A nurse at Oconee Regional Medical Center smiles everyday, despite undergoing 38 surgeries since 2005.
Kimberly “Ryan” Mitcham, 34-year-old mother of four, has been diagnosed with two different cancers, yet fought her way through nursing school and the rigors of a hospital career.
All the while, the young mother continues raising a beautiful family and sharing her positive influence.
“I’ve always had a kind heart and have loved other people,” Mitcham said. “That’s why working in the health care field is where I needed to be because I have the love for others. We all wonder what gift God has given us, and I believe that is my gift.”
Thyroid cancer struck Mitcham first.
She underwent a total thyroidectomy in December 2005, while on winter break from nursing school. Mitcham returned to school the following January to take classes all while undergoing radiation. Cancer couldn’t halt the registered nurse dream.
“I said I’m not going to let it stop me. This is my dream,” she said. “I want my kids to have a better life.”
Post-thyroid treatment, Mitcham noticed nosebleeds and facial pain.
“I knew something was wrong,” the 34-year-old said.
She dealt with the pain, especially when she became pregnant with her fourth child at the same time.
A nearly unthinkable event unveiled the second disease attack.
“I was driving down the road and felt a horrible pain in my face,” Mitcham said. “I sneezed and the tumor came out.”
More bad news followed with an Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma diagnosis.
Adenoid cystic cancer usually forms in the mouth, but Mitcham’s appeared in the nose. The doctor warned the family not to read up on this “bad cancer” that has no cure.
The pregnancy forced a decision to either have the skull and nose surgery after the birth, deliver a premature baby then have surgery or have the surgery and hope the baby made it through.
“My husband and I prayed about it. I felt at piece that if I did the surgery the baby would be find,” Mitcham said.
The nine-hour surgery removed the tumor and nasal bone that meant this fighting mother would never smell again. Ten weeks later, her son Evan was born.
She had 26 Intensity-modulated radiation therapy treatments. The necessary radiation burned a hole in Mitcham’s face.
The registered nurse went back to the hospital with the resulting facial defect.
While specialists reconstructed the nose area, her eye “began to sink into the tumor cavity.”
“I began to have double vision and last year I completely lost sight in my left eye,” she said. “Now, all the doctors are trying to reconstruct my orbit and hold my eye up.”
Mitcham travels to Cleveland, Ohio for surgeries nearly every three months. She still works everyday.
“She’s like the comeback kid basically,” Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Teresa Gay said. “She gets up and comes to work no matter what and is always energetic.”
Her current condition restricts former labor and delivery or operating room activities.
Operating Room (OR) Director Diane Franklin said Mitcham worked diligently throughout her procedures.
Mitcham can’t circulate around the OR anymore because of her vision.
“That was hard on us to lose her,” Franklin said. “When we realized she wasn’t going to work in the OR anymore, we tried to find her another place to work. She is a valued employee.”
Austin Mitcham, 15, says his mom takes tremendous pride in her everyday duties and is still beautiful despite all the surgeries.
Austin was devastated when he heard what cancer could do to his mother.
“I realized that I needed to step up because she was going to be ill all of the time,” the teenager said. “I had to grow up quicker. I embraced that and became the second man of the house whenever Dad wasn’t around.”
To help pay the mounting costs of travel, lodging and doctors’ bills, Mitcham’s friends and family have opened an account at Exchange Bank under “Ryan’s Hope.” Also, a www.youcaring.com fundraiser page under the same title collects money to offset seemingly forever-burdensome expenses.
“This is something that happened that I never could have prepared for,” Mitcham said. “I’ll have to fight for the rest of my life. In a sense, it’s consumed my children’s life and mine. I’ll never catch up financially no matter what I do.”
Mitcham’s nursing mentor accurately calculated the remarkable influence above the disease.
“Ryan is in our life to make us appreciate things and show that even though you struggle in life, you can’t quit,” Gay said.
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