News from Illinois CancerCare

A Young Cancer Survivor Shares Her Story of Hope

When Kelsie Barnhart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 at age 27, it didn’t define her identity and it didn’t dominate her life.

It was just one part of a multi-faceted young woman with dreams, goals, faith and determination. But that didn’t mean her journey was worry-free. Let’s look at the many faces of Kelsie as she battled cancer and continued to pursue her passions.

Kelsie, the Woman of Faith

Raised by loving parents, Kelsie’s faith began to grow at a young age and has followed her into adulthood, even leading her to work for a ministry organization. After receiving her diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma with lymph node involvement (Stage 2 breast cancer), her ability to be honest with God about her anxiety provided stability, hope and joy.

When sharing her fear and disappointment with one of her mentors right after her diagnosis, she shared words from Paul the Apostle that started to chip away at her worries:

“You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 4:13-14, ESV)

Kelsie, the Patient with Cancer

Diagnosed with breast cancer on December 18 of 2018, her physician said it was fine for her to take her previously scheduled trip to Australia and New Zealand. On February 20 of 2019, two days after returning, Kelsie woke up from her single mastectomy to the words no one wants to hear, “The cancer spread to your lymph system and the next year of your life will be treatment.”

At that point, Kelsie retreated into a pensive state, thinking about the situation and lost hope momentarily.

But that all changed when Illinois CancerCare’s Dr. Veeder walked in the room at her post-op appointment, took off his jacket and hung it on the back of the door. That simple gesture of hanging up his coat and turning ALL his attention to Kelsie — not unlike Mr. Rogers — provided her with a sense of comfort and hope.

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts, and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” (Mr. Rogers)

This quote defines the essence of Dr. Veeder. When Kelsie first met him, she was so disarmed by his peace and joy. She said that “his confidence was very comforting and he was honest. He said the situation isn’t going to be easy, but there is a plan.”

Kelsie went on to explain that she was reassured by his commitment to research and continuing to glean as much new information as he could get his hands on. But his extensive knowledge didn’t make him a robot or an information machine.

When in the room with Kelsie and her parents, Dr. Veeder’s focus was on them — and ONLY them. They never felt as if he rushed through her appointment, nor did they ever hesitate to be real with him.

According to Kelsie, Dr. Veeder’s compassion and dedication to each patient’s unique physical and emotional needs make him a rockstar. Kelsie’s family and friends call him the MVP of her care.

Kelsie, the Adventurer and Lover of Life

Take a look at Kelsie’s social media and you’ll see a young woman who climbs mountains, swims in the ocean, roams the world, revels in walks through big cities and loves her friends fiercely. And for the most part, you’ll discover that her adventures continued throughout her treatment — as evidenced by her changing hairstyles.

Kelsie, the Model and Writer

Not only did Kelsie’s hair change as she went through chemotherapy, but her undergarment fashion changed too. Initially, due to post-surgical pain, Kelsie switched to softer bras. Already a fan of Aerie products, she switched to their anti-shapewear bras without underwires.

Because she chose to wear a prosthetic instead of undergoing reconstruction, she began to look for post-mastectomy bras. She realized that most of them were designed for women a bit older than her, so she decided to stick with the brand she loved and used her prosthetic with her Aerie wear.

Meanwhile, since Kelsie believes in supporting others, she had been thinking about what organizations she could model for or write with to share her journey as a young woman with cancer. Coincidentally — or through divine intervention — she saw an open audition for Aerie’s REAL Voices campaign.

The deadline was in one week, but that didn’t stop Kelsie. She put together a 60 second audition video and was selected to be one of the 25 diverse individuals who would be featured in an upcoming campaign, #AerieREAL Voices.

While onsite for the REAL Voices photo shoot, Kelsie was invited to participate in the new SMOOTHEZ by Aerie™ campaign, which recently rolled out nationwide — expanding her modeling opportunities.

Kelsie, the Advocate and Educator

As a woman with a servant’s heart, it’s no surprise that Kelsie wants to use her cancer experience to advocate for others. Here are some of the ways she’s doing so:

  • Sharing her story through podcasts, videos, and writing.
  • Discussing issues that are specific to younger patients.
  • Reminding women to trust their intuition and insist on further testing or a second opinion. Women know their bodies and have good instincts when something isn’t quite right.
  • Raising money for breast cancer research, knowing that Herceptin literally saved her life.
  • Speaking about the value of clinical trials conducted at Illinois CancerCare.

Kelsie, the Friend and Daughter

Finally, we look deeper into the heart of Kelsie who is a giving friend and a grateful daughter. Although her friends and family helped carry the load of Kelsie’s breast cancer journey, she remained someone they could rely on — from beginning to end.

It’s a common tradition for a patient to “ring the bell” when they finish their last day of treatment or when reaching a meaningful milestone during their cancer journey. Since the PATH of hope bell wasn’t installed yet, the staff gave Kelsie a certificate to celebrate her last day of chemo.

But today, as you walk through the PATH of hope garden on the Illinois CancerCare campus, you’ll see a brick donated by Kelsie’s parents with the inscription, “For Kelsie, Who ‘Rang the Bell’ on July 20, 2019.”

And in recognition of the compassionate and skilled team members at Illinois CancerCare, Kelsie’s parents purchased a bush near the door of the Peoria clinic — a symbol of the renewed life the caring men and women of ILCC bring to their patients.

Kelsie’s parents are making sure that her journey will be remembered and serve as inspiration to others with these words shared next to her brick, “Kelsie has proven cancer can be a chapter of life and not the whole story.”

We can’t wait to see what her next chapter brings!