"There is nothing in this world that can prepare you for what cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation do to your mind, body, and spirit. There is not a single thing that can prepare you to witness your loved ones suffer with you.
So what is my message? Abnormal symptoms in your body are not something you should ignore. Seeing a doctor right away is worth your time. Following up on your health can change your life.
Be proactive and make your health your top priority."
The youngest of 4 siblings, Kathleen was born on November 1, 1990, in the small town of Danville, PA. With a personality as bold and as bright as she was beautiful, Kathleen was a favorite and a friend to everyone she met. She graduated with her master's degree from Bloomsburg University, where she met her future husband, Robbie, a native of Liverpool, England. Bounding from one adventure to the next, Kathleen lived a life that most envied. She started her career in the city of Philadelphia and not long after made the move to downtown Nashville with her then fiancé, where they lived in a high rise off of Broadway and adopted a Great Dane puppy named Burger. Kathleen was working remotely, planning her dream wedding, and as always running 5 miles a day and keeping a clean and healthy diet. She had seemingly reached the holy grail, late twenties lifestyle when a trip home for Christmas 2018 brought it all to a halt.
She and Robbie were packed to hop on a flight to their best friends' wedding in Argentina - despite a cough she’d been fighting off all month and a visible 10 lb weight loss. She made a trip to the ER after becoming so short of breath she could hardly stand, where instead of being sent home with the expected prescription and well wishes for her trip, Kathleen was admitted for further imaging, showing questionable masses in her lungs and abdomen. While she should have been celebrating the New Year, Kathleen was given a diagnosis of Stage IV Adrenocortical Carcinoma (ACC) and a 10% chance of surviving her next 5 years.
Kathleen's diagnosis was serious and her prognosis was poor. The nearly 20 cm tumor on her adrenal gland had spread to her lungs, leaving her treatment options limited. Kathleen was a healthy, athletic, and successful 28 year old with plans for marriage and a family. What do you do in the face of something threatening to take it all away from you? Without a beat of hesitation, she began her first round of chemotherapy, and the week following threw a stunning shotgun wedding on a snowy day in January at her brother's house. She married Robbie surrounded by her family and closest friends, with Robbie’s family watching from 3,000 miles away.
Kathleen went on to defy the odds for 13 months. She underwent endless rounds of chemo and radiation, and took daily hormone suppressants with side effects so severe many patients with ACC cannot tolerate them. When these started to fail her, she fought to build the strength for an immunotherapy trial, bravely confronting her fate head on. During this time, Kathleen managed what most facing her illness could not. She lived her fullest existence that year, traveling across the US, to England for her sister in law's wedding, and - fresh off of an international flight - to her brother’s to celebrate with her own family.
Words fail in wholly recounting Kathleen's strength and spirit throughout her battle. She spent a second holiday season and her first wedding anniversary in the ICU that year, unable to breathe without support. She smiled, fighting for each breath, and held her entire family up while they crumbled at the thought of losing her. If she was scared, you'd never have known it. As doctors strolled in and out of her hospital room, reiterating the same grim news that she likely wouldn’t leave it this time, she was steady and hopeful. To be with her even then was a gift. Kathleen died on January 24, 2020, at the age of 29, and not a day goes by that her absence isn't felt deeply by one of the many who adored her. Until the end, rather than fearing the inescapable or wishing for more, she repeated “I’m just so grateful this isn’t happening to someone else.”