The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Kathryn's Story.
- Kathryn relocated to Boston to be close to her care team here at Mass General. She finds strength through her faith and support system, and as a friend once told her, she looks for "the blessing every day; there will always be at least one."
- "My advice would be to…allow yourself to be real."
How has your outlook on life changed since being diagnosed?
"It is an ebb and flow, so there are some days where I’m very upbeat and I feel like making plans for the month, and then there are times where I am arranging my funeral. So, it depends on if I have new symptoms, if I have a new twinge or whatever, and I’m brought back to the reality of ‘we don’t know.’ I think overall, my faith, I’m a Christian, was baptized Methodist, went to Catholic high school, Presbyterian college, married a Lutheran, so I’m basically Protestant, and God has just been so good and there are so many people praying for me that it just lifts me, carries me. So on days I can’t pray or don’t feel good, there’s always someone who sends a card or gift or a call or a text, and it’s just spread out perfectly. There’s not like a big glug and then nothing, it’s like it’s all orchestrated… and it has to be divine."
"For example, last Friday I was so tired from radiation that, for the first time since I’ve been here, I couldn’t walk back to my apartment. And I had gone to get triple max, which is a thing to coat your throat from the pharmacy to numb it so you can eat, and I got the prescription and I just sat there, for forty minutes. I was texting my sister and I was just not motivated to get up. I called my husband a couple of times but he was sleeping. When he answered the phone, I asked him if he wanted to go see the Christmas tree at Faneuil Hall. He said ‘you don’t feel good, let’s do it tomorrow, just come home.’ So I thought ugh I should really go home, but I couldn’t. Suddenly I’m in the middle of texting her [Kathryn’s sister], and I think ‘I need to get up right now and walk.’ So I did, and I’m texting her like this [head down], I get past Coffee Central and for no reason, I look up, and right there is our youth minister from Michigan, who moved to New Hampshire last summer. Her friend's husband had a problem with his heart and there were no beds in Bethany. He therefore requested to be transferred to Mass General. When they arrived, the medical team told his wife that her husband needed an emergency pacemaker! Meanwhile, my friend had arrived separately and was trying to find them. Initially, she tried in an abandoned reception area down a long hall. She'd just returned to the main corridor and was temporarily standing still, determining where to try next. If I had looked up toward her direction half a second later, I would've never known she was there and would've missed her completely. She was focused on getting to her friends, so she would not been looking for me. When I saw her, I burst into tears and hugged her! I was just so tired that day but there was still help. It's like God's in control and had a plan for us to encourage each other unexpectedly."
"One friend wrote me a letter and said, ‘look for the blessing every day, there will always be at least one.’ And I started having that outlook and it has been very helpful. So, I would say overall, I have a good outlook, but it’s also pragmatic and I try and prepare the children and my husband that it’s not that I don’t want to be here, but if I’m not, live your life, go on and flourish. And so, I’ve been trying to do things to prepare them mentally if it doesn’t work out. It’s things like that where I still stay a little grounded even though I know it will work out. So, it’s just kind of balancing that, where I don’t want to get my hopes up, but yet how could I not because there are always blessings, and so it’s always this back and forth all the time."
Did your family come out here with you?
"Yes, my husband came out for two weekends, but since November 30th he’s stayed with me. He works for General Motors, so he can work remotely. It has been so centering and comforting to have him here. He is everything. My sister came out twice; all the kids (including an awsome boyfriend) came out for the Harvard-Yale game because our son is playing football at Harvard. We were only empty nesters a few months before finding out about the 2nd tumor and needing to arrange treatment. I've gotten to see our son every day, though, even if just for a minute! That has all been such a blessing. Our three kids have been amazing. They have been very strong and have asked their friends from all over the world to pray for me, which is another blessing. One of my childhood friends came out to visit me while my sister was here, too. I was so thankful to see her, as well."
"My mom has been here to visit. She is such an encouraging, calming presence for me. My dad has visited, and is another wonderful blessing. Over this entire treatment time, it has only been a few days when I've been here by myself. My dear family could not be more supportive or more loving. I'm so grateful for them and could not imagine trying to get through this without them."
How do you like Boston?
"I love Boston! I could live in Boston. It’s so gorgeous. I love the people, I love the history, I love the proximity. I mean it’s so exciting, and it must be so fun as a young person. I could see my daughter, my oldest, living here. She’s in Charlotte and I could see her loving this place. I love it, I mean we were walking up Beacon Hill, and I’m just taking pictures of it all, it’s fantastic."
What advice would you give to someone going through this same thing?
"I would say my advice would be to admit and allow yourself to be real. Don’t add another layer that you have to be happy all the time, and go ahead and say ‘oh I don’t feel great everyday’ or ‘I need some more help.’ The integrative therapies, the acupuncture, the massage; I’ve gone to twice a week, I love it. I love the art therapy. There are so many resources here. I mean this place is phenomenal, you can’t be anywhere better, and there’s all the support, all you have to do is ask. And so, my advice would be to ask early and don’t give up. We came out of the healing garden and they had all these little felt flags that people had written on, and it was too much to take in, but my twin’s name is Ellen, and there was one right by the elevators that said ‘Ellen you’re an inspiration to all of us,’ and I took a picture of it and had to turn around because I was about to burst into tears because she is everything, she’s so helpful. But, there are things like that everywhere and it’s so pivotal, your best chance is right here."
Is there anything else you would like to share?
"When you’re in a life and death battle… I just really believe Jesus gives us hope. And whenever I didn’t know if I could get in here, I was sitting on the front porch and I had an imagery of Jesus on the waves, and I had the feeling like, I think I heard it on the radio a day or two before, but it came to mind, and it was 'keep your eyes on me, don’t look at the waves.' There are so many things about having a rare diagnosis and a life and death battle that is very undulating and if you look at that you’re going to get sick. And so to just get that straight north and hang on, is all you can do, and whether you live or die is gain. So, you have to have hope that transcends the outcome."
My advice would be to…allow yourself to be real.
This interview was conducted on December 14, 2016 and has been edited for clarity.