Their stories: ‘If she can do it, so can I’

Kathy DeBrucque, 55, finds strength to battle breast cancer by watching her granddaughter, who fought to live and grow after being born prematurely.

She has a small black photo album, and in it are pictures of a baby who held on. Swaddled in tubes and wires, weighing less than 2 pounds, born almost three months early, the baby never let go.

She flips through the pictures, past the tiny fingers wrapped around an adult pinkie, past the crescent scar from brain surgery and comes to the end of the album — a smile.

Then, she pulls out her cell phone and plays a new video. In it, the now 16-month-old baby jabbers happily and stands up in a crib.

Should she laugh or cry? It’s such a miracle.

Instead, Kathy DeBrucque beams. Would you just look at that sweet little thing with dandelion fluff hair? Can you believe what a baby so small endured and conquered? How great is it to be grandma to a child like Addison?

She closes her cell phone and nods. “If she can do it,” Kathy says, pointing to a photo of Addison, her only grandchild, “so can I.”

Today, right now, chemotherapy drugs flow through Kathy, 55, killing every fast-growing cell in her body and telling the breast cancer it’s not welcome. She has had three treatments and will have one more, then begin more than five weeks of radiation.

She felt rotten yesterday, she might feel OK tomorrow. She takes the strongest forward steps she can — for Addison, for her husband Joe, for their three sons, for herself and the eternal possibilities in a new day.

“It’s a speed bump,” she says. “It sets you back, it changes your life, it makes you realize you have no control. But I’ve always had a philosophy of life is too short, so I get through this because there are so many other things I want to do.”

Though cancer was a shock, as cancer always is, the lump wasn’t. Her breasts are cystic, “so there’s always been little lumps and bumps,” she explains. However, in a mammogram in early summer, a new lump stood out like a neon marquee.

“I could tell when I saw it on the screen,” she says. “All of a sudden people are very careful about what they say.”

She’d had ultrasounds before, but this time it led to a biopsy. On July 13, she got a diagnosis of triple-negative ductal cancer, stage one. Her grandmother got breast cancer at age 85, but there’s been no other cancer in Kathy’s family. Her lifestyle — healthy food, plenty of activity, few risk factors — seemed like it should keep cancer away. It was there, anyway.

Kathy, a researcher by nature, dove into action. By the end of the weekend after her diagnosis, she’d read four books, scoured the Internet and had lists of questions. She knew the drugs and the percentages, the odds in her favor and against.

Her oncologist advised a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation, and on July 23, Kathy had the surgery.

Before beginning chemo, Kathy and her friends celebrated at Dos Hombres with fresh peach margaritas. They toasted her long hair, and gave cancer a philosophical punch in the face.

A few days later, scissors snipped through a foot-long braid, and Kathy’s hair went to Locks of Love.

The morning of her first chemo treatment, she donned a huge Patch Adams tie, green with polkadots. She would not be meek or submissive.

Unfortunately, 10 seconds and four drips into chemo she went into anaphylactic shock, a reaction to the initial chemo cocktail.

“I have recall of the doctor patting my hand and saying, ‘I don’t think we’re going to finish this today,’ ” she says.

A new chemo concoction, and a week later she and her doctors tried again. This time, her body accepted the drugs as much as a body could. Within days, she noticed hairs on her shoulders and clumps in the shower drain.

There were tears, but she wanted to control what she could. She called a friend and asked, “Do you still have those shears? OK, come over.”

Two of her three sons — ages 27, 25 and 22 — shaved their heads, too.

Support like that, she says, carried her through the worst.

Her doctors are amazing, she says, her family and friends have rallied. Especially her husband, Joe, who “has been monumental,” she says, her deep blue eyes filling with tears. “This has been really hard for him, too, and he’s been so amazing.”

She still goes to work at St. Mary’s Hospital, knowing some days will be good and some will be bad. The chemo saps her energy sometimes and dries out her skin and eyes. Her appetite isn’t diminished, she says, but certain foods affect her differently.

It’s new roads on a new map, and she slowly navigates day by day.

There’s still so much of life — a scuba trip to Belize postponed for when all this is through, family and friends, and a fuzzy-haired baby who is talking and soon will be walking and endured when the odds said she shouldn’t.

So Kathy is strong, too.


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