Kimberly Daly thrives on giving back. For three months during the peak of the pandemic, she worked at the temporary Boston Hope as a nurse to help Massachusetts stay on top of the pandemic. Her typical day job, as an executive at Merck, means putting her clinician skills to use to help develop vaccines. It’s an admirable lifestyle and one that would end up benefitting her directly when she was stunned with a breast cancer diagnosis.
Diligent about her mammograms, she went every year for three years and received clear results. After her family moved to Idaho for two months, living in the woods as a change of pace during COVID, she scheduled her mammogram. On Thanksgiving eve in 2020 she received the call she needed more testing. At 45 years old, Kim was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. She was stunned: “despite being in healthcare, breast cancer never touched my world so I was very unfamiliar.” Her career meant she had access to some of the best clinicians working on breast cancer trials, so she was able to pick their brains about her diagnosis. In the end, she moved forward with chemo, surgery and radiation. The experience was made more difficult given she had to face it all alone, since family members were not allowed in the hospital with her due to COVID restrictions.
The entire experience has changed Kim’s perspective on life. Though initially overwhelmed by the diagnosis (“google basically makes you think you are going to die!”), she was determined to find the silver lining and found a book, written by a nurse, that helped frame the experience: “I didn’t want to spend all of my time being sad and mad. I had to know there was going to be an end where I could be ok.” In that spirit, she made concerted efforts to control what she could control and let go of the rest. Even today, two years in remission, her frame of life looks a lot different: “It’s hard to think of life without cancer because it is so much a part of who I am. Once you are diagnosed, it’s never really gone, but it changed how I approach life, what I put effort into and what I care about.”
Indeed, she counts herself extremely lucky to have even received a mammogram, knowing that so many put theirs off during the pandemic: “my mammogram saved my life. Without that, I probably would have metastatic breast cancer.” Ever the clinician and always giving back, Kim is currently in a vaccine trial aimed at preventing the recurrence of cancer in triple negative patients. Of the experience she says, “I think it’s amazing that we are here from a science perspective. It really provides hope”