You can connect with Krisdee at www.theblondebombshell.net and on Instagram @theblondebombshell22
[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are often desperately seeking connection from others who have been through the journey before, looking for real women with real answers. Today’s guest, Krisdee Clark, is the author of the blog, The Blonde Bombshell. This is a place where she shares her personal breast cancer journey.
Gives hope to women that life on the other side though different, can be wonderful again. Krisdee is a three year breast cancer survivor. Recently finished a reign as Mrs. American 2022 and was the 2023 keynote speaker at the Susan G Komen advocacy days on Capitol Hill, where she also met with Congress and the Senate to obtain more co-sponsors for bills that Komen is leading for women’s health. Krisdee’s here today to share her story and how she truly believes that the real part of surviving is the thriving you can do after. Krisdee, welcome to the show.
[00:01:12] Krisdee Clark: Thanks so much. I’m excited to be here.
[00:01:15] Adam Walker: Well, I’m really excited to hear your story. Let’s start there. So, so tell us. About your breast cancer diagnosis and what was going on in your life around that time.
[00:01:24] Krisdee Clark: Yeah. So I was diagnosed in well, I had just gotten married. Let’s start there. I just got married in 2019. My husband deployed a month later. We knew he was going to be deploying. So he deployed to the Middle East one month later. And February, which was one month after that, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. When I was first diagnosed, they thought I was probably stage two. They said they thought it was small, could be one, could be two. And that’s the thing that, you really don’t know right away. They do their best guess at it. And so, COVID had just started February of 2020 is when this happened. So everything was up in the air. I could have people come to my diagnosis meeting after I was told. But then everything pretty much started to shut down. So my husband’s deployed, I’m at home with two children who at the time were eight and five and I get a breast cancer diagnosis.
[00:02:22] Adam Walker: Wow.
That is unbelievable. That’s just so much to deal with all at once. Husband gone, small children, locked down. All the things that’s, wow. So I understand once the diagnosis happened, things moved very quickly after that. But you didn’t have the best feeling about the first surgeon that you saw. So I wonder if you could tell us more about that and any tips that you have to our listeners that might find themselves in a similar situation.
[00:02:45] Krisdee Clark: So when I first went and did my mammogram- So, I found the breast cancer being in the shower. I am terrible at being one of those, I always tell you, for women’s health, make sure you check on the first of the month and do these self exams. I never did that and terrible about it. But I would happen to me in the shower that day, took some water and soap off me like that and felt a lump that kind of hurt, which was unusual breast cancer. They’ll tell you that breast cancer doesn’t hurt. Thought it was odd, was going the next month to my regular doctor. And he said, “You know what? Let’s do another mammogram.” So at the time I was 41 or I was going to be 41 that March. So I’d already had one mammogram the year before and was going to do this as my second one. So didn’t think much of it. He did send me for a diagnostic mammogram. So I went in, had the mammogram.
A doctor came in, sat knee to knee with me and said I do see something after he looked at the the ultrasound and all that and said, “I do see something. It’s probably nothing, but I’d like to do a biopsy.” So, two days later, I go in for a biopsy and lay there joking with my nurse navigators and they’re wonderful and having a great time, really not thinking still of cancer.
I’m like, this is, I’m 41. I don’t have a history of cancer in my family, just not going to be this. So I left and they said, “Okay, well, you’ll know on Monday.” So of course it’s a Friday and so I have to wait a whole weekend. And I was standing in my bathroom that morning when I got the call. I was waiting for it, nervously waiting for it. Joked with my husband on the phone when he was in the Middle East that, “Hey, if it’s cancer, I’ll just get a mommy makeover.” That’s honestly the naivete that I had about breast cancer. I thought I’d get this mastectomy, I would get implants, all would be good; really that naive about it. And so, that morning I get the call and she says it is breast cancer. So, and I say all that to show you about the surgeon and what I was not a big fan of. So, loved her, the nurse navigator. And she said, you’re now in the system, so we’ve got you all set up. Now, that’s great. I get why they do it. A lot of people, take that news very hard or don’t know what the next steps are. So I love that there are hospitals that kind of put you in the system and everything is done for you. You’ve got appointments already scheduled, they’ve picked your surgical oncologist, those kind of things.
