I’m delighted to introduce you to Kathy Sawyer (pictured above with her husband David). If you think you see strength in her eyes and a terrific sense of humor in her smile, you’re right! Kathy and I began corresponding earlier this summer, sharing girl-talk that ranged from our love for furbabies to our enjoyment in reading books. Kathy is not a writer, but she has a story to tell, and it’s an important one!
Kathy is a woman whom I admire, a woman I am so proud to know. I recently invited her to tell her story here on BRAVA! and she graciously accepted. So here, in Kathy’s own words, is her story …
Fighting Cancer by Giving Back
“April 1, 2010, also known as April Fools’ Day, a day for practical jokes and fun. Well, for most folks that is. There was nothing remotely funny about my day. My husband and I were sitting in the waiting room of the Bearden Josey Breast Health Center in Spartanburg, SC. I was scheduled for a mammogram and ultrasound of my right breast. Just two days before, I had discovered a hard lump that felt like a small piece of sharp gravel under my skin.
Everything became a blur after that and I didn’t have time to deal with the possibilities of what I’d found. Somehow, life had come down to just the two of us in that quiet waiting room. David brought his laptop and I took a book for distraction but we never touched them. We just sat there, silently holding onto one another.
The mammogram showed the mass and the ultrasound permitted me to see my ugly invader firsthand. After that, I had a needle biopsy which didn’t go so well. The needle didn’t retract upon exiting my breast and I was left with a huge hematoma. I won’t even discuss what it felt like!
We returned to the Center on April 4th to learn the results of my tests. They put us in a private room and we sat there for what seemed like an eternity (in reality, it was only 15 minutes). A specialist came in accompanied by a nurse and together they told us that I had Invasive Ductal Breast Cancer. I didn’t cry because I hate to cry. I just sat there wishing everyone would stop talking and let me leave. I just wanted to get out of there, to run as fast and as far away as I could.
When we finally left, it was a typically gorgeous sunny Southern day but I felt covered by ominous clouds. Nothing seemed real; it was like I was in a dream. Even when I told my Mother and sister it felt wrong. “I have breast cancer” Dear Lord, I can still remember saying it for the very first time.
Needless to say, since that time I have become a virtual hostage in the battle being waged against this disease. I detest being weak and sick and I want to give cancer to cancer! Because it is so evil, I have come to associate it with one of the worst things in history: the Third Reich or more specifically, the Nazi’s. I have decided that I am fighting an ongoing war against the Cancer Nazis. Together with my team of Doctors, also known as the Allied Forces, we are waging chemical warfare against the enemy.
The Cancer Nazis were not unknown to me: they claimed my Father’s life in 1990 and nearly stole my Mother away in 1994. As a Veteran of the Cancer Nazi War, I thought I knew what to expect.
What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of love and support that came daily from family, friends, and complete strangers! I was overwhelmed and thoroughly humbled. To be the recipient of such Grace is a truly wondrous thing. Aside from deep gratitude, I felt a palpable need to do something, anything to give back or pay forward that gift.
I was at a loss and had no idea what to do. I wanted to do something that represented me and also something that would make others feel as good as I had been made to feel. I am no Lance Armstrong so the Tour de France was definitely out.
My inspiration finally arrived after a gift of books from author Anne Rice. I wrote to her after surgery for my partial mastectomy. I knew she was planning to pen a follow up to her novel Angel Time and I was curious to know when I might be able to order it. She responded by sending me four personally signed first edition copies of her work. One of those just happened to be an advance copy of her yet unpublished book Of Love and Hate. I was astounded by her generosity and there I was, the Girl Who Never Cries, crying.
A light bulb went on and it finally occurred to me that BOOKS are my passion (well, aside from David!). I have been voraciously reading since the age of four. We even purchased our home because it had a beautiful library where I could house my many tomes. Books have been my solace, my entertainment, and my friends for as long as I can recall. At last I had a way to “Pay it forward”! On that day, Books for Patients was born.
Here’s what I decided to do: provide books for my fellow chemotherapy patients as they are receiving their treatments. If you know anything about chemotherapy, you know that treatments can last anywhere from 5 to 9 hours. The Infusion Center at St. Francis Hospital in Greenville, SC is lovely and new, but didn’t offer much in the way of filling up those hours. On my first visit, I was tied to an IV line for 8 hours and I hadn’t brought a thing with me. I was so bored I swear I would have eaten dirt just for the entertainment value!
I went online and ordered a wheeled library cart because I didn’t think the Staff would appreciate me dumping a pile of books on them. Then I started writing to everyone I could think of. This included family, friends, neighbors, and a few of my favorite authors. The response was immediate and amazing. New and gently used books began pouring into our home and quickly overtook the dining room. I also received heartwarming notes from many of the donors. I received a signed copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt along with a lovely note from Beth Hoffman. Since then, she keeps my spirits up with her warm and funny emails!
On Friday, August 6th, I was scheduled for my next round of chemo. I had completed a 4 treatment course of something we patients like to call the Red Devil along with Cytoxin. These lovely chemicals caused my hair to fall out – and I do mean ALL of my hair. I wanted to take everything to the hospital but David knew we would be too busy. Following each chemo treatment, I have to return to the hospital the next day for an injection of a drug which causes my bone marrow to produce white blood cells. It’s much less involved than chemo day, so we decided that we would deliver the books then.
I was so excited on Friday! I have extremely low Blood Pressure due to my treatments but on that Friday, it was actually “normal”! My wonderful Angel Nurses were surprised and thrilled and made me feel that my little project was just brilliant. They have a gift for that; there isn’t one among them who doesn’t go out of her way to make me, and every patient, feel loved and cared for.
I didn’t get a chance to see if any patients utilized the cart, but I return for treatment next week so I will find out then. All I know for certain is that it made me feel good. Maybe I haven’t taken out the Bunker, but I have certainly given the Cancer Nazi’s morale a good, square quick in the pants! Hoorah!”