BRAvo 2018 dancer profile: Debbie and Dr. Kieleszewski

Debbie and Dr. K

Debbie and Dr. Kieleszewski

For Debbie, like countless other women, life could sometimes get in the way.

Working a stressful, time-consuming job, she would regularly put off medical appointments simply because there were not enough hours in the day.

Eventually she stepped down from that position. She soon became ill and was awakened to the fact that she could no longer neglect her health.

She was also motivated by her daughter, who randomly ran into an old friend at the post office. The friend, a teen, had survived a harrowing car accident and now felt eternally grateful for the gift of her life. This motivated Debbie to take action concerning her own health.

"I had neglected many appointments," said a motivated Debbie. "This included mammograms. I started making appointments."

She was glad she did. Doctors found a lump.

To determine if this was cancer or if it was benign, a biopsy was ordered.

But the tumor was so small they could not locate it with the needle. They decided to biopsy via surgery "“ removing the tumor and sending it for testing.

This actually gave Debbie reason to be hopeful.

"If it was small, then maybe it's nothing too serious," she said. "They said it was something that could probably be treated with a pill. I thought it was going to be easy to treat."

This was the message she expected to hear from her physician when they gave her the results.

"They told me I wouldn't need chemo or radiation," she said. "But that soon changed."

Genetic testing revealed Debbie was negative for the BRCA gene, a genetic mutation that greatly increases one's risk for breast cancer (associated with 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases in the US). But her oncologist, Dr. Salman Fateh with the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Macomb, told her the biopsy revealed it was a very aggressive form of cancer.

Her idea of what her treatment would entail changed entirely.

"The doctors told me it was something they would need to treat with full force," Debbie said. "That would mean chemo and radiation. That's when I just lost it."

Debbie would undergo a lumpectomy, six rounds of chemo and five days of twice-daily radiation treatments "“ a treatment that would last five months.

She received her clean bill of health in October 2017.

Now, Debbie is plagued by "˜what ifs.'

What if she had continued to neglect her regular medical appointments?

What if her daughter hadn't run into her old friend?

What if she had gotten her test earlier (when the tumor was smaller)? Or what if she waited?

If she hadn't had heard from her daughter's friend, she says, "I probably would have put it off longer." Oncologist Dr. Arthur Frazier told her that had she waited, the tumor would soon have grown to the size of a tangerine.

"I tried to keep a positive attitude the whole time," she said. "Someone up there did not want me to go yet."

In a celebration of support to her fellow survivors, she agreed to participate in "Dancing With Our Docs" at BRAvo 2018, asked to participate not long after her treatment concluded.

Originally she was hesitant, but then thought on it more.

"This would give me my go," she said. "To get up and get going and moving again "“ to get healthy again. This would be what I needed. It was perfect timing."

She is partnered with Dr. Kurt Kieleszewski, a family medicine physician with McLaren Macomb, who, be it breast or otherwise, has had many experiences with cancer in both his personal and professional life, including two very recent diagnosis of people close to him.

"As a family doctor, you see patients who have had their lives and health impacted directly by cancer," he said, mentioning he saw his first cancer patients while still in medical school. "We're part of the front line with cancer "“ we see it fairly regularly."

Not much of a dancer, but a former sure-footed college athlete, Dr. Kieleszewski has been intrigued by BRAvo after having attended the previous few years.

Sensing "˜the ask' coming, he had already made the decision that he would say "˜yes' if ever requested to participate in "Dancing With Our Docs."

"I knew I was on the list," he said with a laugh, "I just didn't know it would be this soon."

BRAvo 2018
"Don't Gamble on the Girls"
5 p.m. Tues., Oct. 16
The Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township
Get your tickets and donate to your favorite dancing pair at mclaren.org/bravo.