On New Year’s Eve, Keisha Humphries got the news that she expected but didn’t want to hear.
She had tested positive for BRCA, a hereditary gene mutation that can lead to breast and ovarian cancer.
For months, she had delayed having the test even though several members of her family had tested positive and some had died from cancer.
“I guess I just put it on the back shelf,” said the 47-year-old registered nurse, who directs the Via Christi Cancer Institute and manages the Wichita Community Clinical Oncology Program.
“I realized I was making excuses about why I didn’t want to do what I should do and what I would recommend to anyone who came in the door to talk to me.”
The test results came not long after her husband, Mark, became ill. At first, doctors suspected the masses in his lungs were advanced lung cancer. But eventually they were able to diagnose him with Wegener’s granulomatosis – a rare, noncancerous immune disease that causes inflammation in the blood vessels and tissues, damaging organs.
As is the case with a cancer patient, Humphries’ husband can go in and out of remission, and the disease is treated with chemotherapy and steroids. Her husband’s treatment gave Humphries a chance to see first hand how the cancer institute at Via Christi is viewed from the patient perspective.
“His illness has changed our philosophy on life,” Humphries said. “We live for the moment because you just never know.”
Humphries was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. She came to Wichita in the early 1990s and became an oncology nurse. She has an undergraduate degree from Southwest University and a master’s degree in health care leadership from Friends University.
She and her husband have four daughters and one grandson.
In March, Humphries had her ovaries removed as a preventive measure. She hasn’t yet decided if she will have a double mastectomy.
But there has been good news. A few weeks ago, she found out the results of her daughters’ genetic tests for BRCA: They don’t have the mutated gene.
“It ends with me,” she said. “That’s the best news ever.”
We will start formal genetic counseling in the next year, but now it’s a case-by-case basis. We also have a survivorship class for cancer survivors and a cancer wellness program.