WHEN Kaydia McKoy told her four-year-old daughter that she has breast cancer, she asked, 'Mommy, are you going to die?' It was the hardest question McKoy had ever been asked, and though she reassured the little girl that her mommy was not going to die, she was not quite so sure herself. She had been flung so suddenly on this new journey, at just 31years old, that she was not sure of anything. Within a matter of days, the wife, mother and entrepreneur found her worries shifting from whether her business would survive the COVID-19 pandemic, to whether she would be alive to tell the tale.
“I had told her that my own father died from cancer, so when I told her that I was sick she was very sad,” McKoy told All Woman from her ZM Entertainment and Parties Ltd office off Constant Spring Road. “I get very emotional sometimes, but it's a journey and I have to be strong. When I think about my daughter it helps me to go on. I know that I have to pull through and be strong for her.”
As if the fate of her party rental and planning business was not enough to worry about when the country went into lockdown in March, the entrepreneur suddenly noticed a lump in her breast. Had she not been paying close attention to her body, McKoy would have ruled out the lump as just tenderness caused by premenstrual syndrome, because it seemed to vanish with her period.
“But in April I realised the lump came back, so I decided to go to the doctor,” she recalled. “The doctor said I was too young to do a mammogram, but when I explained that I had a family history of cancer, they allowed me to do it just to rule out the possibility. That day changed my life…”
Right away they were able to tell her that it was cancer, and days later she had a biopsy done to confirm the type and stage.
“I waited three weeks for the results and I went to see the doctor and he confirmed that it was oestrogen and progesterone positive. He said it's a grade one tumour, but it was treatable.”
By this time her gynaecologist had also found that McKoy had an ovarian cyst, and because her cancer was found to be driven by oestrogen (produced by the ovaries), it was decided that it was best to remove them.
“My gynaecologist recommended a hysterectomy (removal of the womb), because it really serves no purpose without the ovaries,” she shared.
Just over a month ago, McKoy had three surgeries performed all at once — a hysterectomy, nipple-sparing mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery. But while that was a tough decision, and it took a toll on her body, that was only the first step on this new journey. She is now left to pick up the pieces emotionally and financially while dealing with the side effects that will come along with chemotherapy.
“Removing my womb was really hard, because you hear about people doing that, but not at 31. I did not think twice about doing it, because I have a daughter and I would do anything to stay alive for her,” she shared emotionally. “I try not to feel less of a woman, but not having the womb there, I feel bad sometimes. Just last week I found myself thinking that I'm still young, and I hadn't decided whether I wanted another child yet.”
McKoy was also just beginning to see some returns on the investment she made in her two-year-old business when she was dealt the blow by cancer.
“I'd been working here with my husband, right up until late 2018, when I decided that I wanted to start my own business,” she said. “My brother would always ask me if I planned to work with my husband for the rest of my life, so I decided to try something on my own.”
Having successfully executed tasks like decorating and catering while working at her spouse's company, McKoy reckoned that her skills would be ideal for a rental and event hosting business.
“Things were a bit slow at the time and I didn't want my husband helping me. I wanted to achieve it on my own. I mentioned it to a friend who helped me to get a loan, and the business took off,” she smiled.
By the beginning of this year, just before the pandemic struck, McKoy was booked and busy, and raking in a handsome profit. In fact, she almost got health insurance.
“I knew that I needed insurance, and I called the salesman and told him that I needed it for myself, my husband and my daughter. He wrote up the documents and everything, and I gave him my banking information. But in that same week we had the first case of the coronavirus in the country and people started calling me to cancel parties, so I told the guy to put that on hold…”
She would regret that decision just mere weeks later, as the expenses related to her diagnosis and surgery alone cost nearly three million dollars.
“So you can imagine having to pay more than half of that up front, especially with business being slow,” she said, grimacing. “The good thing is that I have very supportive family, relatives and friends who chipped in to help, and I set up a payment plan with the hospital to cover the remainder of the cost.”
McKoy also has to tend to her own emotional wounds inflicted by the cancer.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “I remember going to the doctor and asking him for some pills to sleep, and he didn't give me any. He said I had to find the inner strength. I have been finding my strength in crying out to Jesus.”
Having fought arduously to become the woman she is today, McKoy is embracing this new chapter of her journey with strength, courage and hope.
“I am looking forward to getting back on track with my life,” she said. “Even though my journey with cancer is not done, I want to be able to use my experience to support someone else who is going through a similar diagnosis. I am also learning to appreciate the things, and people who matter. I realise that when I was wrapped up in the business I didn't have a lot of time for my family. Now I'm looking forward to having more family time after clearing this hurdle, and striking a balance between business and family.”