Reaching Out to Help and Be Helped: Kristeen Knight

Written By Robin Warshaw, Contributing Writer

2015Knight-Kristeen_medium (1)With humor, Kristeen Knight explains why she values her cancer support group. “There’s only so many times my husband wants to hear about my arm pain,” she says.

Support group members meet at the cancer center near Kristeen’s home in Auburn, Alabama to listen to each other and understand. At those sessions, “you get to put your problems on hold and deal with other people’s problems,” says Kristeen, who was 31 and had a toddler son when diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

Still, she has trouble connecting with group members sometimes because, unlike her, most are older with grown children, well-established careers and some financial stability.

“I wanted to see young breast cancer patients. I never really met anyone else…going through the same issues,” she says. The only young adult group she could find in Alabama was in Birmingham, 110 miles away.

When Kristeen learned about Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Young Advocate Program, she applied. The program trains women to reach out to their communities. Kristeen signed up because she wanted to bring more breast cancer education to young people. “We have very different problems than other survivors,” she says.

Delay, Then Challenges

Kristeen was breastfeeding when she noticed blood in her milk. Lactation counselors and doctors treated her for what they thought was an infection. She was given antibiotics. A mammogram showed a mass, which the breast surgeon thought was an area of deep infection from breastfeeding. He put in a tube to drain it but found a tumor. It was stage IIIB, estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.

Two weeks later, Kristeen chose to have a double mastectomy because she had large breasts and wanted smaller ones. The surgeon also said it would be easier to match two new breasts than reconstruct one to match the other. Kristeen later decided to have her uterus and ovaries removed to reduce estrogen and lower her risk of recurrence.

With a college degree in social science, Kristeen hadn’t been working since her son’s birth. Before that, she had been a restaurant manager. The small savings she and her husband had was used up by doctors’ visits before her breast cancer diagnosis. She had no health insurance.

She called her local hospital and was told about a program it had for underserved women. The program paid her mammogram and biopsy costs, and Medicaid covered the rest of her treatment bills.

“Medicaid is a blessing and a curse,” she says, with a sigh. “It covered everything, but right now I can’t get a job or my husband can’t make too much more money because I won’t qualify for benefits anymore.” Medicaid covers her medical care and on-going therapy with an aromatase inhibitor and will cover her reconstruction.

Kristeen thinks about going back to work, but she doesn’t want another restaurant management position due to the physical demands and lack of adequate insurance coverage, and because it’s not her field. “For me to get a job, it has to be a great career path job with great benefits,” she says.

Graduate school might improve her prospects, but lingering side effects cause her to worry about making long-range plans. “You don’t know the next time you’re gonna get sick and have to put everything on hold,” she says.

Training as a Young Advocate

At the Young Advocate sessions, Kristeen connected with people like herself. “With the economic downturn, a lot of us are without jobs. Access to healthcare is very important for our generation,” she says.

The program helped her learn that advocacy can mean taking small, personal steps within her community, such as giving people information about breast cancer or connecting them to resources. Kristeen came away from the program feeling supported, with new friendships.

Kristeen started talking to more people in doctors’ offices, throughout her community and by phone. She shares her experiences and distributes helpful information at local events. She enjoys advocacy so much that she hopes to become a cancer survivorship counselor at a hospital.

Family Support

Kristeen’s mother and aunt took turns living with the young family during her treatment. Her sister helped on weekends, and cousins who had been out of touch stepped forward.

Still, she worries about how her treatment might have affected her son. “My whole life before I got breast cancer was him,” she says. “I breastfed exclusively. I was home with him. We played together, went to the park together. Then I got sick and it took me away from him.”

Married only for about two years at diagnosis, she gave her husband a way out. “Right after I had surgery, I asked him, ‘Do you want to leave? Because you didn’t sign on for all of this.’”

“And he said, ‘Yes, I did sign on for it.’”

Despite working nights, he took her to her treatment sessions and sat with her through each one. “He’s been awesome,” she says.

Learn more about the financial impact of breast cancer.

PrintThis article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Check Out Our Twitter Chat, #LBBCchat: Coping With the Financial Impact of Breast Cancer


UPDATE, July 8, 2014: A transcript of our financial concerns Twitter chat is now available. Read the tweet conversation on

If you read and related to our June 18th blog post discussing concerns about the financial impact of a breast cancer diagnosis, our Twitter chat,  Coping With the Financial Impact of Breast Cancer, is for you. Join us tonight, June 25, at 8 p.m. (ET) using the hashtag  #LBBCchat for an hour-long tweet chat with a panel of breast cancer, finance and legal experts to get answers to your questions and learn about

  • what insurance will cover, and how to navigate both hidden and visible costs of breast cancer treatment.
  • how breast cancer can impact your personal finances.
  • workplace accommodations and disability rights, and what you can do if you lose your job.
  • the resources available to help you ease the financial burden of medical bills.

