Over the years, Kristin Zbozien, 35, has always enjoyed giving her time as a volunteer to support the Dickson County Relay For Life.
For Zbozien, motherhood is one of the most rewarding blessings in life. She and her husband, Jeff, have four daughters — Bella, 9; Molly, 7; Allie, 5; and Lydia 3.
But just three years ago, at the age 32, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was 25 weeks pregnant with my fourth girl when they found a lump,” she said. “And things changed ever since that day. I had a mastectomy and chemo while I was pregnant. They induced labor at 31 weeks. It was very scary because a lot of the doctors didn’t really know — some said the chemo can’t cross the placenta. But it was still such an unknown feeling. My baby, Lydia, is now fine.”
Zbozien, who serves as Vice President, Branch Manager and Loan Officer for TriStar Bank, said she was advised to keep an eye on Lydia because the doctors didn’t know if chemo has any impact on the child.
“She’s only had like one ear infection this year, so she’s very healthy,” she said.
She said she has always enjoyed giving her time as a volunteer to support the Dickson County Relay For Life, but now it has even greater significance for her.
Being pregnant while undergoing chemo created some issues for Zbozien because she wanted to make family life as smoothly routine as possible.
“I think the girls handled it, and they did great,” she said. “The only thing that they really talk about now is the hair loss. But they don’t really remember the side effects from the chemo, mainly just the visual ones. I tried to keep it private. If I was getting sick, I’d go to the far bathroom.”
She remembers telling her OBGYN at a checkup that she had found a lump.
“They sent me to Natchez Imaging for an ultrasound,” she said. “Three doctors came in and I said ‘this isn’t good, is it?’ ”
Zbozien noted that there is no breast cancer in her family history.
“I do still go every six months for blood work and to be checked,” she said, adding that the cancer originated in the lymph nodes.
She said in many ways she feels more hopeful, blessed and stronger because of what she has endured.
“I feel it’s like a second chance,” she said. “It was weird that I felt fine the entire time — until I had to take the medicine that made me feel horrible. I often wondered what if I hadn’t said anything about the lump. Where would I be? What if I went on never bringing it up thinking that it was just a cyst.”
Robby Harmon, Zbozien’s supervisor at TriStar Bank, said he is impressed by her character and commitment to bringing the best out in every situation.
“Kristin has worked for the bank since she was in high school,” said Harmon. “Kristin brings a desire to excel in everything she does and is reflected in her work. I admire her tenacity to be a fighter against cancer. I know she had many dark days while learning of her diagnosis and then subsequent treatments. Through it all she maintained a positive attitude.”
Zbozien has some advice for anyone who suspects or fears that they may have cancer or another potentially life-threatening disease or condition.
“Listen to your gut feeling, because in my gut I kind of knew something wasn’t right,” she said. “I think that’s maybe why I didn’t want to go right at the beginning. That leads me back to what if I hadn’t said anything. I’m glad I spoke up. I learned that you’re not supposed to get breast cancer at age 32, but you don’t have to fit the mold to have it.”
She said that her biggest challenge in facing cancer was trying to be Mom to her other three kids, explaining to them why she was sick and tired after treatments.
“I’m gonna be OK,” she said to them, even though she had missed softball games and other family events.
As for how her girls responded, Kristin was clearly one proud Mama.
“Not only did they handle it, they did great,” she said, adding that focusing on self-care while being a part of a family was “a strong mental game to play. Jeff was great up front, but it was hard for him at times behind the scenes.”
One of the toughest times for Jeff was when he’d have to shave Kristin’s head because the hair was coming out in clumps.
“We had to wait to put the kids in bed to sleep while he shaved,” she said. “But he did good, in fact he was extraordinary. We had a lot of support.”
She said that her church and bosses at TriStar were phenomenal.
“They made sure I had dinners every week,” she said. “I didn’t have to cook for months. Just the community coming together, from church and my work family to close friends.”
She’s looking forward to five years when she will be officially cancer free.
“Every year that you’re out past your date, the percentage of it coming back drops, but I hate to think of myself as a percentage or statistic,” she said, adding that she now has Facebook friends she communicates with who have experienced the same battles that she has faced.
Her bottom-line advice for accepting help is straightforward, heartfelt and simple.
“Don’t try to do it all yourself, and don’t be scared,” she said. “Be proactive. Let others come in. Accept the help and the support. I think I tried to do too much which caused me some setbacks. Mentally you will feel fine if you just accept, stay positive, have faith and move on.”