PHOENIX (AP) — Kristen Magner doesn't dwell on the ravages of breast cancer.
She performs, dancing with a troupe of belly dancers. She models, displaying fashions designed for women who have undergone double mastectomies. She works, tapping her experiences as a cancer patient to make her a more empathetic nurse.
A year ago, the 32-year-old Tempe woman faced a deadly illness. A rare and aggressive form of breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
She was hooked to an IV, about to get her first dose of chemotherapy, when her insurance company refused to pay for her treatment.
She had to come up with more than $200,000 or face the reality that she would leave her young son motherless and make her husband a widower.
But Magner didn't give up. In November 2012, she sought help from Call 12 for Action, which took up her fight with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Within days, the insurance company had promised to cover her treatment. Her short-term disability request also was approved.
This year, she endured month after month of chemotherapy, removal of her lymph nodes, a double mastectomy and multiple hospitalizations for infections, cardiac issues and a hematoma. She had no further insurance problems, Magner said.
When Magner's story was first told in The Arizona Republic and on 12 News, her cancer was out of control. She was sick but determined to fight. Today, she seems undaunted as she resumes her life and tries to live as an example for other breast-cancer survivors.
Last week, Magner learned that a scan showed her to be cancer-free. She commemorated the news with a Facebook photo of a pink ribbon with a slash through it.
"I'm confident everything will be clear so I can get this (off) my chest, heal and return to 'normal life' and 'normal problems,' " Magner said in a related post. "Return to the job and bad hair being the worst problem of the day."
Her friends say Magner never let the cancer get the best of her or define her life.
"She's an ornery person. Fiesty. She wasn't going to take it sitting down," longtime friend Gail Wolfenden-Steib said. "It's kind of inspirational ... the way she dealt with it."
Wolfenden-Steib, who designs dancewear and works as a draper with Childsplay theater in Tempe, described Magner as fearless. She said Magner approached the disease with a clinician's blunt assessment, detailing its progression in a way so that people around her could understand what she was going through. And Magner didn't sugar-coat her feelings, whether it was about losing her hair, breakfast or breasts.
"She was strong before, but even more so now. 'Empowered' is a better word," Wolfenden-Steib said.
Magner also was philosophical. "It would have been worse if my husband got sick, or my child got sick," she told The Republic in 2012. "I was the best-equipped to deal with the situation."
Magner last week took to the stage as part of a fashion show at Plaza de Anaya in Tempe, modeling a dance costume designed by Wolfenden-Steib for women who have lost their breasts. The costume isn't just for any kind of dance. It's for belly dancers, which Magner has been for nearly a decade. "I'm proud of myself for getting out there and doing it," Magner said. "It's been a heck of a year."
Professional belly dancer Sophia Petersen, who directs a dance troupe called Diamond Divas, said she doubted she would have shown the same courage as Magner.
"She has been selfless about her whole situation," Petersen said. "Her strength has just been outstanding."
Petersen recalled that just a few months after Magner was diagnosed, she showed up for the troupe's tryouts. She said Magner was self-conscious but delivered an awe-inspiring performance, made more so when the wig she was wearing slipped off her shaved head.
"It was already emotional," Petersen said. "At that point, she just took it off and twirled and kept dancing. ... It literally brought me to tears. I knew we needed to have her in the troupe."
The troupe made its debut just a few weeks ago, and Magner, who didn't have the strength for a routine with other dancers, went solo in her first public performance since being diagnosed.
Although Magner is the one who is sick, she is the one who encourages others, Petersen said.
"She's the one who says, 'We're going to do it. We're going to get it done,' " she said. "She is a great mom and a great wife."
Magner described cancer as "an experience" that has taught her a lot.
"I have more patience and understanding than I used to," she said. "I know what it is like to sit somewhere for hours while you are hurt and people do things to you. ... It's made me a better nurse."
Currently a dialysis nurse with Fresenius Medical Care, Magner said she is interested in specializing in oncology and working with cancer patients.
Magner's outlook is mostly positive. But the cold facts show the cancer could return. There is a 20 percent chance the cancer can return in the first two years after treatment and a 50 percent chance it will return in her lifetime. "What can you do?" she said.
In the meantime, she is trying to come to terms with her new head of hair.
"It used to be straight. Now, it is curly, curly," Magner said. "People say it looks good, but it feels foreign."
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com