I’m more of a hands on person, so I was like, “Oh, okay.” And I felt like what I call like a widget in the system where I just was put in the system and I would go through it and however I came out at the end is how it would be. And that just seemed a little strange. So I went to my first appointment, my dad had come down from Nashville, my mom was here, my sister came with me. And the very first thing that surgical oncologist when he first met me said was, “Well, I see you brought your entourage.” And it wasn’t a cutesy, it was irritated that I had people with me. That was strike one.
And I just felt I just was diagnosed. I’m new, I have an eight and five year old. I have a husband, all these things. I was a little put off but thought, “Okay.” And sat there, got all the information. My husband FaceTimed in from the Middle East. And we’re going through all of it. And I said, well, I already know I want a double mastectomy and he said, “Well, that’s very radical. Let’s wait. You probably only need a lumpectomy.” And I said, “You don’t know me. I’m telling you, I want a double mastectomy.” I knew I would be one of those people that would be up at night Googling and it would, I would forever be concerned. And so for my peace of mind, I knew that’s the route I wanted to go. He was not keen on that. So went home. Next step was an MRI with that same area. Went and had my MRI, they said, “Oh, we think it’s larger than we thought.” And then he goes, “Well, maybe regular mastectomy will be great for you, just one side.” And I was like, “No, not going to do it for me either.” And he said, “Okay, well, we can talk about a double.” And I just was starting to feel like I wasn’t being listened to. And I work in healthcare, not in the clinical side of things, but I work in healthcare and I know how important advocacy is for yourself.
And I knew that I wanted to feel a certain way and I wanted to look a certain way. There was part of that we’ll call it vainness, that came in that I said, “Well, if I have one done and not the other, I’m 41, one side’s gonna look like I’m 41, and one side’s gonna look like I’m 20 again.” So, there’s a little bit of, humor in that as well, that I wanted some symmetr and things just were not feeling right. So, my husband when he is not ,he’s Army Reserve, so when he’s not deployed or doing something like that, he works for Johnson & Johnson Ethicon. And they have a side of things called mentor and mentor has, they are the breast implant line and they do a lot of reconstruction.
So we had a little bit of an in there where he called somebody he knew and said, “If this was your wife, who would you send her to?” And they said, “Well, I can tell you who I’d send her to for the plastic side of things. And most really good plastic surgeons work with really good surgical oncologists because that’s how they get the best outcome.”
So we backed into this and he said right up the road and he gave me a couple names. It was in Charlotte. It’s about an hour and a half for me, not a big deal. And I made my appointment and then I realized that like many things with breast cancer plastic surgery is not covered for plastic surgeons that aren’t in the kind of the network with that widget system I was talking about. But those plastic surgeons that are in that system are regular plastic surgeons. They’re great. They do implants for people, they do facelifts, they do Botox, they do everything you can think of. But what I didn’t realize was that Breast cancer reconstruction is an art form. It is a totally different thing than just going in to have implants.
So, I went to Dr. Harper. He said, “I know you said, I know you know it’s not covered, but I’m telling you, come and see me.” He really has a heart for this. He has family members that have been through it, and I went up and saw him. After having seen the plastic surgeon here which told me I would look reconstructed, I could never be the size I wanted to be, and I should be okay with that because cancer would be gone. So I now have this surgical oncologist that is not my favorite, and I now have a plastic surgeon that’s basically like, ” You’ll be fine.” And I was like, no, there has to be more for women. There just has to be more. That’s how I got to Dr. Harper. And that is where this really started transforming for me.
[00:09:39] Adam Walker: Gotcha. Wow. Okay. So, so let’s dig into that a little bit more. I understand you ended up with the dream team. So tell us about that. Tell us about the team you ended up working with and and how they gave you the confidence to, to do what needed to be done.
