‘It was the last thing on my mind’: Craig grandmother grateful to have survived breast cancer
Kate LeWarne was taken aback by the diagnosis.
“My feelings — I was surprised,” LeWarne said. “I don’t have breast cancer in my family. I guess I kind of disbelieved it was happening. It was the last thing on my mind that I thought I would get. But they say it’s common.”
LeWarne, 67, of Craig, was getting something checked out in her lungs when doctors discovered cancer in her breast.
“It was like, ‘Wow,’” she said of the news. “I was in disbelief. But they explained it to me, told me what they would like to do to remove it, which was have surgery — it was a very small lump. And they set me up with chemo and radiation after that.”
LeWarne is 10 months cancer-free. But it was a hard road to get here.
“It was really rough on me,” she said. “Mainly because coronavirus came up and I couldn’t visit with my kids, get hugs. My husband and I in our house, that was it. I think it was rougher because of that. Phone calls are great, but you need a hug.”
The chemotherapy lasted about a year, then three weeks of radiation in the summer followed.
“The physical toll was difficult, yes,” LeWarne said. “I’m a little older. You don’t bounce back like those young-uns do. I’m still trying to get back to being able to do a lot. Physically — and losing your hair, I don’t care how old you are, you want your hair. It hasn’t come back very good, still, so that’s kind of depressing.”
But, though isolated, LeWarne wasn’t alone. With children and grandchildren in town, LeWarne was able to draw from the energy of those she loved — even if from a safe distance.
“I had a wonderful nurse, who was my husband,” she said. “And my kids were good as they could be. We have a long driveway, and they’d park at one end, we’d sit up by the garage and we’d yell back and forth. At least I could see them. They made a lot of effort toward me seeing them.”
Among those grandchildren is Lizzy LeWarne, daughter of Kate’s son, Mike. Lizzy is a high schooler at Moffat County High.
“My mom’s dad had cancer and died from it,” Lizzy said. “When I first found out (about Kate), it was, ‘Oh no, not another one.’ I was really worried. My grandpa died in 2015 of colon cancer. But the experience of thinking I was going to lose another grandparent was hard.”
When Kate began to recover, it was a welcome sight for her family.
“I was very happy,” Lizzy said. “They told us right in the middle of COVID, and we were all going to see her super careful. I remember sitting 15 feet apart on the driveway and talking. I remember when they said (she was better) that I was going to get to hug my grandma again — I was really happy. So happy I didn’t have to lose another grandparent.”
It meant even more, perhaps, to Grandma.
“Oh it was good,” Kate LeWarne said. “A really great feeling. To know that I could be around the kids and do everything again — go to ball games, sit in the stands with everybody. It was really good.”
At one of those ball games, Lizzy was playing volleyball, as she does on the varsity team for MCHS. There was a surprise at the team’s annual Pink Match.
Before the varsity match, a little ceremony was held honoring breast cancer battlers and survivors for whom the girls were playing. Then the spotlight was on Lizzy.
Lizzy was cutting her hair to donate it to children experiencing hair loss. She says she was inspired by her grandmother.
“She’d just beat cancer, and I thought it was appropriate for the game,” Lizzy said. “I let her cut a piece of it, and I’m really glad she did. I asked her to do all of it, but she said she wanted my team to be a part of it and didn’t want to make a big deal in front of everyone. But I’m glad she got to do it, because it was for her.”
For Kate, the fear of cancer’s return doesn’t go away, but gratitude has joined it.
“It has changed me,” she said. “I think it’s made me understand how short life is. You sit in that chemo room and you see people there that are so frail, then the next time you go, you hear they’re gone. You feel like life’s pretty short. I know it sounds like I’m old, I shouldn’t think that way, but I have a few things I still want to do.”
And, she says, she’s grateful for the chance to do those things and more.
“When they tell you to stay positive, you need to try and stay positive,” LeWarne said. “It’s hard, I understand that. But the positivity matters.”
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