Are you new to Twitter chats? Learn best practices for successfully participating in tweet chats.

Additional Resources

We offer many resources on financial concerns and breast cancer, including a guide, online content, our ask-the-expert series and podcasts and presentations of past programs.

Download or order print copies of our updated Guide to Understanding Financial Concerns.

Read our Financial Concerns content in the “Beyond the Basics” section of

Learn about or apply for our Cis B. Golder Quality of Life Grant.

Check out the following from our Ask the Expert series:

Listen to and read these podcasts and presentations:

Discover additional information from these recommended resource listings:

Money Troubles Stall Reconstruction: Lynn Michael

Written By Robin Warshaw, Contributing Writer

After deciding on a double mastectomy for stage I breast cancer, Lynn Michael sought a plastic surgeon to perform reconstruction.

Several doctors told Lynn, 37, they wouldn’t do surgery because she smokes. Smoking constricts blood vessels, narrowing the passage for oxygen to reach healing skin. Smokers are at risk for tissue necrosis, death of skin cells because of lack of oxygen.

Like many women, Lynn struggled with quitting smoking during this stressful time. A surgeon who agreed to perform the procedure on the Littleton, Colorado, woman encouraged her to quit for a few weeks before her mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. But Lynn began smoking occasionally again after. She soon developed tissue necrosis and needed more treatment to fix it.

Lynn had always enjoyed her breasts, so losing them felt overwhelming. “I couldn’t even look at my wounds,” she says. “It’s like taking the hands off a boxer.” She believed reconstruction would help her feel more like herself.

Expenses Create Problems

The tissue expansion phase of reconstruction took longer than expected, with Lynn approaching the end of her health insurance year. Her plan requires $10,000 annually in out-of-pocket expenses before it covers charges. With a new insurance year, Lynn would need another $10,000 to continue the process.

“Financially, I’m struggling hard all the time,” says Lynn, who works two jobs. She is divorced, has two teenagers and owns a house from the marriage that costs most of her monthly earnings.

“I applied for state insurance, but do not qualify due to my income,” she says. She had begun looking for a more affordable place, but her diagnosis made relocating “more than I could handle.”

When the expansion started, Lynn told the plastic surgeon about her insurance situation. Although she had made some payments, she couldn’t pay all she owed. The office reduced her fees and directed her to financial assistance programs. Lynn found she was ineligible for most because of her income and treatment type.

Reconstruction Stops

The financial barriers forced a stop to reconstruction. A year later, Lynn’s expanders remain in place, but the process is far from complete. She cannot pay the balance to finish expansion, or afford the next phase, when the expanders are replaced by implants.

The plastic surgeon’s office told Lynn the expanders can stay in place for up to two years. They cautioned that leaving them in could cause complications, such as infection and scar tissue build-up.

Now Lynn is trying to find money to finish reconstruction. “My plan is to start doing fundraisers—a Harley bike run, garage sales, whatever,” she says.

Lynn’s daughters have supported her, as have others. “I started dating a guy right before diagnosis and he was there for every doctor appointment,” she says. Yet, “emotionally, I haven’t really dealt with it.”

Through LBBC, Lynn learned about My Hope Chest, an organization that provides financial support for uninsured and underinsured women to obtain reconstructive surgery. The group negotiates directly with providers to accept the Medicaid rate for services.

Lynn is applying for aid from My Hope Chest despite a long list of women awaiting help in her state and others. She must stop smoking for six weeks before surgery and agree to undergo nicotine-testing before she can qualify for a grant. She wants to try, especially now because the expanders have become painful. (If you want to quit smoking, here’s free help.)

Alisa Savoretti, founder of My Hope Chest, says that Lynn’s situation is “a very common story…there are a variety of reasons women can’t afford to complete their breast reconstruction.”

Yet it’s important for many women. “Reconstruction is the final phase of breast cancer treatment,” Savoretti says. “It’s not a cosmetic procedure. It is a restoration of your body to how it was before.”

That’s what Lynn is working toward achieving very soon.

PrintThis article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.