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Fearless, together!

Breast cancer awareness is a cause close to our hearts here at Burnett & Williams, and our very own Kathleen Ikonomidis shares her journey with this disease that touches too many of our family and friends.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society about 279,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Many of us know someone whose life has been touched by this disease, including all of us here at Burnett & Williams. 

As a firm we’ve always been committed to raising awareness on this important issue, especially surrounding the work of Jim Williams’ Beth Williams Field of Dreams Foundation, which is active in the Richmond area, especially in Midlothian and Hopewell. The foundation is named for Jim’s late wife, Beth, who lost her fight with breast cancer almost 14 years ago. Beth Williams was one of the earliest pioneers in raising awareness about the impact of breast cancer, and her legacy lives on today.

Over the past year, breast cancer hit close to home again, impacting all of us when our Leesburg office colleague Kathleen Ikonomidis got the call that every woman dreads. We couldn’t be prouder to be part of her support system. Her personal story of strength and determination after her surprising cancer diagnosis is an inspiration to us all:

I remember the life-changing phone call like it was yesterday.
“Hi Kathleen, is this a good time to talk?”
“Ugh … should I shut my office door?”
“Yes, that may be for the best.”

Everything moves at a rapid speed, including your spiraling thoughts, when you get the call from your doctor and she says the dreaded words “You have Breast Cancer.”

The day I was told about my cancer diagnosis, I’m sure I would have forgotten to breathe if breathing wasn’t involuntary. I’d just had my first mammography (at age 37), and then a biopsy of both breasts, and everyone just kept telling me how young I was. You would think that when the entire world keeps telling you how young you are, and that  it couldn’t possibly be cancer, you would appreciate the sentiment a little more than I did. I kept hearing “Only 5% of women under 40 get breast cancer, only 20% of biopsies end in a cancer diagnosis – and you’re SO YOUNG!” But my youth didn’t protect me from cancer, and I officially didn’t feel young anymore after I got the call from my doctor.

When someone gets a diagnosis of breast cancer you meet your oncologist and get handed a book the size of a college text book about living with breast cancer. Also, a stack of 15 business cards and instructions to schedule appointments with every specialist on them: radiologist, geneticist, plastic surgeon, therapist, oncologist, surgeon … It’s an overwhelming experience, but I started to book all the appointments. 

As a single mom for over 12 years, I was used to taking on burdens alone, but this was big. On the day the results of my biopsy came back positive for breast cancer, the universe had apparently decided that I needed another challenge in my life.

Most people would be crushed with the diagnosis, and I was, but we all have responsibilities, and I wasn’t about to give up. Throughout my cancer journey, my daughter, Anabelle, has been the number one thing on my mind. “Can I get this taken care of in time for my daughter’s 8th grade back-to-school?” I would ask all my doctors. When a doctor asks “What grade is she in now?” and smiles, you know cancer won’t be wrapped up as soon as you would like. 

And life certainly didn’t slow down for my cancer. I was working two jobs, raising a daughter to be a young woman, caring for my pug/chihuahua mix, Taco, and my 3 cats, George, Owen, and Milla. Oh, and about 30 fish in two fish tanks, dozens of house plants, and a garden yielding the biggest cucumbers the world has ever seen! So, what else could I do but make time to be my own medical secretary, take a crash course in oncology, and coordinate all the people in my life who wanted to help.

I learned many things from my experience with breast cancer. It’s really important to understand that you are never too young to get a cancer diagnosis, and that you should never ignore what your body is telling you. I waited about a month after I suspected something was wrong to see a doctor, assuming (just like many of us would) that it was nothing. But it wasn’t nothing.

Before 2019 I didn’t even have a primary care doctor, and I never got sick. I still don’t really feel like I got sick; instead I was made sick so that my medical team could cure what could have been much worse. Treatment wasn’t by any means easy, but thanks to constant medical research and advancements, I think that it was easier for me than for many of the women who have had cancer before me. I had surgery, 4 rounds of chemotherapy, and 25 rounds of radiation, and now take daily hormones so that breast cancer will not rear its ugly head again in my life.

All in all, I got so lucky. I found my breast cancer really early, and I had a tremendous support system, both personally and professionally. It turns out I have the most amazing daughter, family, friends, and boyfriend (who I have known since elementary school!), and if this wouldn’t have happened I would still be complaining about minuscule things in life that really don’t matter. Sometimes it takes getting sick to realize how good you have it.