We often make a life of routines. For Kathy Roth, that routine over the past 20 years has had her cheering for the Dallas Cowboys during football season.
It has had her arriving at The Third Street Alliance for Women and Children by 6 a.m. to teach the toddlers.
And over the last month that routine has suddenly included chemotherapy.
She knew she needed to schedule a mammogram but finding time during a hectic day was difficult. So for a year, the prescription sat idle.
When she noticed a visible change during a self-exam, she went first to her OB/GYN who got her right in at Easton Hospital for a mammogram. Easton offers both traditional 2D mammography and the more advanced 3D digital mammography.
Kathy's mammography results were irregular, just as she suspected. Immediately after her mammogram she had an ultrasound. Those results were also irregular.
That's when she met Mary Jo LaBar the Easton Hospital Breast Care Nurse Navigator who assists patients with each step along a potential breast cancer journey.
"Mary Jo is such a presence," Kathy says. "I can go in her office and ask her questions or just hold her hand in a difficult moment."
Mary Jo did just that, holding Kathy's hand during her biopsy. As Kathy waited for the results, she says, "I was prepared for the worst." So when she heard malignant, she accepted the news.
"I took it ok," she says. "Rather than dwell, I decided to focus on the next steps."
Those steps had her meeting with a medical oncologist and an Easton Hospital surgeon Laura Borgos, MD who focuses on breast cancer. "Dr. Borgos is wonderful," Kathy says. "I liked her the moment I met her. In fact, everyone I've met at Easton Hospital has been fantastic."
Kathy sits at a table on her back porch surrounded by her mother and two daughters. Her auburn bangs slope just above her eyes and her hands keep fiddling with a pendant that hangs from a silver necklace.
Below the pendant is a bandage from her newly inserted port. "I have my first chemo treatment this week," Kathy says. "In a week or two I'll lose my hair." But she's prepared.
"I already picked out my wig," Kathy says. "I found it the moment I went in the salon." None of the women around her have seen it yet. "I'm going to surprise everyone," she says.
They all smile, but the news of Kathy's cancer has not been easy. Her oldest daughter Brittney can't hide her worry while the youngest daughter Taylor is steady as a rock.
For her mom, Renee, the news has been the hardest. Renee's sister had a double mastectomy nearly 30 years ago. Reflecting on her daughter's diagnosis, Renee says, "It's been difficult because no matter how old she gets, she'll always be one of my babies."
Kathy's approach has been clear and focused from the start. "You only have so much control over what happens," she says. So Kathy has been maintaining a normal schedule. People ask her how she does it. Her response? "I'm a mom, a wife and a teacher," she says. "I'm busy, and this cancer is not taking me over."
Her husband Carl has been at every test and appointment. He's done research and been a huge support. As Kathy says, "He's given me that extra push on days when I think I can't do it."
She adds, "But I can do this. I have to get up and do it, but some days are harder than others. Thank goodness for Carl"
Soon her routine will include chemotherapy, one treatment every three weeks. If the tumor shrinks, she'll have surgery in January and then potentially continue with more chemotherapy and possibly radiation.
"This time next year, I want a fun summer," she says.
As she sits in the warm afternoon sun, she reflects, "Part of me didn't want to go have my mammogram. I had heard how awful they were."
She continues to fiddle with her pendant and adds, "I'm sure this cancer was there long before I found it. And having a mammogram isn't as bad as I what I'll go through now. I hope other women don't delay."
When Kathy realizes the pendant is in her hands, she looks up, "My mom got me this." She continues, "It's half of a heart. My half says daughter. My mom has the other half. That says mother."
It was a gift when her cancer journey began. Together, Kathy's family will do just that...share hearts as they support her and love her as she begins this new routine as a survivor.
250 South 21st Street
Easton, PA 18042-3892