For Part 1, click here.
Surprise, devastation and worry. These are all emotions that can touch us when we hear a cancer diagnosis. And yet, the process of regaining health can bring about overwhelming feelings of empowerment, gratitude and thankfulness.
This week, WellCommunityChicago.org will bring you the first-hand stories of three local survivors who have felt this wide range of emotions while being treated in Swedish Covenant Hospital’s Cancer Center.
Kathy Willison, 55
Anal cancer survivor
Diagnosed January 13, 2006
Kathy Willison, 55, cried out loud as she watched a television documentary about actress Farrah Fawcett's battle with anal cancer. The Rogers Park resident went through the same battle not long ago. Although the outcome was different for the two women, Kathy very much identified with the actress’ connection to her family, as thinking of her family was what kept Kathy going through the hardest times.
"I woke up on January 13, 2006 — Friday the 13th — and thought, 'Yikes, this is going to be a bad day,' and it turned out to be just that. It was the day my doctor called and said I had cancer.
I was so surprised; it felt like I got punched in the stomach. I had had some bleeding and discomfort over the past three months, but I never thought it could be cancer. I was afraid — not so much for myself, but for my boys (twins, age 13 at the time). As a single parent, I wondered, 'If something happened to me, who would take care of them?'
But from the start I was bound and determined to get better. I had radiation daily for a month and a half and then began chemotherapy. Complications with the chemo sent me to the Emergency Room at one point; the smell of food made me sick and water tasted terrible. But the hardest part was my lack of energy. I couldn't take care of my house, or go for a walk or be active with my boys. Seeing me like this was so hard on them — they were good students, but started struggling in school and acting up. Even with everything I was going through physically, it hurt more knowing how this was affecting them."
"About two months after my chemo treatments stopped, I started to get my energy back. When I could do stuff for myself again, it felt so good. Little things that I used to dread doing began to give me a feeling of empowerment, and the fun things, like biking or swimming with my boys, became even more fun.
I cried the first time they said my blood tests and biopsies came back clear. To celebrate, I went out with my friends, my mom and my sisters and got my hair colored (The chemo had turned it white). By September, my doctors could see no sign of cancer, and there hasn't been any since then.”
“I still have regular check-ups, but I am very, very thankful to be healthy again. This experience has taught me to enjoy things more and put myself out there more, so I don't miss anything."
Kathy remains cancer-free and is happy to report that she and her boys are doing very well. Chris and Pat are both attending local community colleges.