Resilient to the End: A Loved One’s Brave Breast Cancer Battle

Maggie Grainger
October 13, 2020
6 min read

Natalie Kennedy is a patient care navigator at Carbon Health. In 2018, her wife, Daphanie, lost her four-year battle with breast cancer at the age of 32. Natalie shares their story in her own words.

“In 2014, I met my wife, Daphanie Kennedy. Daph (as we called her) was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in May 2014; she was only 28 years old.

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Daphanie Kennedy, 1986–2018
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“Daph was super athletic since she played professional basketball overseas. Once we became friends and furthered our relationship her story broke my heart. In 2013, Daph came home for a routine physical before heading back to Europe to complete her season. A lump was found in her left breast. She was told it was probably nothing and no further tests were completed. Who has breast cancer at 27?”

Daphanie returned to Hungary to finish out the basketball season, but soon the pain in her breasts and back became unbearable. She knew something was wrong.

“She came back to the States and was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 28. Daph underwent treatment and a few months later the cancer progressed to stage 4 HER2+/ER+. By this time Daphanie and I were dating. Everyone thought I was insane for dating someone who had a stage 4 cancer diagnosis but I didn’t care. I attended every single doctor’s appointment, took notes, challenged the oncologist, and requested reports. I did everything I could as a friend and healthcare professional. I knew there was something more I could do. I wanted to advocate for patients who were overlooked. I wanted to be a voice for patients who didn’t understand the avenues of healthcare.”

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Daphanie continued to fight as hard as she could, teaching and training basketball players in Oakland. Cancer couldn’t break her spirit.

“Daphanie was so resilient. With a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and undergoing radiation daily as well as chemotherapy she continued to push. She taught PE at EPIC Charter School in Oakland, coached basketball, and trained basketball players on the side. Cancer couldn’t stop her…until 2017 when we learned the cancer had spread to her brain.”

“It was the most devastating news anyone could get: BRAIN CANCER! We learned her HER2+ had somehow mutated to HER2- and was not responding to the medication she was taking. After receiving whole brain radiation, the cancer in her brain was undetectable. We had won again. Things were finally getting back to normal until one day she woke up and was unable to walk.”

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Daph (on left) and Natalie (on right) married in 2017
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Natalie and Daphanie were devastated by the news but never gave up hope. The couple got married on June 20, 2017, at San Francisco’s historic City Hall.

“The thing about Daph is she always remained positive no matter what. There wasn’t a time that I heard her complain about the medication, chemo, radiation, pain, etc. In January 2018 the cancer returned and spread to her cerebrospinal fluid. It was literally everywhere. Her body began deteriorating extremely fast. The super sassy quick-witted above-average point guard I once knew lay lifeless.”

On September 22, 2018, Daphanie Kennedy passed away from Metastatic Breast Cancer at the age of 32. Now her wife is making it her mission to spread awareness about breast cancer and share the importance of self-breast checks.

“I learned cancer has no limits. If you feel a lump don’t be afraid to question it. Daphanie was 27 when she first discovered a lump and was literally turned away because of her age. We know our bodies and we know when something doesn’t feel right. Do not let lumps get swept under the rug because of your age or family history. Patients are experiencing more barriers than ever before since being faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s imperative that cancer resources are made available through multiple outlets to ensure that all patients are able to receive the care they need.

“Breast health is important because it is a part of taking care of your body. Self-breast exams are easy and painless. This is one of the easiest ways to detect cancer at an early stage. If we are able to promote breast health at an earlier age I believe early detection rates will increase.”

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Natalie believes awareness will help save lives and the earlier we start educating ourselves on breast health, the more lives we can save.

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month means just that….awareness. Cancer is a word many people forget affects everyone. Cancer doesn’t come with age requirements or name tags. Cancer can affect any person at any moment, healthy or unhealthy. Awareness and education surrounding breast cancer is extremely important to the young and elderly populations. The more awareness and education that is available to patients will hopefully lead to less advanced cancer diagnoses.”

Despite everything, Natalie has learned to remain positive through the pain. She shares some advice Daph shared with her that she’ll never forget.

“As a loved one and caregiver of a person diagnosed with cancer one word of advice would be to remain faithful. After my experience with Daphanie, I believe that finding a way to control your mind to remain positive is important. Daph would always say these key phrases that I will never forget:

“Use your adversity to your advantage.”

“Life isn’t always going to be easy. It’s going to be difficult at times.”

“Keep pushing. You have too much greatness to achieve.”

Carbon Health is Proud to Partner with the Keep A Breast Foundation

Carbon Health has partnered with the Keep A Breast Foundation to help spread breast cancer awareness. By working closely with KAB and their team, we hope to give all our patients the best care and resources possible.

The Keep A Breast app focuses on information, support, and, most importantly, access to breast health. For the first time, a breast self-check app connects users who think they may have discovered something during a self-check with a virtual provider at Carbon Health. This means you’ll have direct, instantaneous support in case you find something out of the ordinary.

We advocate for the self-check as we’ve so commonly come in contact with young women who have found their own lumps (both benign and malignant) “by accident.” With 40% of diagnosed breast cancers being self-detected (according to the John Hopkins Medical Center), establishing what is “normal” for you is crucial to knowing your body.

More About the Keep A Breast Foundation

The Keep A Breast (KAB) Foundation™ is on a mission to empower young people around the world with breast health education and support. KAB has evolved into the leading global youth-based breast cancer prevention organization serving millions.

Liked what you read? Learn more by downloading the Carbon Health app or visiting carbonhealth.com.

Maggie Grainger

Maggie Grainger is the Brand Copywriter at Carbon Health. She enjoys writing about diverse healthcare issues and helping people live their healthiest lives.

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