UnityPoint Health - John Stoddard Cancer Center

Two Jobs, Two Sisters & Two Breast Cancer Battles

Patients Standing together

“I felt a lump, but I didn’t think anything about it,” Kathryn Parvu, janitor at UnityPoint Health, says. “I worked two jobs and was extremely busy.”

Parvu thinks back to those days often, as she just celebrated the 5-year mark from her last treatment. She can now officially say she’s cancer-free. But, she wants her journey to be a lesson for others who aren’t paying attention to their bodies.

“When I was having my period, I would have pain in my breasts, and I noticed my lymph nodes would get large. The pain would go away after my cycle, but the lump remained. I knew the lump was there when I was 49, but I didn’t go get my screening until my 50th birthday,” Parvu says.

After getting a mammogram, doctors diagnosed Parvu with stage three breast cancer. Her treatments began with a lumpectomy, followed by four weeks of radiation and eight weeks of chemotherapy. Parvu gets emotional explaining how important it was to have family nearby or on the phone to listen to her while she mentally and physically battled the disease.

“My husband went with me for treatments, and my sons and daughters-in-law were there right when I needed them. I’d call them up and say, ‘Hi, I need to talk,’ and they’d say ‘OK.’ While talking might seem like a female thing, it’s not. They’d throw some humor in there, they would make me laugh. On the other hand, my daughters-in-law were more sympathetic, nurturing and caring. They were all there for me in a different ways,” Parvu says.

Parvu also sought support from her sister, Maria Stines, who lives about 90 miles away. What they didn’t know at the time of Parvu’s breast cancer battle was that soon the roles would switch.

“My sister is just starting her battle. She works two jobs, too, running a little restaurant and working at an insurance agency. She wouldn’t have done her test, except there was a mobile screening lab in her area one day,” Parvu says.

Since they are sisters, Parvu and Stines thought perhaps both had the same kind of cancer. However, that wasn’t the case.

“Since she was diagnosed before turning 50, she got genetic testing, and her cancer isn’t genetic. We had different kinds of cancer,” Parvu says.

Parvu showed her support to her sister visually by shaving her head.

“On Memorial Day, right before I went to visit her, I shaved my head. We are sisters, we are cool, we are together and we are strong,” Parvu says.

Parvu knows her story and her sister’s story share a common theme.

“You kind of don’t take care of yourself if you’re just working, working, working. Cancer is sort of a reality check that you need to take care of yourself. You need to appreciate and think about each day. Sometimes, the things you thought were so important are there and important, but not as important as other things,” Parvu says.

Parvu still works two jobs, but she says she views life through a different lens.

“I used to live to work, and now, I work to live. In living, take time for yourself. There are only so many hours in a day, but I think even taking half an hour during each day to do something I want, whether it be to read a bit of a book, spend time with my grandsons, you know what, I’m making time because there is only so much of it. Tomorrow is never promised,” Parvu says.


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