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Resilience and hope:
a breast cancer journey

“I never had any symptoms.”

Like many women, Kelly Richter put off her mammogram in 2020. Pandemic-swamped medical facilities were deferring procedures deemed less urgent, like annual screenings. Since Kelly was feeling good and didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, the delay didn’t worry her.

 

In the summer of 2021, Kelly and her family were preparing for a move to Nashville for her new job as a Community Achieves site manager at Antioch Middle School. Before heading south, she decided to go for her mammogram.

 

Fifteen days before the move, she learned she had breast cancer.

 

The treatment whirlwind

She began treatment once she had the move behind her and her MNPS health insurance had kicked in. The next two years were a blur of medical procedures, treatments and follow-ups.

 

In October of 2021, during her mastectomy, a couple of suspect lymph nodes were found. That led to another surgery to remove 26 lymph nodes. Then followed several months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation after that.

In May 2022, a benign fibroid tumor was found in her uterus. Kelly followed her doctors’ recommendation for a full hysterectomy because her potential for any estrogen-based cancer was high.

 

Next came breast reconstruction surgery.

 

Each surgery took up to six weeks of recovery, and the extended chemo and radiation treatments had side effects of their own.

 

“I got to try it all,” Kelly says wearily.

 

A network of support

Even though she was a new employee, MNPS officials supported her from the very beginning. “Work when you can. We’re here for you,” they told Kelly. “Just do your best.”

 

For two years, that is exactly what she did. “It was a lot, but I felt supported by family, my church, my school and Community Achieves,” she says.

 

While cancer is an emotional struggle, Kelly wants people to know that they don’t have to go it alone. She recruited friends and family to help. Some stayed with her during long chemo sessions, while others sent meals. Some were old friends from New England, and some were new friends from Nashville.

 

And, in a true show of solidarity, when chemo took its toll and Kelly started losing her hair, her brother sat next to her as they both had their heads shaved. They even made a video of it being done while they lip-synced “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

 

Get tested even if you’re not feeling bad

Kelly, a self-described introvert, isn’t looking for sympathy. She’s sharing her story so people will appreciate the urgency of her message.

 

“I want to encourage everyone in Metro Nashville schools to get their screenings and mammograms. Get tested, even if you’re not feeling bad. I never had any symptoms.”

 

She can also take heart that her message is already making a difference. Breast cancer was detected in two friends she encouraged to get mammograms. They are being treated for it.

 

Looking ahead

Life in Nashville is finally settling down for Kelly and her family. Although she started her job two years ago, she feels like now is her new beginning.

 

“I can take a deep breath and start the school year free and clear.”

Watch as Kelly's brother shaves his head in support of her

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Kelly Richter

Community Achieves site manager at Antioch Middle School 

Due for a mammogram?

Click below to schedule yours with Vanderbilt Health.

Due for a well-woman exam?

Call 615-259-8755 or schedule below with the MNPS Health Care Centers.

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