A small round lump was all it took to bring a lifestyle of fun, parties, and basking in the sun to an abrupt halt for a former NFL cheerleader.
It was 2006, the week before her 32nd birthday, when Lyly Thanh Koenig was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was like, ‘Yeah right,’”said Koenig in an interview. “This doesn’t happen to someone like me. I work out 6 days a week,” she said.
Her diagnosis spurred a quick move from her grandiose lifestyle of weekends at the beach in San Diego, soiree’s with her friends, and cheering at football games, to the slower paced life of the Mid-West, according to Koenig.
“I left San Diego in a month’s time to be with my family,” she said. “I packed up my entire condo and put everything in storage, got on a plane and got ready for treatment,” she said.
Koenig was soon forced to have bilateral mastectomies because she had cancer in her left breast, and was found to carry the BrCa2 gene which leads to a high risk of cancer, requiring the removal of her right breast as a preventative procedure, according to Patricia A. McGuire, MD, a plastic surgeon with Parkcrest Plastic Surgery in St. Louis. McGuire performed breast reconstruction on Koenig as part of her cancer removal and treatment procedure.
“Lyly did very well throughout her treatment.,” said McGuire. “She was very young, had not had children, so the idea of losing both breasts was devastating for her,” she said.
McGuire said she remembered the morning of Lyly’s surgery clearly.
“As they rolled her into the operating room, she remained very calm, but had tears in her eyes,” she said.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time Koenig had to pack her things and leave in an instant. As an infant, Koeing was a part of the Humanitarian effort in 1975 to airlift Vietnamese orphans from the war-torn area prior to the Fall of Saigon. She became one of the children adopted by American families. “The first plane out crashed and killed a majority of the passengers,” said Koenig.
“I am so blessed and I want to give back for all the blessings I’ve had.”
Although younger than most women diagnosed with breast cancer, Koenig is now a part of the growing number of women diagnosed each year. October is breast cancer awareness month, and according to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Breast Cancer Foundation website, about 192,370 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2009.
“Seeing women in the 20s and early 30s is uncommon, but not rare,” said McGuire. “We are seeing more women with significant family histories of breast cancer who are electing to undergo prophylactic mastectomy to lower their risk of developing cancer,” she said.
Despite facing nearly a year of treatments which beyond the double mastectomy, included chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and losing her signature long black tresses, Koenig still declares that having cancer was a blessing.
“I was floating through life before the diagnosis and not making any big moves,” she said,” Cancer jump-started my life and I reactivated what was important and began to take advantage of opportunities in a different way.”
Nicole Miles, a long time friend of Koenig’s from San Diego, said she was shocked and sad when she found out her friend had cancer.
“I was very frightened for her, “she said. “ but I thought she handled everything with great courage and strength.”
After receiving her last bout with radiation, Koenig moved to Miami. She has since decided to use her struggle to inspire people through creative fashion designs.
“Inspirations can come from anywhere,” said Koenig. She will be graduating from the Miami International University of Art and Design in December, and hopes to launch her first collection in late November.
Koenig encourages all her friends to conduct self-examinations.
“ Early diagnosis saves lives,” said Koenig. “I discovered it early, and now I’m a cancer survivor.”