Within two hours, Kathy McCoy went from being elated that her husband’s oncologist had pronounced him clean of cancer to hearing that she might have the dreaded disease herself.
“My whole world crashed as (my doctor) felt a lump in my right breast,” recalled McCoy, about her well-woman visit on Sept. 10, 2010. The news that she had breast cancer came less than 18 months after her older sister, Patty, received the same diagnosis.
As the Augusta resident underwent treatments, she found strength through a co-worker, a breast cancer survivor. And since that diagnosis, McCoy, a sales manager at Koch-Glitsch, became a support for two other co-workers struck with breast cancer in the past two years.
On Saturday, during the 23rd annual Susan G. Komen Wichita Race for the Cure, the four women are coming together in their fight against breast cancer, participating in the one-mile fun run as the team BreastFriendsForLife. More than a dozen family, friends and co-workers will join them.
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The annual race is the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s major fundraiser, helping fund services to those diagnosed with breast cancer and research into one of the three most common cancers among women.
Cancer in the family
In January 2009, McCoy’s husband, Michael, was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent an operation to remove part of his diseased lung. Just days before he was to start chemotherapy in May 2009, McCoy received a phone call from her 50-year-old sister, Patty, in New Jersey, who shared that she, too, would be undergoing chemotherapy that same week.
With her focus on supporting her husband and sister as they received treatment, McCoy said she had only a fleeting realization that cancer now seemed to run in her family. Twenty years before, her younger sister, Mary, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the white blood cells. She later died from congestive heart failure, a condition doctors said was brought on by her chemotherapy treatments.
“It did cross my mind for a moment that I was in the middle” of the family, McCoy said.
Then Michael McCoy called his wife to share that his oncologist, Pavan Reddy — who later became Kathy McCoy’s oncologist — had pronounced him cancer-free.
McCoy didn’t have much time to celebrate her husband’s good news, however. Later that day, at her annual well-woman visit, her doctor found a lump in her breast. When McCoy felt the lump herself, she was shocked at its size — it was about 3.5 centimeters — and wondered how she’d missed it during her monthly self breast exams.
“But cancer can be such a fast-growing disease,” McCoy said. Her husband’s condition had reinforced for her the importance of early detection and annual wellness visits, she said. Before his diagnosis, Michael McCoy always had insisted on chest X-rays as part of his annual visits. And although he had skipped the annual exam the year before his diagnosis, he went to a doctor when fatigue symptoms persisted.
“I had a mammogram on Sept. 23, a needle biopsy on Sept. 24, and sat at home that weekend thinking about the Wichita Race for the Cure being held that Saturday and thought I couldn’t possibly have cancer,” McCoy said.
That Monday, the doctor confirmed that her lump was malignant.
“I was so angry,” McCoy recalled. “I thought, ‘Wasn’t it enough for my husband and sister to go through cancer treatments?’ You hear people say, ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,’ but I was sure he had the wrong Kathy McCoy.”
McCoy underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, 34 rounds of radiation and 12 rounds of Herceptin, a chemical antibody that targets cancer cells.
McCoy, 51, said it was the friendship of a breast cancer survivor, the resources of the Komen for the Cure organization and the ability to find quality cancer care locally — she was treated at the Cancer Center of Kansas in El Dorado — that helped her get through her cancer struggle.
Shortly after moving to Kansas in 2005, McCoy started to participate in the Komen Race for the Cure, supporting the team of her co-worker Diana Oldham, a breast cancer survivor.
Oldham’s words of advice, cards of encouragement and other gestures helped McCoy during her cancer journey, too.
“As a cancer survivor herself, she understood what I was going through and had run that same gamut of emotions,” McCoy said.
The pair formed their Race for the Cure team BreastFriendsForLife last year, raising more than $2,200. A month after the race, McCoy finished her last round of Herceptin.
A few weeks later, another co-worker was diagnosed with breast cancer, giving McCoy the opportunity to pay forward the support Oldham had shown her.
“This year, another fellow co-worker and friend was diagnosed with breast cancer,” McCoy said. “Now the three of us are able to help and support her as she goes through the treatments.”
“Cancer is such a horrible disease, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”
One of the best ways to beat the disease, she said, is to ensure one gets annual wellness exams, to help detect the disease early.
“Don’t put it off,” she said.