[00:09:54] Krisdee Clark: Yeah, so I went in to meet with Garrett Harper. He was the one that told me up in Charlotte with Graper Harper Cosmetic Surgery to come up there and see him. It was like, the moment I met him, the, it was just, this is, this is the plastics guy. Now it’s to find the guy that’s going to take the cancer out. And he gave me the name of Peter Turk with Novant up in Charlotte and he said, I work with him all the time.
He’s fantastic. So, I’ll get back to Dr. Harper in a minute, but I did go on to Novant to meet with a surgical oncologist. Now, keep in mind that during this time, I had told my surgical oncologist here that they first put me with that “I would like to come get my MRI results because I was going to seek a second opinion.” To which his nurse told me, he said, “If you’re going to seek a second opinion that they can just do an MRI for you, and we’re not going to give you the results.”
[00:10:44] Adam Walker: That’s not how that works. I don’t think, I’m pretty sure that’s-
[00:10:47] Krisdee Clark: Not too well. That was the last straw. That was when I was like ,not happening. So, I went to Dr. Turk and I told him and he said, you can seek as many opinions as you want. Everybody that’s had cancer should be able to do what, if you want to go to MD Anderson, if you want to go to, wherever you’d like to go. And I knew then, with the confidence he had in him, the way he was, he had been in this industry for a long time at a very good success rate, we’ll say. I knew he was the one and he went with Dr. Harper. So it was the dream team, like you said, and I was like, “This is it.” And as I am there he’s asking me, “What do you want to look like? What size were you or what size do you want to be?” You know those types of things. And there was literally no even thought of “wait a minute I thought I couldn’t I thought this I thought he said no what you tell me.” And one of the things that I learned through him was that in this process I would have lipo it’s somewhere in my body and then they would actually fat graft up top. And that is the difference between a reconstruction and a regular plastic surgeon doing implants. Obviously if a lady goes to get implants, she gets the implants in, no big deal. But when you have a mastectomy, they’re taking all the tissue out so you’re left with no tissue. So if you just put an implant in, that’s where you see the ladies who look like they have an orb on them. And so then there’s nothing, no tissue. It doesn’t look very real. So that’s where these plastic surgeons that really are the reconstructive side of things, they’re a true artist. And Dr. Harper is absolutely a true artist. So, went to him by the time I had my double mastectomy not because it had grown invasive lobular carcinoma is actually a very slow growing cancer.
I probably had it for a while. It was probably missed on that first mammogram that I had the year before. It was 7. 7 centimeters. It was large. And it was over on the side and up in my lymph nodes. I did have two lymph nodes that were affected. So I knew that I was going to have chemo and reconstruction as well. I’m sorry, chemo and radiation, but they, that also would push back my reconstruction being that once you have radiation, you have to wait for all that to heal about six months. So the process actually went very quick. I was disappointed that I would have to wait longer, but the whole process was about one year from diagnosis to reconstruct.
[00:13:17] Adam Walker: Wow. And so, and I think it bears mentioning, right? Not only did you find the right team. It fit you and your needs, but that also gave you the confidence to enter into pageants and you ended up winning Mrs. America in 2022, right?
[00:13:32] Krisdee Clark: So I never did pageants. I did one when I was a teenager. It was fun. It was the USA system. I had a great time and it was like, “Oh, that was fun.” And it went on, I was a softball player, I played basketball, I absolutely loved it. Never really thought about pageants. So here I am at home and one of the things when I was first diagnosed that I noticed was I knew a lot of women had breast cancer. I knew it was rampant, we’ll say with it being one in eight. But I didn’t know a lot of people that talked about it. Or if they did, it was very brief on what they had. They might have put it out on social media, but that was about it. And I am one of those, writing notes and needing all the information. And when I would reach out to people, they would give me bits and pieces. And, it’s a very personal, some people absolutely don’t, they just want to deal with it and be done with it. I am an open book in every sense of the word. And so I needed information. I needed, what is cancer going to be like?
