Michelle Kingsfield’s journey continues to inspire

Note: This is the cover feature for the March issue of Centerville-Washington Neighbors, which is mailed to 3,661 homes in Centerville and Washington Township. Michelle Kingsfield’s inspiring story kicks off three consecutive months of features that bring attention to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which has its annual Man and Woman of the Year campaign from Feb. 27 to May 8. Michelle has supported the LLS and its Man and Woman of the Year campaign over the years. The current photos were taken by Ashley Mauro of Ashley Mauro Photography. The snapshot was provided by Michelle.

By Jeff Louderback

Sitting at the kitchen table of her home in Yankee Trace, Michelle Kingsfield is savoring a relaxing Sunday afternoon. She exchanges playful banter with her 14-year-old son, Robert, who is overdue for a haircut, according to his mother. A few moments later, 17-year-old Casey walks through the door. It’s about time for dinner, and Michelle is grateful. With her story of survival from stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma, even the most routine of days is cause for celebration.

Sometimes, when Michelle looks at her children, she remembers a time when she was pregnant with Robert, the long-awaited second child of Michelle and her then husband Steve. Those were supposed to be carefree days of getting the baby’s room ready and preparing Casey, who was 2 at the time, for becoming a big brother.

Her journey to that point – and to Dayton – started in her native Missouri.

Born and raised in greater St. Louis, Michelle graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia and embarked on a long-envisioned broadcasting career. She landed her first job as a reporter and anchor at a TV station in Joplin, Missouri. That is where she met who would become her husband, Steve Edgerley.

She spent two years in Joplin, moved to a bigger market in North Carolina as a reporter and weekend anchor, and then arrived in Dayton in September 1999, joining WKEF Channel 22 in her first full-time main anchor role.

Michelle and Steve married on July 15, 2000. Casey was born June 29, 2002.

“I never aspired to work in a top 10 market or be an anchor for a national network. I wanted a family, and it was important for the job not to own me and keep me away from my family,” Michelle said. “My goal was to build a career as a main anchor in a mid-sized market where I could have work-life balance.”

Interviews with well-known figures like President Obama and in-depth investigative reports were interesting, Michelle said, but telling the stories of fascinating local people was her true journalistic passion.

“I was especially drawn to stories about the human interest side and the cutting edge part of medicine,” Michelle explained. “It was meaningful to tell the stories of people who experienced life-threatening and life-altering diseases, and how they persevered and inspired others.”

Michelle learned she was pregnant with her second child around Labor Day in 2004. She started feeling tired and dizzy. “I’m almost 35. I guess that’s the difference between having a baby now compared to being pregnant in the early 20s,” she surmised. One day, when she was getting dressed for work., she noticed a chocolate Easter egg-shaped lump on her neck. It was hidden by her long hair. “It must be related to pregnancy,” she thought.

After getting a flu shot, the lump started hurting and growing until finally, in the middle of a 6 pm. Newscast one day, she couldn’t turn her neck because of the pain. That was Nov. 10, 2004. She didn’t realize it at the time, but that would be her last broadcast for more than a year.

Since she started feeling discomfort not long after finding out she was pregnant, Michelle suspected cancer because of the growths. Doctor after doctor told her it was an infection or an abscess.

On November 18, a pathologist told her not to worry, that cancer doesn’t present itself this way.  infection. He even said a biopsy was not necessary, but Michelle insisted.

“We’re here, let’s do it,” she said.

The pathologist had a preliminary review of the biopsy results and confirmed his original feeling. It was not cancer.

“I let my family and friends know it wasn’t cancer, and that I would be back to work on Monday after the antibiotics kicked in,” Michelle said.

That was Thursday. The next day, she kept her 2:15 appointment with her head and neck specialist, Dr. C. Michael Collins.

Dr. Collins reached out and held Michelle’s hand when he arrived for her appointment.

“I’m afraid I have some very bad news,” he said. “The biopsy showed you have a rapidly growing, large-cell lymphoma.

“I don’t know what it means for the baby,” Dr. Collins added.

Michelle was 14 weeks pregnant at the time. Her mind raced with fear and questions. Would the baby survive chemotherapy? Would she survive? What is the prognosis? Michelle admittedly had never heard of a case of a mother delivering a healthy baby after undergoing chemotherapy.

A battery of tests followed, including blood work, bone marrow tests, PET scans, and biopsies of the two infected lymph nodes.

The following Monday, she was told she had anaplastic large-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which happens only in 2 percent of lymphoma patients. The bone marrow biopsy showed no bone involvement, dramatically improving her prognosis. A PET scan revealed “hot spots,” indicating the likelihood of light bone involvement. That made her lymphoma diagnosis a stage 4 cancer and reduced her prognosis to a 30-percent chance of survival.

She flew to Boston for a consultation with a nationally known oncologist, Dr. George Canellos, at the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

After reviewing her blood work, Canellos provided a more favorable prognosis. There was a 70-percent chance of survival.

She started chemotherapy the next day. Within days, the swelling on her neck was gone.

Determined to save the baby, Michelle was entered into a small study group of women – fewer than 200 – who have been pregnant while undergoing an aggressive form of chemotherapy known as CHOP therapy, which has a potent blend of the drugs cytoxan, adriamycin, oncovin, and prednazone. No side effects had been detected in any of the children during an 11-year study.

