NS Special: Kenna Davis fought cancer head-on to become an inspiration

Kenna Davis has this tattoo on the inside of her right wrist. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
The Davis family, Kenna, Jackson and Allen. (Courtesy photo)
Kenna Davis, the sponsorship and special events manager at Turnstone, is coming up on the two-year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer this weekend. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

First of two parts

Nobody ever fully heals from cancer.

You have to survive it because it always takes something away, even from the strongest people. The determining factor is sometimes whether it leaves you enough. Did the doctors find it in time that you had enough to hold on to fight back with, to battle it to a draw? Are you strong enough that you have the will to hang on through everything the disease is going to do to you because you can’t give up or even hesitate? All the fight depends on it because cancer is always relentless, always looking for a new opening, a developing weakness to exploit.

Cancer changes you and keeps challenging you, either making you a victim or a survivor. There are so many struggles along the way because physically you are different, as well as emotionally and spiritually. It tears you down and dares you to come back. How much can you stand, how much do you want to live, it will continually and bluntly ask. Will you still have the same tenacity tomorrow? How about next week or next month?

Sometimes it’s too scary to look ahead so you fight day-by-day.

Along with always being incredibly empathetic and free with hugs or encouragement, Kenna Davis has always been a strong person, woman, wife and mother. As the sponsorship and special events manager at Turnstone, Davis sees inspiring stories every day. She just never dreamed she’d become one.

RELATED: Kenna Davis uses cancer experience to help others. Part 2

As soon as she felt something odd in her breast during a regular self-check in late-February 2016, Davis knew the fight was started. Because there were no tell-tale signs and because she was 36 and younger than the regular age for problems, a quick check-up at the doctor guessed it was probably just a cyst. Two days later she went for a mammogram and an ultrasound, but before she left the office the nurse told her they were scheduling biopsies.

Davis sat in her car in the parking lot and as she said, “Cried my face off.” In fact, she had already told her husband Allen she knew she had breast cancer. “I know that’s what it is, and that’s fine,” she told him.

The treatment process gained momentum quickly. The biopsies looked at three areas and took all afternoon before the doctor said he was 80 percent sure she had breast cancer. Three days later, the day before her wedding anniversary — or March 18, two years ago today — the Davises were informed officially. Luckily, their son Jackson was scheduled to stay the weekend with grandparents so his parents had at least two days to try to comprehend, to grieve, to deal and prepare for the struggle.

“He was my rock,” Kenna said. “It brings a whole new meaning to that whole sickness and health thing on whether people can really do it. You figure that out really quickly.”

Allen held her hand all the way through more doctors appointments, more conversations, more revelations. First, there were three tumors in two quadrants. Then more tests discovered four more masses. Everything was a body blow, but he always helped her to her feet.

“I knew she was a tough cookie at first and watching her go through that proved to me that she’s the strongest person I’ve ever met,” Allen Davis said. “I could just see that she was ready to take it on and kick its butt. At the end, after the god-awful surgery, she was still positive Kenna. She knows how much she means to me and how much I love her and adore her.”

Surgery put a port in on a Tuesday followed by her a chemotherapy treatment two days later, the first of 17 rounds every three weeks. Then there were more appointments with oncologists, plastic surgeons and a breast oncologist. It was like adding another full-time job with no overtime pay.

Her honesty and openness throughout the process impress everyone.

“She wasn’t going to sugarcoat and yet at the same time she was willing to do what she needed to do to get through it all,” said Liz Karst, a client advocate for Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana. “Sometimes we don’t see that necessarily. I really valued how honest she was able to be with herself and with other people on what her needs were. I tell patients that the one control you have is how you want this to define you. She recognized that early on and it was her decision on that. I value what she taught me, too. It was very admirable to watch her through this process.”

Trying to cover all possibilities, the plastic surgeon discussed the differences in reconstructing one breast or two. Davis had passed the genetic tests which can reveal future tendencies, but there would always be the constant examinations, the constant worry so she opted for a double mastectomy.

Cancer always takes a part, sometimes a big part. It always fights dirty.

Because she sometimes needed somebody to talk to, Davis called Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana and met Karst whom she asked what to tell Jackson. Don’t tell him you’re sick, Karst said because he’ll equate that to needing to simply take a little bit of medicine to feel better.

“You’re right, I’m not sick,” Davis said. “I think her saying that really kind of changed my whole mentality. After that, for me, it was like I’m not sick. I just have this thing going on in my body, but it’s not affecting me. It’s the chemo or this or that that made me feel bad, it wasn’t the cancer.”

Jackson, it turned out, had some comprehension already before his parents told him the day before the double mastectomy surgery.

“Well, they are going to have to get the bad stuff out of Mommy,” Davis told him.

“OK,” he said, “so it’s like when you go to the dentist and you have a cavity?”

Perfect. That was all the understanding he needed, though he wasn’t too thrilled when she had buzzed her hair in April.

Because Jackson hangs out often with his mother at Turnstone — and she missed only 16 days throughout the process — the unique and different is common to him. Inspiration is what Turnstone is all about as everyone there is looking to find a new way to live, to adjust, to thrive.

After Davis had endured the double mastectomy, then the reconstruction surgery and was well into the chemotherapy treatments, a third-grade girl came into Turnstone for rehabilitation after losing a leg to cancer.

“What’s wrong with you?” the girl asked after seeing Davis’s bald head.

“I have cancer,” Davis said.

“Oh, I lost my leg,” the girl said.

“Looks like we’re both losing things that we liked,” Davis said, and the girl giggled.

Now when the girl visits she’ll scream, “Kenna!” and run up for a big hug.

Davis remembers thinking that if this girl could be so amazingly strong over losing her leg, then she could be just as strong over losing her breasts. The girl doesn’t know how much she helped Davis.

“You walk down the hallway here and think, `OK, mine’s not that bad. I’m good,’ ” Davis said. “You never know who you’re going to touch in what way so just be who you are.”

And she truly is good. Cancer took a part of her but not enough to change who she is. She survived.

Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana

6316 Mutual Drive

Fort Wayne, Indiana 46825

Phone: 260-484-9560

* Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana was founded in 1944.

* In 2017 3,337 clients were served

* That’s a 12 percent increase in clients from 2016, following recent trends

* 64 percent of the clients are women

* 38 percent of our female clients have breast cancer

* There are currently six male clients with breast cancer

The American Cancer Society’s United States estimates for breast cancer in men for 2018 are:

* About 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed

* About 480 men will die from breast cancer

* Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women.

* CSNEI provides a menu of services for people going through cancer treatment, along with services for people who are cancer survivors.

Tomorrow: How Kenna Davis uses her experience to help others.