Reporting Liz Collin
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – This year, 3,000 Minnesotans will hear the words: “You have breast cancer.” Here at WCCO, we’ve shared both survival stories and tragic stories with sad endings. But we’ve never told one like this.
For an entire year, our cameras captured an intimate look at Mia Bakker’s battle with breast cancer. We wanted to document the reality of a diagnosis when the story took a turn no one expected.
The thing you’ll first learn about the Bakker family is just how fast and full their lives are. Mike and Mia have three kids — Jaren, Jase, and Eleni — and both work full-time jobs.
“It’s hard to do the juggling act,” Mia explained. “Life’s demanding.”
WCCO first started following their story in May 2010, just a few months before things would change in a way nobody could ever see coming.
“It hit us just like a hammer in the head. It just scared us to death,” Mike remembered.
As life flew by, Mia, now 42, forgot about regular mammograms until four years had passed without one.
“Something inside of me knew something was wrong,” Mia said. “Then they called Friday the 16th of April and said, ‘I’m sorry but you have breast cancer.”‘
Doctors caught it early: Infiltrated Ductal Carcinoma, stage one. It’s the most common form of breast cancer and develops in the milk ducts.
After a lumpectomy, doctors detected aggressive cancer cells and decided on an aggressive form of treatment. Four cycles of chemotherapy came first.
After her first chemo treatment came the first big change: She started losing her hair.
“That’s your cover. That’s what you’re behind, it protects you. When you don’t have that, it’s just you. It’s you,” Mia said.
Her daughter Eleni, a first-grader, struggled at first seeing her mother without hair.
“The first day she got it really short then the next day she got it all shaved off and then she said, ‘Bald is beautiful,’” Eleni said.
Mia spent her most of her 2010 spring and summer at the Maplewood Cancer Center. The chemotherapy didn’t faze her at first, but as the summer wore on, the reality of her sickness started to settle in on the whole family.
“I got really sad because I wanted her to stay alive, but if she died then I guess I wouldn’t have a mother anymore,” Eleni said.
Jaren, a sixth-grader, admitted it was tough to see his mother this way.
“You just feel bad for her,” Jaren said.
By August, the side effects of chemo began to take their toll.
“I feel like I’ve been hit by a frickin’ bus,” Mia admitted at the end of last summer. “With all the medications I take, I get really crabby. That’s not who I normally am and I know it’s been hard on them. I don’t mean to be that way.”
Mia’s son Jase said, “It’s been rough on those days. Those are … kind of the bad days.”
Soon, just like so many other families in the cancer fight, the Bakker family found out the rest of life doesn’t stop with a diagnosis.
“Today after work I had to run to the grocery store and get some groceries, then quick eat and then off to practice. It gets to be long days. You don’t sit down,” Mike said. “You kind of eat, breathe, and sleep it all the time.”
By September, five months into the diagnosis, Mia had moved on to the next stage of her treatment. She was scheduled for 35 rounds of radiation in six weeks.
“It’s coming down to trusting the treatment and knowing that you did all the right things,” Mia said.
October was marked with celebration and support for Mia. A fundraiser for breast cancer research was held at Tease Salon in St. Paul. Mia said the month of October took on a whole new meaning.
“I’m really proud to be here and I’m really happy that there are people who actually take time out of their lives to take notice of what we’re going though,” she said.
As the seasons changed, so did circumstances for the Bakker family. A cruel twist came in December. Nine months being a cancer survivor wasn’t enough for Mia to survive the economy. The office furniture supply company Mia owned for eight years in Lino Lakes was forced to close and file for bankruptcy.
“I didn’t ask for the economy to go bad. I didn’t ask for cancer in the middle of that,” she said.
The bankruptcy began a downward spiral that proved impossible to prepare for.
“Everything we worked for could be gone,” Mike said.
The New Year started at full speed, and brought a new business opportunity for Mia. She was hired at a new company.
“As excited as I am about new job, it’s tough. It hurts,” Mia said. “There’s still a lot of things going on inside. At some point I’ll get over the bump.”
Mounting financial pressures remained, putting their home ownership in danger. But, after Mia’s one-year appointment, a silver lining emerged that came in the form of a phone call.
“Good news, my bone scan is good. … Cancer-free,” Mia said. “I beat it! That’s amazing!”
It’s been the year that changed everything for Mia, a year the wife and mother was forced to rethink the way she lived, and the year that her family will likely lose their home. It has also been a year that left her family stronger the way only cancer can.
“I feel like somebody has hit a stopwatch, after being diagnosed,” Mia said. “You only have so much time, and I want to make the most of it.”
Mia will go in for checkups every three months for the next two years and every six months until she hits the five-year cancer-free mark. She currently has $20,000 in medical bills.
To help her family, there is a fund set up at all Wells Fargo branches under the Mia Bakker fund.