian felt a lump in her left breast in October. She didn’t think much of it because she had had lumps in her breasts before and they were all benign.
“I assumed this was the same,” said McMillian, who works as a Human Resource associate for Ford HVC locations in Ft. Worth and Denver.
Two months later, McMillian was driving home from work when she felt a throbbing pain in her neck. She looked in the mirror and was frightened to see a lump that had not been there in the morning.
“It just grew all of a sudden, and it was huge,” she said. “I know I was worried because I started to cry. I called my doctor and was told to come to the office first thing in the morning.”
The doctor ran a battery of tests, including a biopsy. Two days later McMillian received a phone call.
“The doctor said he could talk to me over the phone but if I needed to come in he could do that. When he said that, I knew that it was something serious,” recalled McMillian. “I put him on speaker and I brought my husband in the room.”
The news was shocking. McMillian had Stage IV breast cancer that had spread to her neck.
Despite the gravity of the diagnosis, McMillian says she tried to remain calm.
“I had already cried myself to death on that drive home when I found the lump in my neck,” she explained. “I looked at my husband and saw that he was crying so I thought that I needed to be strong.”
When asked what went through her mind at that pivotal moment in her life, McMillian says her thoughts focused squarely on her family.
“I was more worried about my brother, my mom, my dad and my husband,” she said.
There was no history of breast cancer in McMillian’s family, but doctors still ran tests to make sure it was not genetic. It wasn’t. And while that news came as a huge relief to McMillian, she was left wondering how and why she came to develop the disease.
“I walk six to eight miles a day so I’m healthy,” she said. “I just didn’t understand how a person who exercises every day can get it.”
Immediately following her diagnosis, McMillian started intensive chemotherapy.
“The worst side effect is that I’m bald and my taste buds are gone. I can’t taste anything,” she said. “I’m a little weaker. I can’t walk all my miles like I used to. My hands and my feet got really dark, and my nail beds are almost black.”
Though doctors said that the chemotherapy was effective, they still recommended that McMillian have a mastectomy to remove the left breast. She decided to remove both breasts and is currently recovering from that surgery. The next step will be radiation.
McMillian says her bout with breast cancer has changed her in a surprising way.
“I’m actually more positive – believe it or not,” she said. “I want to participate in any event that comes along whereas in the past I might’ve said eh, I don’t have the money or the time. If it’s something fun, I’m doing it.”
She says if someone close to her – like her mother for example – had been diagnosed with breast cancer she doesn’t think she would have been able to be as positive.
“I’d rather it be happening to me than somebody else,” she said. “You just don’t understand how happy I was when the tests came back and they determined that the cancer wasn’t genetic. I was really, really happy.”
McMillian says her colleagues at Ford have been a wonderful source of support.
“My boss has been great. And I went to the crew meeting and let the hourly employees know what was going on because my hair used to be down my back and now I’m bald so I didn’t want them to be shocked,” she explained. “They’ve all been very supportive.”
She’s also found support and camaraderie with the wife of one of the Ford supervisors.
“She had a lump rise in her neck the week before it happened to me,” said McMillian. “We’ve been each other’s cheerleaders, and we’ve talked about it. She’s been the person that I’ve been able to talk to.”
Though she’s never had a personal tie to breast cancer, McMillian says she has long been a supporter of Ford Warriors in Pink.
“I’ve bought the silk scarf every year and I always participated in the Susan Komen walk. This year I’m actually planning to participate in the three-day event,” she said.
McMillian has been a Ford employee for 13 years but says she’s been walking in events to support breast cancer awareness for more than 20 years because she used to accompany her mother, who is now retired from Ford.
McMillian’s advice to other women is to be watchful.
“I would tell everybody to do their self-exams every month and go straight to the doctor if you feel anything,” she said.
McMillian also encourages all people to take advantage of each day.
“Regardless of what’s going on in your life, don’t wait for something bad to happen,” she said. “Live life to the fullest, and try not to be negative.”