Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Vicky Dorvee

Watkins family grateful for health news and support


Courtesy photo

Altona Middle School Choir Director Kim Watkins will start back at work on March 15 following successful treatment of breast cancer. Watkins posed with husband Jason Watkins and their son Daniel post treatment.

At age 46, Kim Needham Watkins had been dealt an extremely frightening hand. The Watkins’ family jumped into action last year when Kim was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. This very aggressive form of cancer statistically has a 40 to 50 percent chance of recurrence in a different organ system within the next five years.

But there’s wonderful news to report – after five months of chemotherapy treatments and surgery on Jan. 28 to remove 16 lymph nodes, results showed her response to the treatment has been “pathologically complete” meaning they found no remaining cancer in the nodes. Watkins explained that with those excellent results, the chances of a recurrence are reduced to 12 to 14 percent.

She is now five treatments into a course of 15 radiation treatments, which will be completed on March 13. Two days later Watkins will go back to her full-time job as the choir director at Altona Middle School.

Watkins said, “Emotionally, for me the hardest part of cancer, particularly an aggressive cancer like mine, is the fear. While the physical part is tough also – there’s just this being surrounded by fear all the time. What helped me get through the difficult time was seeing family and friends, taking walks, and yoga. ”

Most chemotherapy patients lose their hair. “It’s really sobering to be able to see how ill you are. It’s a constant reminder every time you look in the mirror of how your life is threatened. That was the toughest part physically,” Watkins said.

She also said there is an upside to what she’s experienced. “Little things that would have gotten me upset or stressed out previously, don’t really matter anymore. And I know what really matters and what really matters is being alive today with my family and friends, and having the opportunity to love and be loved, and all the rest is not that important.”

“The best thing about this diagnosis and the last year, and I can’t say that is has been a terrible year strangely although there have been some terrible components, is that we have been so surrounded by support and love by this community,” Watkins said. “People have gone out of their way to bring meals and send messages and cards and support financially. I feel so incredibly loved and lucky. My husband’s been great and my family been great and not everyone gets that during this.”

Watkins’ husband is Jason Watkins, who teaches at Niwot High School and runs the technical aspects of the theatre program. The couple’s nine-year-old son Daniel began art therapy after Watkins was diagnosed. In the comic strips he draws he’s the hero who saves his mommy from cancer. The Watkins are thrilled he’s been able to maintain a fairly normal life throughout her treatment.

Friends set up a GoFundMe page for the family which raised over $24,000 during the six months it was open.

Watkin’s parents live in Longmont and have been hugely helpful while she’s been ill. Her only two siblings passed away – before Kim was born, a four-day-old brother died shortly after birth, and she lost another brother at age 34 due to cystic fibrosis.

She said of her parents, “I think about them a lot. For me to be their last child and to also be really ill, I think that has been really hard on them. I worry about them going through that more than I worry about me being sick.”

In the midst of her fear and worry, on Dec. 15, Watkins fell down the stairs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. With just 11 days left in her chemotherapy regimen, she had to have extensive dental work done to repair four front teeth injured in the accident – two crowns, two fillings and a root canal.

A few weeks later a dear friend of Watkins’ passed away and she was honored to be asked to give a speech at the memorial service.

“I did not think things could get worse after my diagnosis, but things did get worse. The point is that sometimes in life, things go from bad to worse to even worse, and we are defined by how we react to these moments,” Watkins said.

Because she was diagnosed with a type of cancer that so rarely occurs and there’s still a chance it may rear its head again, the anxiety hasn’t completely lifted. She said being able to go back to work will help to keep her mind occupied.

“I love teaching and I don’t want to be at home with my thoughts with too much time on my hands any longer,” Watkins said.

She will be back in school for one day before spring break begins. Following the break, there’s less than 40 days of teaching before school lets out for summer.

Summer plans for Watkins include spending time with Jason’s recently located biological mother and siblings who will come to Colorado for a visit. Watkins is also looking forward to a school trip to New York City with fellow teachers and a group of students where they will see the sites and Watkins can enjoy her favorite thing - Broadway shows.

Watson’s spirit is strong, as is the gratitude she feels. “I have struggled and cried and some days I still do, but things are getting better slowly with time. Now I have this new more positive prognosis and I feel like I may finally be coming out of the darkness.”


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