Family shows solidarity for wife, mother with breast cancer

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 7, 2016

 From left, Larry Kinsel; Debbie Kinsel; their son, Andrew; and daughter, Jacqueline, all take a photo after getting haircuts Dec. 3 at A Woman’s Image in Clinton Township.

From left, Larry Kinsel; Debbie Kinsel; their son, Andrew; and daughter, Jacqueline, all take a photo after getting haircuts Dec. 3 at A Woman’s Image in Clinton Township.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Cancer is hard enough to battle on its own, but a strong support system can help guide one through the storm.

That’s the case in the Kinsel family, of Sterling Heights.

In May, Debbie Kinsel, 55, found a lump and thought it was due to a skin disease. She visited a dermatologist in an attempt to find the cause.

The dermatologist then urged Debbie to visit her doctor. She showed the lump to her OB-GYN in September. She was told she needed to undergo an ultrasound, mammogram and an ordered biopsy.

Debbie was steadfast in her thinking, recalling, “I was pretty confident that it was not going to be cancer.” Part of her rationale was that she had fluid-filled cysts in her past, and the lump mirrored such cysts.

But on Oct. 6, she received a call as she arrived at her job as a school-age child care director at Dekeyser Elementary School, in Sterling Heights. Kids were not yet present, and her worst fear materialized.

“I went outside. To be honest, when she said the words, I asked her to hang on because I had to wrap my head around it,” Debbie said. “It was the furthest thing from my mind. I never thought she’d say those words. You just feel numb.”

She went the entire day without mentioning her diagnosis to anyone at work, and the first person she told was her husband of 30 years, Larry, at home.

“I was pretty much in shock too,” Larry said. “But we’ve got to take things in stride. We take it one day at a time.”

Larry and Debbie have two children: Jacqueline, 26, and Andrew, 20. Jacqueline lives with her boyfriend, while Andrew lives at home.

“It was really cute because that night I called them and I asked if they could come one night,” Debbie said. “I said, ‘We’ll have dinner and I want to talk to you.’”

She said the kids ran into each other in the driveway that evening, trying to figure out why their mother invited them. Andrew thought that either his parents were selling the house or that someone in the family had cancer.

“I try real hard to tell people not to cry or become emotional, especially my kids,” Debbie said. “I didn’t want them to become emotional.”

As expected with just about any disease, the reaction was rough. Jacqueline is struggling more than Andrew, Debbie said, even though Andrew is “a hard one to read.” But even Andrew made a comment, saying he wanted his “regular momma” back.

Luckily, Debbie has a strong support system of about 32 immediate family members, with another 11 on Larry’s side.

Debbie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer rather recently, too, and Debbie and Larry wanted to utilize the same health system that her mother used — Beaumont Hospital, Troy — due to the great experience she had.

Debbie started chemotherapy Nov. 17 — the first day of an expected 18 weeks that will be followed by surgery at an undetermined date. Surgery depends on the size of the lump after chemo and the 35 days of radiation that follow.

Her next round of chemo is slated for Dec. 8. It will be about a full year of treatment.

After her first chemo experience on a Thursday, she said her Beaumont doctor told her she would receive a shot Friday, experience body aches Saturday and would be able to go back to work the following Tuesday.

Around 5 a.m. the following Wednesday, she got very sick.

“It’s kind of been a roller coaster,” she said. “You have a good day and a bad day, and I try to get as much done because you don’t know if tomorrow will be a bad day.”

Both Debbie and Larry acknowledged that the family element changes because cancer consumes everything. And it wasn’t just Debbie’s mother who battled cancer, but also the couple’s niece — who died from the disease at 24 years old. She left behind two young children.

Following their niece’s death, the family became quite active with the American Cancer Society. They even started their own team in Romeo, with Debbie, Jacqueline and Andrew acting as team captains and event coordinators of the Romeo Relay.

They’ve raised more than $30,000 for the society since 2011.

But even Larry admitted that no matter how involved they all were in raising money to battle cancer, nobody can fully understand the ramifications of cancer until it affects someone close to you, such as a wife, mother or spouse.

It’s the first thing and last thing you think about daily, he said, and when you get a moment to embrace the good in the world, you enjoy those moments.

“It’s kind of how it has to be,” said Larry, who has worked in the archive department at General Motors for 31 years. “(Debbie) has to be our No. 1 priority. It has to take over all aspects of your life.”

When Debbie was diagnosed, one of the first things she asked about was the loss of her hair. Larry said she kept it pretty together until she realized she would lose her locks.

“I think that was when it kind of hit her,” he said. “I think that may be typical. It’s when reality hits.”

As a show of support, the family decided to get haircuts too. On Dec. 3, they all went to A Woman’s Image — a wig shop in Clinton Township — and Debbie, Larry and Andrew shaved their heads. Jacqueline cut off locks of her hair and donated them toward “Locks of Love.”

“I told them that they don’t have to do it, but they said they wanted to support me,” Debbie said before the fact. “I know they love me and want to support me.”

Due to varied amounts of energy and her chemo schedule, Debbie decided to continue something she started years ago. She started a blog when her niece was diagnosed six years ago, and when Debbie was diagnosed, she remembered her blog and revisited it to bring back old memories.

It’s been therapeutic for Debbie to be able to put her thoughts into words. Her family and friends can comment on her posts, and it allows for her to not be bombarded with phone calls.

The hope is to one day read the blog and remember the journey toward health. Both Debbie and Larry are entirely optimistic the cancer will be defeated.

“I think we’ve got to fight this with everything we can fight with,” Larry said, referring to the support system that has surrounded his wife, in terms of family, doctors and even the wig shop. “I think that’s kind of the one thing you learn: You’re not fighting alone.”

For Debbie, she feels different every day but still wants her family to have a semblance of a normal routine.

“Until you’re actually there and in that chemo chair, you don’t really know what it’s like,” she said. “I think you need to be supportive and tell them you don’t feel good some days; you don’t feel like doing anything. (I want) to let (my family) be and do what they need to do.”

Debbie’s blog can be found at