Breast cancer survivor Kerry Des Vignes opens up about her journey

Kerry Des Vignes is a wife, mother of two children (Zaria age 11 and Ethan-Zade, age seven) and she is the first of four siblings.  Kerry is known to be a driven woman with a

strong work ethic. As co-owner of a 10-year-old business, Kerry’s Nice and Sweet Treats, she is dedicated to providing excellence in the service sector while showcasing the multicultural cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago to a growing number of international visitors and local clients. Kerry’s Nice and Sweet Treats is a full service event catering company in Tobago, which Kerry runs with her husband Nigel. 

She is passionate about entrepreneurship and inspiring the same and holds a Masters degree in Small and Medium Enterprise Management from the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business. However, it was in October 2011 during a self breast examination while in the shower that Kerry felt a lump. She went on to do a mammogram and was further recommended for a biopsy of the lump. In February 2012, at 32-years-old Kerry was diagnosed with Breast cancer. She was four months pregnant when she got the news of her stage 2b, triple negative diagnosis.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease, the WE Mag Team decided to join in the campaign by sharing Kerry’s survival story with you. Check out our special interview with her:

1. We’re honoured that you’ve decided to share your battle against breast cancer.  Can you describe your life before you found out you had breast cancer?

At this stage of life I was a new mother to Zaria who was then three years old, recently married and just moved back home to Tobago after leaving the corporate world in Trinidad. My days were spent between living on the beach, ogling over Zaria and crafting strategy for building and growing our catering business and a few other business ideas that were in the pipeline. I was healthy and generally fit, enjoying gym days with my sister in law and yoga with my husband at least four times a week.

2. How did you feel when you first received the news?

I was actually very calm when I got the news. My approach to life is always ‘think positive but plan for the hiccups’. ‘What ifs’ are common thought processes for me so I had prepared myself mentally in case the news was not what I had hoped. Getting the news – while it was surprising, it did not destroy me. In my early 20s my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer so I was knowledgeable about the disease and treatment options. My next thought and question to my doctor was “Okay, so what’s the next step (because I wanna live!)?” Then I turned to my husband and I declared that I’m gonna beat this. I believe that you never get more than you can bear so my faith allowed me to dig deep and be pragmatic about the next course of action.

3. What treatments did you undergo?

I had the full gamut of treatment. The tricky part was that I was also pregnant therefore the synchronisation had to be worked out with my oncology team both in Trinidad and Tobago and obstetrician in Trinidad. I underwent surgery, three chemotherapy drugs – adriamycin, cytoxan and taxol – and radiation every day for 30 cycles as the cancer was triple negative. That’s a very aggressive type of breast cancer that is not triggered or impacted by one’s hormones. 

4. Did you lose your hair? How did you manage this?

I did! After my 1st cycle of chemotherapy, I told my husband, daughter and sisters that I wanted to shave my head. I prefer to take charge of situations rather than rolling over, so making an empowered move was my course of action as it gave me the momentum to continue fighting. It also set the tone of the type of support and energy I wanted my loved ones to embody. I called my beloved cousin, Anya, who’s also my hairdresser, to come over on the Indian Arrival holiday and we had a ‘hair loss party’ – it was a powerful experience to cut it before it dropped but it was also emotional – we cried, laughed and hugged. I’m happy I had my family with me to do it.

5. Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? How did you overcome these obstacles?

My biggest obstacle was keeping up with all that had to be done in the home, marriage, a three-year-old and a fairly new business which was and still is our only income stream, all while being pregnant and undergoing aspects of treatment (at the same time). Our son was born after surgery and two rounds of chemo so the effects from motherhood and treatment meant that I was fatigued most of the time. Fortunately, I did not suffer with nausea as my awesome doctor ensured that I was well medicated with anti-nausea medication and steroids so I would usually sleep on my chemo day but by the night when the steroids kicked in I was a force to be reckoned with…my husband would call me the beast, as I would wake up ravenous and soon thereafter be ready to go to work baking and creating all our catered orders. 

6. Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it?

There were four major elements of support for me: Faith and focus, Family and friends, Physicians and nurses and finally, Food. Each had a significant role in my battle and recovery. Faith – my relationship with God deepened during this period. My focus was always on the good, the positive and I did not entertain negative talk or energy around me. Family and Friends – my close network which included my husband, siblings and in-laws along with few other family and friends made the journey easier or significantly more manageable. There were times when they would send food over and call with encouraging words. On some occasions my in-laws fulfilled catering orders during our absence. A family friend even opened their home to our family of four during the full year and a half of treatment – from surgery to chemo and radiation to obstetric appointments and during the birth of our son. I also created a WhatsApp group where I was able to update everyone with upcoming appointments, to join me in prayer, or to ask for help when required. Finally, I was part of an online support group of 50 plus fabulous women who were all diagnosed in 2012. They were my safe place to truly share the emotional roller coaster that I faced as a patient as they all were going through the same thing or recently completed an upcoming phase so we supported each other with tips for issues we were facing on a day-to-day basis.

Physicians and nurses, especially at the Oncology Unit at the Tobago Regional Health Authority, were the most attentive and caring health providers I have ever encountered. They never made us feel rushed with our many questions or dismissed our suggestions when we presented the idea of chemotherapy and treatment during pregnancy. Food – I come from a family of foodies and even my husband who’s a great cook would have meals and fresh fruits ready for me. He would juice all day at intervals to ensure that there was always something nourishing at arm’s length. If he wasn’t able to, other family or my mother-in-law pitched in but my food was always whole foods, nutritious and mainly raw or juices.

7. How is life after breast cancer? 

I love life! Life after breast cancer is good! I do have residual effects of the disease, such as peripheral neuropathy and chemo brain. There are times when the disease gets you stuck into a fear hole, for example, if any medical issue crops up, I wonder if it’s cancer, or during periodic schedule scans I have ‘scan-xiety’ that’s anxiety as I await results. As a survivor, I’ve lost a good number of my online breast cancer sisters, so survivor’s guilt sometimes creeps in. But then my usual positivity self talk, faith and my husband who is my confidant is always there to take the edge off. 

8. What message would you like to send out to women in the community?

I urge women to be advocates for their own health and wellness. Do your regular breast self exams and keep your mammogram appointment. Your annual check ups are necessary. Eat well and exercise as best as you can. If you are diagnosed, please know that it is not the end of the world. Be positive and do your own research and reading so that you are knowledgeable when you talk to your health care practitioners. If you cannot undertake all the research then please have someone with you who can ask the difficult questions and get answers to your concerns. Give thanks for every moment and keep positive thoughts and energy.

Sache Alexander

Editor in Chief

Sache loves all things Beauty & Caribbean and she enjoys discovering a combination of both!

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