Stories of Hope
Kathy Croswell's Story
Article date: May 1, 2001
I know to never give up, and to be happy, cheerful and strong. Through all of this, your attitude means a lot.
In three short months, Kathy Croswell went from having a clean bill of health to a devastating diagnosis of colon cancer. Today, after months of chemotherapy, she's back to that clean bill of health. But life will never be the same. It's much better, she says.
"I believe that good comes from bad," says this 50-year-old, of her experience that began in February 2000 when she insisted on a colonoscopy during a routine yearly physical exam.
"My mother had passed away from cancer -- and they had missed my mother's colon cancer because they did a sigmoidoscopy instead of a colonoscopy. I didn't think they'd find anything, but I wanted to be checked anyway. During the exam, I stayed awake and we saw the tumor right away. I was really surprised."
On March 1, 2000, she underwent surgery to remove the tumor and three lymph nodes that were cancerous. It was the beginning of a wild ride that saw her through many stages as patient, survivor and then advocate for early detection, with a zeal that rivals Katie Couric, the "Today" show host who also crusades for colon cancer screening in memory of her husband.
"I knew I got this for a reason," she says, adding that she believes that it was, in part, to go out and help others by advocating for early detection. This year, Kathy is the chairperson for the Greater Lawrence, Massachusetts, Relay For Life to be held June 29 and 30. She advises many to "follow your instincts -- if you think there's something wrong with your body, there's a reason. If it's on your mind, look into it and follow it through. Don't be afraid to ask questions and see what your options are."
Since her diagnosis and treatment, which included seven months of chemotherapy, Kathy has lobbied friends, family members and co-workers to get a colon cancer screening -- actions that have helped many, including one co-worker who just this month had an unsuspected cancerous tumor removed following a Kathy-driven screening.
Kathy's experience has also led her to admire the ACS and its work to promote early detection. When colon cancer is found early and in a localized stage, it can mean a 90% survival rate over five years. If the cancer goes undetected and spreads to other organs or lymph nodes, the survival rate is 65 percent, according to ACS statistics. Screenings for colorectal cancer should begin for men and women after age 50 -- but earlier for those with a personal history of colorectal health problems or a family history of colon or rectal cancer.
While she was in the hospital recovering from surgery, Kathy says she dialed the ACS on its toll-free line. "I spoke with a representative there and she was very helpful--she sent a booklet with all the facts about colon cancer, including a dictionary of terms, a primer on treatment and questions to ask about nutrition, what to ask the oncologist and even how to handle nutrition," she says. "That book helped me to not be afraid. I realized that the more educated you are, the better prepared. And because of the book, I knew what to expect."
Today, Kathy believes she is giving back some of that knowledge. "I know to never give up, and to be happy, cheerful and strong. Through all of this, your attitude means a lot. If you think ‘poor me’, it will run you down."
She said when she first went for chemotherapy, she was so afraid, she could not walk into the office. "But then when I was sitting in the infusion room looking at other people who were receiving chemo, too, I realized that cancer doesn't identify you as rich or poor, it just hits you. If you can begin feeling the feelings of the other patients, it gets your mind off of you."