Two women find support, friendship in their fight against breast cancer
By Katie Coleman
No one’s ever ready to be diagnosed with cancer. Imagine living day-to-day feeling fine until one day you or a loved one finds a lump. Life moving forward becomes a very scary, unpredictable ride.
Lorianne Avino, a stroke neurologist with practices in Orchard Park and Williamsville, was on a trip in Florida with her husband in 2013 when he put his arm around her shoulder and noticed something didn’t feel right under her arm. She returned home and after getting a mammogram and ultrasound was told everything looked fine.
But Avino just had a gut feeling there was something wrong. She went to her friend, breast radiologist Uzma Alam at Buffalo MRI, who helped her determine on Jan. 7, 2014, that she was positive for stage three triple positive breast cancer.
“Never did I think at 38 I’d have breast cancer,” said Avino, who had to go home and break the news to her husband and five stepchildren. “I was nervous, but I looked at my husband and said, ‘I’m not going to let it take me. I’m going to take it.’”
Eight days after her diagnosis, Avino began chemotherapy in Williamsville with physician Saifuddin Soniwala, where she took cancer-fighting drugs for 18 weeks. She said the hardest part was losing her hair.
“One day I went to the bathroom and started pulling my hair back,” Avino said. “It came out in a big chunk and I screamed. It was very traumatic.”
Her biggest strength was having a positive attitude and staying really healthy. She went to spinning class five days a week, and changed her diet, adding organic and antibiotic-free foods and eliminating artificial sweeteners.
“Chemotherapy wasn’t fun, but I never complained.” During Avino’s first month of chemo, one of her friends connected her to Karie Kilner, a breast cancer survivor from Rochester. Their first phone call lasted two hours, and Kilner quickly became a great friend and source of strength.
“Karie had been through chemotherapy and beat breast cancer. I really needed a female’s perspective, and she walked me through everything. She was always checking up on me,” Avino said.
“I felt so in debt to all the people who had helped me when I had breast cancer that I wanted to pay it forward. I helped Lorianne, but she also helped me,” said Kilner, mother of two and science teacher who lives in Rochester with her husband.
Paying it forward
Back in August 2011 when Kilner was 36 she started getting a lot of pain in her right underarm. One night she was reading a story to her daughter when she put her fingers under her armpit and felt a lump. Kilner went to Elizabeth Wende Breast Care, a medical practice in Rochester, to get tested. After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, Kilner was told something looked suspicious. She eventually had her painful lymph node removed, and had an MRI that determined there was a tumor in her right breast.
“My mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years prior,” Kilner said. “I couldn’t have imagined that happening to me. I felt like no one was going to understand; I was only 36 and had two young kids to take care of.”
In November 2011 Kilner had a double mastectomy at Unity Hospital performed by physician Christopher Caldwell. One month later she started chemotherapy at the Pluta Cancer Center in Rochester.
“I asked myself, what did I do to deserve this? I always maintained a healthy lifestyle. Why me? Why my family again? But now I look back and think cancer was a blessing at times. So many people reached out to me and showed love and support.”
And that is what Kilner did for Avino, who, after six months of chemotherapy, underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction in July 2014 at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital with the help of breast surgeon Katherine O’Donnell. Nine weeks after the surgery, she completed 28 rounds of radiation.
“Me and Karie started talking less about cancer and more about life,” Avino said. “Cancer was initially very isolating but then it became time to help others.” Avino’s final surgeries were a hysterectomy in January 2015, and her final reconstructive surgery in November 2015. At one of Avino’s spinning classes she learned about the nonprofit organization — Fighting Pretty — which helps women battling cancer through fundraising efforts and by delivering “Pretty Packages”, a box made up of mini pink boxing gloves, makeup, scarves and other items to lift their spirits.
Avino now makes a monthly donation, and has sent Pretty Packages out to two friends battling cancer.
“Cancer changes you as a person. When you’re sick you learn how strong you are, and who your true friends are,” Avino said. “My husband couldn’t have done more for me. He kept me going.”
Avino also is thankful to her kids, parents, brother and extended family, three golden retrievers and friends for their unwavering support.
Today Lorianne Avino is happy, healthy and back to full time work as a neurologist. She stays active with her kids and is still going to spinning classes.
Karie Kilner and Avino cherish their friendship, and this season they will keep their tradition of going to a Bills game. Kilner still gets aches and pains and takes tamoxifen every day to keep the cancer away, but she’s doing better and feels forever grateful for everyone who helped her beat breast cancer.
“I used to think about cancer every day, but now on most days it doesn’t cross my mind. I never thought I’d get to this point,” Kilner said.