Relay For Life of Rockwall County: A Cancer Survivor’s StoryPublished: January 10, 2013
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Kathleen Hail has been a Rockwall resident since the age of two and is a graduate of Rockwall Elementary School, Rockwall Intermediate School, and Rockwall High School. She left her hometown just long enough to attend college at Southwest Texas University where she majored in art. She planned to continue her education to become a teacher but was impatient to get out into the real world after she received her degree. She went on to own two CD Warehouse stores, where she worked until she had her daughter. Since retail sales are a 24-hour, 7-days a week commitment, she needed something that would allow her to have a more flexible schedule. Luckily, there was an opening at Rockwall County Abstract & Title, the business her family has owned and operated since 1972. Kathleen joined her mother, brother, and father at the company in 1999.
In May 2006, Kathleen started experiencing the symptoms similar to those of a kidney infection that wouldn’t go away. Her doctor detected a tumor in her abdomen, but the scans were inconclusive as to its exact location. Surgery was scheduled in June at Baylor Hospital. Doctors hoped to remove the tumor and were prepared to remove Kathleen’s right kidney, as well. However, the size and location of the tumor made its removal too difficult. “They basically opened me up and sewed me back up,” she remembered.
Kathleen’s tumor was diagnosed as Leiomyosarcoma, a very rare type of cancer, which attacks soft tissue and accounts for only 1% of all cancers. In addition, it is unusual for someone of Kathleen’s age to have this type of tumor. Most Leiomyosarcoma patients are either young children or older adults. In most cases, it originates in the joints between the bones and can cause those suffering from it to lose a limb. Kathleen’s tumor, however, was located at the base of the vena cava, the long blood vessel that runs from the neck to the abdomen. Her doctor told her that it had probably been slowly growing since she was 18 or 19, and had just reached the point where it was interfering with the function of her kidney. “My doctor described my tumor as moss growing over my kidney, causing it to shut down,” Kathleen explained.
Her oncologist prescribed an aggressive series of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. “I was too naïve to know that when an oncologist says aggressive chemo, that’s really serious,” Kathleen said with a wry smile. “I should have known when they told me I would be in the hospital for 7 days while receiving the treatment that it was going to be pretty rough.” The weeklong stay stretched into nearly two weeks before she was released to go home to recuperate before starting another series of treatments in three weeks.
However, Kathleen experienced a bad reaction to the drug during her second course of chemo. “They wanted to give me the chemotherapy for 3 days then watch me for three days. But the chemicals were basically frying my brain. My mom walked into the room, and I didn’t know her,” stated Kathleen. At that point, she was sent home and was started on a different drug for five months which her body tolerated. It successfully shrank the tumor, but not enough for it to be removed safely. Her doctors referred her to MD Anderson in Houston in December of 2006.
“Of course, I was happy being treated at Baylor, because I was near my family and they have very good doctors. But MD Anderson has an entire department dedicated to sarcoma, and my new doctor operates on about 12 tumors like mine each year,” Kathleen stated.
Her surgery was scheduled for the first available date. After 8 hours on the operating table, her right kidney and a tumor the size of a football were successfully removed from Kathleen’s abdomen. “A tumor is very sticky—like gum—so it couldn’t be pulled off without tearing my kidney to shreds,” she related.
“I thought my cancer was just going to be a speed bump, and then I would go on down the road,” Kathleen said. “I just wanted to forget it had happened.” However, she has had several recurrences since her original diagnosis. Currently, she is trying some new chemotherapy with cell growth inhibitors to help stop the small tumors located in her lungs from growing. “My doctor says that he’s trying to keep me alive until a cure is found. Each year new drugs are coming out. Last year my current medication was in trials, and it wasn’t even available 5 years ago. Today I can get it with a prescription,” Kathleen smiled.
“I realized that cancer is not going to let me go. I needed to get involved and help find a cure,” Kathleen announced. Last year she attended Relay For Life, the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, as a survivor. This year, she and her daughter, Chloe, will be part of her team, Kathleen’s Krew.
“My daughter has had to live with this, since she was 6 years old. This summer she went to Camp Kesem, a nonprofit organization organized by Texas A & M, for kids whose parents have cancer. At school, no one understands what it’s like to have a parent with cancer. At Camp Kesem, it’s a whole place of kids who understand,” Kathleen shared.
Relay For Life is another place where people understand what it’s like to have cancer. “I was surprised by how much it comforted me to see so many people who are going through the same thing that I am,” Kathleen stated. “I think some people don’t go to Relay, because they think it will be sad. But it’s a celebration-- plus it’s fun! My daughter is looking forward to staying all night.”
Kathleen is also Luminaria Chairman this year and is responsible for setting up all the paper bags filled with candles that are decorated in honor of those who have beat cancer or in memory of those who have lost their battle with the disease.
The luminarias will line the track at Cain Middle School at the Rockwall County Relay For Life on Friday, April 26, 2013, beginning at 7pm. The entire community is invited to attend. For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/rockwalltx. To purchase a luminaria, contact: email@example.com
Submitted by Mary Thacker
Rockwall Community News Contributor