When Lisa Nabus found a lump in her breast after a routine self examination March 1, she knew immediately what it might mean.
Despite not having a family history of breast cancer, she was aware of the risks and the possibilities, so she went right to her healthcare provider.
Midwife Terrah Stroda brought her in right away for an exam.
“The ball just kept moving,” Nabus said. “That day, I went from her office right over to get a mammogram done and then from there to ultrasound and then to biopsy.”
She didn’t have her answer yet, but all signs pointed to breast cancer.
“I could just tell from the way everybody was handling my condition that it was very likely,” Nabus said.
The next day, she made an appointment for more tests to make sure it hadn’t metastasized — spread elsewhere in her body. While she was at Stroda’s office, Nabus said, she received her results. As suspected, she had breast cancer.
Stroda referred Nabus to the University of Kansas Medical Center and by the end of the week, Nabus had started appointments.
Doctors biopsied her lymph nodes as well and found the cancer had spread there are well.
Medical professionals advised her to start chemotherapy, then have surgery and then have radiation treatment.
She started chemotherapy — six rounds every three weeks.
“It was difficult,” she said. “It made me sick.”
About a week and a half after each round, Nabus would feel sick and fatigued — not at all herself. She would build her strength back up only to go in for another round of chemo and start the process all over again.
As Nabus began to lose her hair, she shaved it off at her children’s insistence.
“We went outside and just shaved my head one day,” she said. “They told me that it looked much better than it had before.”
After her first treatment, she had some tests run to see how well the chemo had worked.
“My oncologist down there at KU Med, she was shocked at how much my tumors had shrunk by that point,” Nabus said. “So we knew we were on the right path and we knew the treatment plan was working.”
COVID-19 has not disrupted her life in part because she has been so focused on her cancer battle, she said. Nabus has been unable to go out much because of her compromised immune system during chemo, but the virus hasn’t prevented her from working her job at Central National Bank or caused a disruption in her treatments.
Family and friends rallied around her. Her children, Brock, Morgan, Logan and Jada, started a project called “Nabus Strong," adopting the slogan “can’t stop the bus.” They designed t-shirts and bracelets and organized fundraisers to help pay for her treatments.
“The support of the community and friends has just been amazing,” Nabus said.
On the Fourth of July, several of Nabus’ friends arranged a benefit 5k run to raise funds for the Nabus family. Nabus' husband, Randy, is a captain at the Junction City Fire Department, so the JCFD put the run on with help from several other local agencies.
“They came to me about it and I said ‘yeah, let’s do this,'” she said. “I said 'But I don’t want it to be solely about me, because we’re in the midst of this pandemic and everybody is just stuck. Things are canceled left and right and everybody’s just stuck with nothing to do.’”
Nabus wanted it to be a community event — fun for everyone.
“It was a great event,” she said. “Very inspiring, lots of positive energy. That took place like a week before my last chemo treatment and that just carried me through."
Multiple families and runners showed up to take part. Nabus herself took part, running across the finish line with other participants.
“I knew I wanted to try to get out there and jog, because that’s what I like do,” Nabus said. “It was hard, but I had all my family — they all ran with me. Ran, walked. We took lots of walk breaks. But they were all right there with me. So yeah, it was good. It was fantastic."
She believes the support is what pulled her through her fight.
“I truly believe that all the support and the prayers contributed to my success,” Nabus said, growing teary-eyed.
The fundraising effort and subsequent community support helped the children, she said, by making it less scary for them.
Nabus learned her left breast and several of her lymph nodes would have to be removed due to the size of her tumors. She had a double mastectomy, just to be sure the cancer wouldn’t come back.
“I’m glad I did,” Nabus said. “It was a hard decision, but looking back I’m glad.”
She plans to have reconstructive surgery, she said, after she has finished her medications and her radiation treatment, which she just started this week. She will be on special medications until March.
Though her pathology report came back with no signs of cancer after surgery, Nabus and her doctors want to be sure.
Nabus’ last round of chemo took place July 9. Her hair has started growing back.
So much has changed for her since March, including her perspective.
“I think you look at life differently,” Nabus said. “You realize how special it is. You realize not to take things for granted, that every day is a new day and to live and to make a change for something. So yeah, I feel like I’m calmer about things … The things that used to seem like a big deal just aren’t a big deal anymore."
She has tried to keep and degree of normalcy and not let her illness change her life too much.
“I think that was another part of the process — just not letting cancer change your life,” she said. "Keep with your normal as much as you possibly can."
This is the advice she offers to women who have just received a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Don’t let it take control of you,” Nabus said. “Keep your mind busy.”
She recommends people be aware of the possibility they could develop breast cancer, even if it doesn’t run in their family, and do all the routine exams from self examinations to mammograms.
“Don’t put that stuff off,” Nabus said. “I felt like I was a pretty healthy person. I exercised, I tried to eat well — and then bam."