Fighting breast cancer again, York woman leans on guidance of physician and friend

Kathy Aldinger fought breast cancer for the first time in 2003. In early 2021, she found another lump. With the help of Dr. KimberLee Mudge at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, she wants to share hope with other women fighting breast cancer.

Written by: Rebecca Hanlon
Story paid for by: UPMC Memorial
Kathy Aldinger, left, says her friendship with Dr. KimberLee Mudge of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has made her journey with cancer easier through the years. (Photos by Paul Chaplin for Our York Media)

Kathy Aldinger got the call after 9 p.m. The lump she found in her breast in June 2021 turned out to be cancer — again.  The news was tough to take, but she found comfort in the voice of the woman she considers a friend.

Kathy’s bout with breast cancer started almost two decades ago. In 2003, at 40 years old, a routine mammogram detected some abnormalities. After biopsies in both breasts, her right breast’s sample came back as cancer.

She was referred to KimberLee Mudge, MD, who is now a breast surgeon at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

“I remember the first time we sat down together and just how overwhelming it all can be,” Kathy says, recalling her original diagnosis. “But, from that moment, she’s felt like more than my doctor. Dr. Mudge isn’t just treating my cancer; she’s walking with me through this journey.”

Feeling less alone

Kathy already had a mastectomy in 2003, chemotherapy soon after, and a reoccurrence with more surgery and radiation in 2005. That same year, she’d also have a hysterectomy, a surgery which removes the uterus and ovaries, hoping to curb the cancer that seemed to be driven by estrogen.

The return of the cancer in 2021 was more than disheartening. She has no family history of breast cancer, but with the reoccurrences she is now making the first steps to determine if she is a genetic carrier of BRCA-1 or BRCA-2, a gene mutation that increases risk for certain cancers, like breast, prostate, and pancreatic.

“It’s hard to wrap your brain around the question of why this happens,” Dr. Mudge says. “For some patients, this is their journey. From the moment you have to deliver that news, you know this patient and their support system will never be the same again.”

Still, Kathy and her husband, Russ, are grateful the cancer hasn’t spread elsewhere, and she’s taking new medications that are helping her treatment.

Her faith, along with the support of her family and friends — including her doctor — have helped her feel less alone.

When hope is hard to find

Because Kathy has been here before, she’s facing her cancer with the knowledge of how hard the phases of treatment and recovery can be. She knows breast cancer and its many treatments, which impacts hormones and causes hair loss, can result in the loss of a woman’s identity.

Knowing all of that, she says, makes it harder.  She relies on God as a constant source of strength and peace. That, along with her friendship with Dr. Mudge, has made it easier through all these years.

The two have been together, through all of Kathy’s health changes and even Dr. Mudge’s career move to the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. It’s where Kathy feels she’s receiving the best treatment available, while knowing her friend and physician is with her each step of the way.

It’s where Dr. Mudge decided would be the best place for her to treat her patients because of UPMC’s University-model of care, with experts and research specialists with years of experience ready to jump on a case.

“There is beauty that can come from the ashes of our lives,” Kathy says. “Hard situations cause us to be grateful for the many things we tend to take for granted every day. I hope that by telling my story, other women experiencing breast cancer will be encouraged. There is always hope, even when it’s hard to find.”

Story paid for by UPMC Memorial

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