“We aren’t exactly sure what is causing this discomfort Kathy, but we know it’s not cancer.” Those are the words she heard multiple times as she visited different doctors trying to pin point the cause of the back pain she was experiencing. No one ever expects it to be them, their family, their loved ones. Kathy was a wife, mother, sister, daughter, teacher and friend. While she had a heart bigger than Texas, with her humble, graceful spirit, she was the very best at everything she did. My personal favorite thing being, she was my mom.
And while some would say that those doctor visits are where the story began, I would fast forward a couple months and say our journey really began on March 25, 2008. Mom was teaching in her third grade classroom on the morning of March 25th when she reached over to take a drink of her Diet Coke, where she then had a stroke and fell over. That morning is when our lives changed forever. After being rushed to the hospital and having multiple tests done, the doctors came back and told my mom she had Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer in the lining of the lungs.
When my mom and dad sat my older sister and I down to tell us what the doctors had shared with them, I felt as if I was in a nightmare, one I wanted to quickly come out of. Sadly it wasn’t the type of nightmare I could just wake up from. In the weeks to follow, we found out more and more about this awful cancer and the numbers did not seem to be on our side. It was a fast growing, very aggressive cancer, one that is ultimately incurable. There are three types of mesothelioma, the most common type being pleural, which is what my mom had.
Unfortunately it is a type of cancer that is very difficult for doctors to detect early on, which lead to my mom reaching stage four when they ﬁnally found it. With being stage four, even at the young age of 45, the survival rate was very small. But that statistic didn’t scare my mom and she never once gave up the ﬁght. The only known cause of mesothelioma found today is by exposure to asbestos, which was commonly used as an acoustic insulator and in thermal insulation in homes built before the 1980s. Research shows it being linked to mesothelioma, when one breathes in the asbestos ﬁbers which then settle in the thin membranes of the lining of the lungs.
They believe my mom most likely acquired this while growing up, for most patients have it at least 10-15 years before it is ever found. After learning the symptoms of mesothelioma, Mom had been experiencing a good bit of them for some time, sadly we just didn’t know it. She had a persistent dry cough, unusual pain or discomfort and at times shortness of breath. While it affects the organs in the chest, it is most commonly found in the tissue surrounding the lungs. When Mom was diagnosed with stage four, the doctors told her she was looking at around 9 months to live. At this stage, Mom’s cancer wasn’t constricted to one side of her chest but had spread to both of her lungs which made surgery no longer an option. Fluid was starting to build up in the lining of her lungs which resulted in making breathing very difﬁcult.
When faced with cancer, it ultimately gives you two choices; to run and hide or to face it head on. Mom told us she would ﬁght until she could not ﬁght anymore, and she did just that. She started going down to MD Anderson in Houston, TX to receive treatment from some of the most experienced doctors in the world. Mom went back and forth from Fort Worth, where we lived, to Houston weekly to receive different treatments. With being stage four, the doctors were most focused on keeping her comfortable. She went through chemotherapy and more medications than one can count. All the while she never complained, never questioned why her, was so hopeful and so full of life.
The thing with cancer is, it does not just affect you, your family or your loved ones. It affects everyone surrounding you. While Mom loved being a teacher in the classroom, her illness quickly grew to a point that caused her not be able to teach anymore due to her health. This was one of the hardest things for her to give up. What my mom didn’t realize was that her teaching skills weren’t just impacting children in the classroom, but she quickly became a teacher outside the classroom to people in the community. Every Saturday morning for 18 months, approximately 80 Saturdays during Mom’s illness, people met at a near by park in honor of my mom, which quickly grew to be known as “Prayer in the Park”.
Whether it was 10 people or 100, we prayed, laughed, cried, shared stories, memories and poured love over Mom. While we all thought we were the ones supporting and helping her, it quickly became evident that even outside the classroom, Mom was still the teacher and we were her students. She taught us so much about life through her illness. I think my dad said it best when he said, “The response to her illness was now turning into a fellowship and ministry and the lesson theme for this class centered around faith. Kathy was faithful to her school and profession, faithful to her friends, faithful to her family and ultimately lovingly faithful to our God. Never have I seen someone more exemplify the meaning of “livestrong”.
Through this illness, Kathy touched the hearts of so many … young and old… near and far … friends and strangers. She had enough courage, faith and hope for all of us who rallied around her. So many people (almost 2300 to date) have left messages about Kathy being an inspiration … a model of faith and a beacon of hope. How ironic it was to learn that we thought we were carrying Kathy through this journey, only to realize that she had actually been leading us the entire time. She taught us to: Love our God, love our family, share our treasures and talents, openly pray, put others before yourself, always believe in yourself, and never give up hope.”
While I watched my mom go from being active, to using a walker, wheel chair, oxygen machine and having a hospice bed in our house, the one thing I never watched was her give up. While this rapidly, aggressive cancer took over my moms body and ultimately took her life on December 6, 2009, she fought until the very end. Her passing gave me the desire to impact and help improve people’s quality of life, which is why I want to pursue my dreams of being a nurse. Her untimely decline taught me what it truly means to live, and her death placed a new value on life. In the wake of my families own personal tragedies and realizations, studying nursing will allow me to answer my life’s ultimate calling to serve others.
To this date, mesothelioma does not have a cure and only 5-10% of people with this heart wrenching cancer live five years after being diagnosed. This is such a short period of time in the world we live in today, considering the technology we have. I want to change that. I never want someone to experience what I did feeling so helpless, knowing there was nothing I could do to save my mom. Not enough people know about this awful cancer and I hope with becoming a nurse, more people will. My mom might not have been a survivor to mesothelioma, but she sure was a fighter.
My name is Kristyn Albert, I am 23 years old from Keller, TX. I graduated last May with a Bachelors in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Abilene Christian University. After doing therapy in the schools I have decided to go back to school to pursue my love for nursing. I lost my mom to mesothelioma when I was a senior in high school and while becoming a nurse I hope to impact, help and serve those who are sick.