Michelle was exhausted throughout the pregnancy and treatment. She was frequently sick and even hospitalized once with complications. Labor was induced two weeks before the due date on April 27, when Robert was born.

“I felt like I was in a dreamlike state when I heard the cancer diagnosis. I was in a dreamlike state after Robert was born, but that was from a feeling of happiness,” Michelle said. “I remember holding him and looking at him, thinking here is this baby who went through all of this with me. He was beautiful, and it was a beautiful moment.”

The outpouring of support during Michelle’s battle with lymphoma remains vivid to her to this day.

“Their prayers gave me strength and renewed my faith, and helped me maintain a positive attitude, even when I felt sick and exhausted,” Michelle said. “It was remarkable how so many people I have never met brought me and my family comfort.

One day during her recovery, Michelle received a call from her friend Kristi Piehl, who at the time a colleague at Channel 2.

“I’m bringing over chicken enchiladas,” she announced. “’Yuck,’ I thought to myself. How could I dig into chicken enchiladas when I couldn’t even stomach looking at a jar of peanut butter?”

Kristi arrived with a basket covered with a cloth that concealed a warm meal, Michelle recalled.

“That quickly spread the smell of home-cooked food throughout my kitchen,” Michelle added. “She hadn’t been out the door more than a few seconds before I stuck a fork into the enchiladas. As I swallowed, I made one of the many discoveries I was to accumulate during this journey: Food takes on a new flavor when someone else cooks it – someone who wants nothing more than for me to get better and deliver a healthy baby.”
That started what became known as Meals for Michelle, composed by a network of friends, neighbors, and coworkers who brought her three home-cooked meals a week.

“At first I said no; I couldn’t accept that kind of help. Thank God my friends ignored me. They brought chicken with sautéed mushrooms, squash bisque, and an Oreo cookie cheesecake that melted in my mouth. They also brought comfort and chatter. The visits reconnected me to the outside world.”

Michelle’s neighbors wrote a cookbook highlighted by recipes from meals they prepared. , Proceeds from Reporting the Local Meals were donated to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, from meals they prepared.

In the months that followed her delivery of Robert, and the cancer remission, Michelle authored articles about her story for Oprah Magazine and Good Housekeeping. Over the years, publishers have approached her about writing a book, and Michelle has started on that project. She kept a detailed “cancer journal,” and she still has the stacks of cards and letters stored in large plastic containers.

“I want to share the need for us all to take control of our own healthcare, while also sharing the many physical and emotional ups and downs throughout my cancer journey,” Michelle said. “I want to share the stories of the help and support of strangers that played a monumental part of helping me through all this.  Perhaps something in my story can help someone else in the future.”

She has several “secret angel” stories.

“One day, my doorbell rang, and a man said hello and that his wife asks him to make these deliveries, and her only request is that I give what’s inside to people who are taking care of me,” Michelle said. “I opened the box, and it had 50 handmade lace angels.”

In the years that followed her return to the airwaves after surviving cancer, Michelle reached a point where she was drained from anchoring multiple newscasts every day. Her career was abruptly altered on June 20, 2012.

“I walked into work, and was pulled into the conference room,” she recalled. “I was told would exercise 90 days without cause in my contract, which simply means I was being let go. I asked why, but they wouldn’t tell me.

“There was an outcry from viewers who were upset I was no longer on the air. That was a good feeling, again knowing that I had support from people I didn’t even know,” Michelle added. “Not knowing why my contract wasn’t renewed was hard, but I felt like a weight was lifted the moment I drove out of the parking lot that day. I was burned out and ready for the next part of my career. I just didn’t expect it to happen that way.”

She worked in community relations for Premier Health Network and then in marketing and sales for a senior living facility before accepting a role as publisher of Dayton Real Producers, a magazine for real estate professionals. This role finally gave her the independence and flexibility to get home early, attend her children’s events, and help care for her mom before she passed away last year.

Michelle feels renewed with a post-cancer perspective that remains vivid every morning.

“When you have wondered if you died, how your death would affect your family and friends – and then you survive—it changes your perspective.  At least it certainly did mine,” Michelle said. “I don’t worry about things until there truly is something to worry about. The majority of the time, what I used to spend time worrying about never ended up happening.”

Last year, Michelle reached the milestone of turning 50. For some people, that is a dreaded age. After what she endured with battling cancer, delivering a healthy baby during that time, and fully recovering, 50 is a treasured number because it is a chapter that she thought she might not see.

“I really feel like I’m in a great place in my life.  I have my own business which allows me more freedom to be with Casey and Robert, as well as my extended family,” Michelle said. “I don’t have to worry about asking if I can have a day off, or if I’ll be able to spend the holidays out of town.  It’s all up to me and that’s liberating.

“Now that I’m 50, I’m thinking a lot more about retirement, though that isn’t looming quite yet,” she added. “I’m thinking about the future, what it will look like, and what I will experience in the years ahead.”

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Michelle and her sons sat on the couch in the living room of their home in Yankee Trace, posing for a photoshoot that includes their two beloved dogs. The banter illustrated a perfect example of how she approaches even the laziest of days.

“I’m less critical, more present and I enjoy little things much more after surviving and recovering. I notice a beautiful blue sky and will even say out loud when alone, ‘wow, that is so beautiful.’” Michelle said. “Every day – and I sincerely mean every day, I notice simple acts – like my boys laughing with each other, talking with a friend, meeting someone new – and I make a conscious effort to appreciate the moment.”