Benita Kliethermes knows data. As a cancer registrar consultant, she keeps Ellis Fischel Cancer Center data compliant as mandated by the Commission on Cancer. Although her day-to-day tasks might seem like mere numbers and statistics, Benita knows each data point represents a patient whose life has been affected by cancer. For Benita, it's not hard to imagine what these patients are going through – she's been there herself.
In 2001, Benita was working at a cancer center in Florida when she realized something was “off.”
"I examined my breast and felt a lump," she said. "Come to find out, my mammograms had picked the lump up two years before my doctors finally caught it."
Benita’s doctors diagnosed her with a rare type of breast cancer.
“Getting the diagnosis of cancer is like being sucker-punched in the stomach," she said. "At first, it takes your breath away, but as you start surrounding yourself with a good team, the initial panic goes away.”
Even though she was still processing her diagnosis, Benita had to fly to Kansas City for a pre-scheduled job interview. "My medical oncologist told me that I would do fine – that I just needed to be calm," Benita said. "I was able to do that, and I sailed through the interview and got the job!"
After moving to Kansas City, Benita decided to treat her cancer with radiation and hormone therapy. "Because I knew so much about cancer from my work experience, I was able to drive my own treatment," she said. "I chose to do radiation therapy so I could keep chemotherapy in my arsenal in case my cancer ever comes back."
Even though she ran into a few challenges along the way, Benita was declared cancer-free in late 2001.
When asked what advice she would give to current cancer fighters, Benita quickly responded: "Educate yourself."
"The more you can educate yourself on the disease, the easier it is to go through the process," Benita said. "Don't just rely on your physician – really research your type of cancer so you can ask the questions you need to ask."
In addition to encouraging patients to educate themselves, Benita also advocates the importance of self-examination.
"You really need to be doing self-exams," she said. "Had I not done them, my cancer would have been even bigger by the time doctors caught it."
Being a cancer survivor is no small feat, and Benita takes pride in sharing her story and experience with the patients she comes in contact with. "I think it makes a big difference when our patients know that we're cancer survivors," she said. "We understand what they're going through and they don't have to be so afraid."