‘Full of blessings’: Local teacher, breast cancer survivor shares story of hope

CHARLOTTE — In celebration of Pink Day, a Hickory elementary school teacher shared her story of strength and hope in her battle against breast cancer with Channel 9′s Erica Bryant.

In 2019, Caitlan Reese was on a roll. She’d graduated from college, found love with fiance Andrew, and had a rewarding career as a fourth-grade teacher.

Then, she went in for her annual physical.

“They do a breast exam there, and there was nothing found, and then only even two months later, it was October, I found something myself,” Reese said. “I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer by October of that year.”

Many things went through her mind when she received that diagnosis.

“It took a few days for it to sink in for me,” Reese said. “It was very scary, my life changed very quickly.”

She underwent chemotherapy and radiation and had just celebrated completing one year of treatment before another medical emergency occurred.

“In January, I had a seizure at work at school, and then they realized it had spread to the brain as a brain tumor,” Reese said.

At Levine Cancer Institute, a specialized “team” of doctors coordinated her care. Her tumor responded well to “pre-operative radio-surgery” or “focused” radiation.

Their technique is now being adopted by other hospitals around the country.

It was surgery then radiation in some cases, but Reese is doing radiation followed by the surgery.

“Yeah, and it seems like a simple idea, and it is,” said Dr. Roshan Prabhu. “Just thinking outside the box, it might sound simple, but you can have a lot of benefits by just changing what we call sequencing.”

Prabhu says it reduces the time it takes for treatment, lowers the risk of side effects like swelling of the brain and can reduce the risk of the cancer spreading.

For Reese, cancer would show up again with tumors in her liver.

She’s staying strong, acknowledging that no one’s cancer journey is the same.

“Some it’s one and done, some it’s one, two, three, or maybe more, but I always know that I have been in very good hands,” Reese said. “God takes very good care of me, and the team at Levine has been absolutely wonderful.”

Now, she’s looking forward to her wedding next year to her best friend.

“This will be our first chance to see everyone and hug them and thank them for loving us so hard for so long,” she said.

Reese agreed to share her story to help others. She said at first, a cancer diagnosis can be scary and isolating, then you find yourself surrounded by love, support and surprises.

“It can be full of blessings even though it’s never news that we want to hear, it’s been OK,” she said.

Reese said that she started with three liver tumors and is now down to one.

Treatment is going well and she gets scans every two months.

She is grateful that before any of her chemo started, her doctors could put her ovaries in a “temporary state of rest” to protect them – preserving the option for her and Andrew to start a family.

Click here to complete a breast self-exam in five steps.

[WATCH BELOW: What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer]