Image of Kimberly Branum - a breast cancer patient and survivor featured in the Think Pink special section of the Galveston County Daily News. UTMB Health sponsors the special section.

'Not once did I think I would die from this'

Kimberly leaned on faith and friends to keep her spirit strong

image of Kimberly Branum during cancer treatment with very short hair standing in front of a wall

When Kimberly Branum was undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer, she had a dream. On a night where she was praying for encouragement, she dreamed she had a head full of beautiful, flowing, wavy hair.

At the time, she didn’t have much hair at all thanks to chemotherapy. She took that dream as a sign of hope and good things to come. And her hair eventually did grow back.

“I never had thick wavy hair,” she said. “I had that dream and literally that’s how my hair grew back. I dyed it yellow, so now it’s thick and wavy and looks like beach hair.”

Hair regrowth might not seem like a big deal, but it marked a reclaiming of her body, a return to wholeness.

“It’s not just about surviving. It’s about quality of life,” she said. “There’s quality of life after breast cancer, your relationships with your kids, with your spouse.

“There was a question in my heart, will my marriage be the same after this,” she said. “Things are different, but there’s always hope and things can be good. That was a big deal as a woman for me.”

Branum was diagnosed in 2016 with metastatic breast cancer. She had put off getting the “marble in her right breast” checked because of insurance issues.

“I didn’t have any thought of breast cancer, so I didn’t have any fear of it,” she said, adding she started to get nervous after her mammogram. “I didn’t think anything until six doctors walked in the room, and I started shaking from head to toe, literally,” she said. 

“I knew something was wrong.” A biopsy followed, and the diagnosis was stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. “That was the day my life just changed,” Branum said — the day she became a “known breast cancer patient.”

Branum’s cancer metastasized to her lymph nodes; she had a full mastectomy in 2017, followed by extensive reconstructive surgery.

“Dr. [Colleen] Silva was amazing. She has the best bedside manner of anyone I’ve ever met,” Branum said. “And had it not been for my faith in Christ, my daughter and a group of women that just surrounded me with prayer, I would not have gotten through it. Not once did I think I would die from this.”

Branum opted for implants after her mastectomy, but they felt unnatural. Dr. Silva suggested she see her UTMB Health colleague and plastic surgeon Dr. Julie Park

“I had to think about it because that’s a big deal,” she said.

The “that” was a DIEP flap procedure, where the breast is rebuilt with fat, skin and blood vessels from the wall of the lower belly. After much consideration and consultation with her family, Branum had the procedure done.

“Dr. Park took my whole abdomen and used that to put up on my chest wall as a breast — the skin and everything, the fat, some muscle,” she said, “She dissected my abdominal muscles, took some veins out and constructed them to bring a blood supply flow up there. Then she stapled me up, sewed me up and I was home for a long recovery. It takes months to recover from that.”

More surgeries followed.

Most recently, Dr. Park used fat from Branum’s back to further contour her new breast. She’s thankful for how well the procedures have worked.

“When I look at the breast on the right, all I can say is, ‘Thank you, Lord,’ because it looks so similar to the one on the left that I actually feel like I have two breasts again.”

Branum’s next surgery, in December, will leave her with a tattooed nipple to give her breast a more realistic look.

“There’s nothing easy about this,” Branum said. “Belief that it will turn out good is the main thing. You have to pull into your faith daily and expect good for yourself. “Set up a support system,” she said. “And give yourself grace. You’ll have some bad days, but you know the next day could be better. Always expect there is an end of the road and that you’ll get there."

This feature first ran as a feature story in the 2022 Think Pink special section of the Daily News. You can view the full the publication online.

View the print story