What is chemo going to be like what is radiation? Do I want a double mastectomy? All these things started for me, the moment of diagnosis. So during this time, I’m working with the Red Cross to try to get my husband home. There’s COVID happening. We don’t know if he’s even going to be able to get out of the Middle East. Remember, they were shutting airways down. People couldn’t even be on the roads here in South Carolina. It was crazy. So I’m home and trying to figure out everything I’m going to do. And I’m noticing that I cannot find information that I need, that I want. This sort of transparency, not from a doctor that’s never been through it, but from a woman who’s been through it.
And that’s when I started The Blonde Bombshell. That was my blog. That’s a name that my husband sweetly gave to me a long time ago. And it just fit with this. And I did it as a journal for me to remember what I went through. Have something for my children to see as they got older, but as I posted it as a blog, more and more women from around the world were contacting me and saying, “What about this? Or what about that?” As I was going through things, I was doing it in real time. So I noticed it was something that I wasn’t the only one seeking out these answers. So I started to blog more and blog more. And when my husband was home, I said, ” I t’s so funny, I’ve got this platform and maybe you should do Mrs. South Carolina. I’ve never really done anything like that.” But he said, “Do it.” So I went into the America system and I won Mrs. South Carolina, American. And went on to nationals to Mrs. American, which was in Las Vegas of August of 22, and crowned Mrs. American 2022 with my platform, The Blonde Bombshell, about thriving, looking and feeling beautiful after breast cancer. Absolutely was a Godsend gave me a wonderful year of being able to help many people and have lots of events, like speaking on Capitol Hill. And speaking with Susan G. Komen as their Advocacy Day keynote, as well as many things around the country, laying the wreath at Arlington on Easter Sunday, and all these amazing things that I was able to do just little old me.
[00:16:38] Adam Walker: Yeah. Well, and also, raising awareness too, in all of that, using your story to raise awareness about breast cancer. And speaking of so, tell us about the pink crown symbol that you wore on your sash and the acronym that represents you.
[00:16:51] Krisdee Clark: Yeah, so I have my sash back here. I actually just passed on my crown not too long ago. It was about a month ago in Las Vegas. And my new crown is up here. I wear it on my sash and that was part of my Blonde Bombshell vlog. So, going through breast cancer everybody loves to give you the pink ribbon, you get diagnosed and suddenly you’re inundated with pink. Pink is my favorite color, it always has been, and I actually thought, I wonder if this will change now. Because you get a lot of pink, and it almost gives you this like PTSD of remembering this time. And so, I would have the ribbon that represents Susan G. Komen and absolutely was loved it. But as I started going through the platform and doing things, I was realizing that, to me, survivors needed something else. So the ribbon is so symbolic. It’s for women who have gone through breast cancer. It’s for women going through breast cancer. It’s for people who know someone that’s gone through breast cancer.
But to me, being in a pageant and having won the crown, I started wearing a pink crown. And it was a five point crown that actually, each of the points stands for faith. The first point being Fearless. Because we are all warriors, all survivors are warriors that have gone through quite the battle. A, stands for Authentic. I found that when I went through all of this, being authentic to who I was no matter where I was in the journey was very important. When you come out of breast cancer and you are a survivor, you are forever changed. There is a new you. Parts of you stay the same, parts of you mourn because they’re gone forever. And then other parts are brand new and they’re amazing, but you have to be authentic in that and you have to embrace that it truly is God refining you in the fire. And I wanted to make sure that I stayed authentic in that. And then the, I was for inspire no matter what we are here. If God has kept us here. Then we are Inspiring someone. It could be one person. It could be the person next to be your neighbor, or it could be thousands of people that I’ve had the opportunity to go out and speak with. You don’t know who you’re here to Inspire, but you can guarantee if you’re a survivor, you are inspiring somebody. The T point is to Thrive. And that was what the blonde bombshell was all about. Thriving and feeling and looking beautiful after breast cancer. You do not have to be a widget in the system. You can find the Dr. Harper’s everywhere in the country. You can absolutely look and feel beautiful, even if you choose not to do reconstruction. You can absolutely look and feel beautiful afterwards. And then the H is my favorite, which is Honor. Because that’s not only honoring you and the journey that you’ve been through, but it’s honoring all those that are not on the same journey that we’ve lost. Those who battled greatly but are not still here. And it’s just honoring them. So, the crown was important to me because I felt like we all wear the ribbons. But every one of us absolutely wears a crown of survivorship.
