Tauer

The Tauer family, left to right, Jackson, 10, Claire, 12, Aiden, 7, Kimberly and Tony talk around their family Jeep.

It was traumatic enough for Kimberly Tauer of Bismarck to undergo breast cancer surgery in 2004 at age 37. But when her cancer showed up again in January, Kim and her family were devastated.

The Tauer family includes Kimberly’s husband, Tony; Claire, 12; Jackson, 10; and Aiden, 7. Last summer they would drive around town in their Carolina-blue Jeep with the top down, and often stop for ice cream.

“We might have looked like we didn’t have a care in the world,” Tony said, “but we were really holding it together for Kimberly.”

Tony surprised his wife with the new Jeep at the beginning of summer. But Kimberly isn’t able to drive yet because she hasn’t regained enough strength in her left arm and shoulder after her second surgery.

“I promised myself that next summer I will feel all better and have lots of fun,” she said.

Both Tony and Kimberly are graduates of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “So I’ve always had a place in my heart for the Carolina blue color,” Kimberly said.

The couple met when Kimberly was working in the men’s department of Dillard’s department store in Greensboro. “Tony came into the store and bought a pair of pants from me,” Kimberly said. “Years later I found those pants hanging in his closet, and never worn. I think he had an ulterior motive when he came into the store.”

The Tauers celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary in August.

Kimberly is a geriatric social worker, but has been a stay-at-home mom since they moved to Danville five years ago. They came here so Tony could partner in a new business, American Event Services, which is a subsidiary of American Pavilion, and has clients all over the country.

Until she had her second surgery, Kimberly was a dedicated volunteer at Bismarck-Henning Elementary School.

“The teachers and kids at the school have been unbelievably supportive," she said. "Soon after I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, I went to the school to pick up my kids. I noticed everybody, even the boys, were wearing pink — and some even had pink hair. Only then did Claire tell me, ‘They’re are doing all of this for you, Mom.’"

Shortly after moving to Danville, Kimberly’s new gynecologist encouraged her to get a baseline mammogram, even though there was no history of breast cancer in her family. The test was normal, but she was told that because her breasts were dense, it was difficult to detect any abnormalities.

"Within a few weeks after my mammogram, I noticed a bloody discharge from my left breast," she said. She immediately followed up with an ultrasound and a biopsy, which showed that she had interductile carcinoma in situ.

"I wanted to get all the cancer out of me," Kimberly said. She went to an Indianapolis medical center for a ‘skin-saving mastectomy. "At that point, the doctors told me that I was cancer free," Kimberly said, "so I confidently went ahead with reconstructive surgery."

While she continued to get annual mammograms of her other breast, the side that had the mastectomy was never scanned again.

In January, Kimberly detected a couple of small lumps beneath her reconstructed breast, but was told they were most likely scar tissue. Upon her insistence, she got a CT scan of her left chest wall, followed by a needle biopsy of the suspicious lumps.

"I took the life-altering call from Kimberly’s surgeon," Tony said, "and as soon as I heard his voice I knew the news was bad." Kimberly had a malignant tumor in the muscle tissue beneath where her breast had been removed. "Statistics show that cancer comes back in only one percent of patients who have a mastectomy," Tony said.

He coped with his wife’s illness by doing intense research to find the best oncologist, surgeon and hospital for her care.

So in March, Kimberly was back in surgery — this time for the radical removal of chest wall tissue, muscle, and 26 lymph nodes. Her surgery was followed by six chemotherapy treatments — one every three weeks. She had her last treatment in early September.

"I had all the nasty side effects that go along with chemo," Kimberly said. Now she has to take the cancer drug Herceptin for six months.

"I have a wonderful husband, children, and other family," she said. "I couldn’t have gone through all of this without them." Members of St. James United Methodist Church also helped out, bringing the Tauers their supper meals for weeks.

"Somebody even planted pansies in the yard, since I wasn’t able to do my usual flower gardening this year," Kimberly said.

The Sharon S. Bassett Foundation paid Kimberly a visit and brought her their traditional basket of goodies and a warm blanket. But instead of accepting money from the foundation, the Tauers chose to "pay it forward" to someone else who really needed it.

Claire, who is in seventh grade at Bismarck-Henning, has been selling breast cancer bracelets and necklaces in honor of her mother, and she has already donated $800 in proceeds to the Bassett Foundation.

"What we like about the Bassett Foundation is that all the money raised stays local," Kimberly said.

She has a powerful message for all women: "Always get an ultrasound along with your mammogram, and insist on further testing if you are suspicious about any changes in your breasts.

Kimberly will have regular scans from now on to make sure her cancer hasn’t come back.

"This cancer is something I have to live with for the rest of my life," she said. "I will never count it out again. You just have to keep a positive attitude."

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