[00:19:39] Adam Walker: Wow, that’s that’s inspiring. I really appreciate you sharing that. That’s great. Well, you are, just a profound example of showing that it’s possible to thrive after cancer. You’ve just done amazing things since then. So I guess my last question is, what advice you have for our listeners that might be struggling post cancer to find their light or to just even adjust to the new normal?
[00:20:02] Krisdee Clark: So there’s a couple one of the things in that. One of the things I would talk about is mental health. I was never one to really think about that. I’ve been very blessed that I haven’t had any sort of mental health issues until cancer. And what I mean by that is there is absolutely a PTSD of things. There are days I just went into Bath and Body Works and sprayed something on my hands, like an antibacterial, and all of a sudden it reminded me of being at South Carolina Oncology for chemo. It was whatever the antibacterial was, and it was like it put me back there, and I actually felt sick. So, there are things in your life that will actually bring you back to those moments. I have absolutely been the Googler 5AM, 2AM because my arm hurt. I remember I had bone pain in my elbow and I was convinced that the cancer had come back and I would be in tears. My husband would wake up and say, “What is going on? And stop with the phone away.” But it’s hard to tell somebody that’s been through it when you’re terrified of it coming back. And it absolutely makes you terrified. So I would encourage you, let me first by saying if you’re a survivor out there, you absolutely have company. We all are going through the same things. You are not alone. You are not going through this and thinking everybody else is thriving, but I’m not. And I feel like I’m depressed.
I got on an antidepressant during it and it made all the difference for me. It made the cancer not be so forefront in my mind but more in the back of my mind. So I was able to share my story and live life and grab life and do the things I wanted to do and not be worried about what was happening. So I would first encourage you to take care of yourself and your mental health. That is of utmost importance and that will help you thrive more than anything. And the other thing I would say is to live boldly. You are a different person. Now there is something out there for you. It may be speaking about breast cancer. It may be Advocacy Day with Susan G. Komen, which was an absolutely amazing event. Or it may be something local that you, but live boldly, do the thing that you’ve always wanted to do and thrive. That is what you’re here for. If there is still, if there’s still air in your lungs, God has you here for an absolute reason.
And I would encourage you to live boldly and go grab life. Because you just never know. Things change in the blink of an eye. And then my favorite quote that I’ve always said, and that I go by, it’s not really a quote, it’s more of a saying that I heard, and it said, sometimes “God shows us the Goliath in front of us so that we can find our David within us.” And that was so important to me because you feel when you’re, when you were battling cancer, that you are like this little kid with a slingshot and there’s this massive giant in front of you. And it’s scary, but you absolutely can thrive after cancer if you’re willing to live boldly. So that’s the advice that I would give.
[00:22:56] Adam Walker: Well, Krisdee I would say you certainly are living boldly and you’re, and you sharing your story is incredibly inspiring on behalf of the, this community.
I just, I really appreciate all the work that you’re doing.
[00:23:05] Krisdee Clark: Well, thank you. And I would encourage anybody that’s looking for those types of things to visit my blog at theblondebombshell.net. It is a great resource and I would love to hear your stories. Please reach out to me. I’m always here to help anybody that is going through this.
[00:23:19] Adam Walker: I appreciate that. That’s so inspiring. Krisdee, thank you for joining us on the show today.
[00:23:25] Krisdee Clark: Thanks so much. Have a good one.
[00:23:32] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.Org. And for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out @SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, adamjwalker.com.
You can connect with Krisdee at www.theblondebombshell.net and on Instagram @theblondebombshell22