By Nicola M. Parry, DVM
Lung cancer survivor Kathy Weber is an ardent ambassador for the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC). “My involvement with the IASLC comes from attending the World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC), as well as a survivors’ get-together at their main office,” she explained, emphasizing how impressed she is with the IASLC— the only global organization that unites experts across different disciplines who are involved in treating lung cancer, with more than 5,000 members in over 100 countries.
Kathy—an otherwise healthy, young, never-smoker—was diagnosed with stage 1A lung cancer in the spring of 2014. Having competed in figure bodybuilding, she was very aware of her body, and knew something was wrong when she developed muscle atrophy and nerve pain in her right shoulder and could no longer do a push-up. Her physical therapist, John Graham, PT, was also concerned that these issues were not just related to a muscle problem, but could signify a serious underlying problem such as a tumor in her right upper chest. “Without question, my PT John was someone I trusted,” said Kathy. “So, when he agreed that something was wrong, there was no doubt I was going to pursue it.” Indeed, after consulting her physician about the problem, a diagnostic workup was pursued, and x-rays and CT scans of Kathy’s chest ultimately revealed the presence of a small nodule, which was later removed at surgery and diagnosed as stage IA lung adenocarcinoma.
Kathy then underwent a partial lobectomy, and she credits much of her remarkable recovery to the expertise of her University of Colorado surgeon, Michael Weyant, MD. “I had a videoassisted thoracoscopic surgery procedure,” she said, adding that, “with a surgery this big, what you want to hear when it is over is ‘there were no complications.’” She recognizes that her active, healthy lifestyle also contributed to her speedy recovery. “I was told the best thing for me was to walk,” she said. Two weeks after her surgery, Kathy said she was walking 2.5 miles each day: “My son was a huge helper, he walked with me every day— encouraging me to go to the next fence post, or next gate, each time we walked. He would say, ‘You can do it, Mom, just a little further.’”
In her continued support of the IASLC, Kathy recently raised more than $10,000 to benefit the IASLC Foundation and the Chris Draft Family Foundation, as the first runner-up in Team Draft’s 2016 Lung Cancer Survivors’ Super Bowl Challenge. Team Draft was founded by former US National Football League (NFL) player Chris Draft and his late wife, Keasha, who died at the age of 38 after a year-long struggle with stage IV lung cancer. The Super Bowl Challenge recruits lung cancer survivors in a friendly competition to raise both awareness and research funding for lung cancer—and the top 3 fundraisers enjoy trips to the NFL Super Bowl championship game, the NFL Pro Bowl, and the Taste of the NFL. Achieving second place in the fundraising challenge earned Kathy and her family a trip to this year’s NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii on January 31st.
Kathy found out about Team Draft’s Challenge from her aunt, also a lung cancer survivor, who had met Chris Draft at the 2015 WCLC in Denver, US. After learning about Keasha’s story and Chris Draft’s commitment to changing the face of lung cancer, Kathy knew she had to get involved. “Initially, after my diagnosis and surgery 18 months ago, I really didn’t want to talk about lung cancer. I just wanted to get on with my life and kind of forget about the whole thing. I think they call that denial,” she said.
Although Kathy and her family were excited to go onto the field during the third quarter of this year’s Pro Bowl game, she particularly enjoyed attending Pro Bowl practice. “Meeting the players and sharing my story was quite the experience,” she said. Another highlight was getting to know Chris Draft, his dad Tony, Keith Singer (videographer/photographer), and Billy Nash (Board Member for the Chris Draft Family Foundation). “To be able to share this experience with my family was truly a blessing,” she said. “The memories we made will be cherished forever.” During their trip, Kathy and her family also hiked to Likeke Falls, visited the Polynesian Cultural Center and Pearl Harbor, and enjoyed amazing shrimp scampi at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.
Today, Kathy is doing extremely well. She works out in the gym 3 or 4 days each week, and stressed that “being fast is not my goal, but being strong is”. Her next goal is to compete in a figure bodybuilding competition in the summer of 2017, just before she turns 50 years old. “I am currently training hard to put back on some muscle mass that I lost following surgery,” she said.
While half of the money Kathy raised will benefit Team Draft, the other half will go to the IASLC Foundation. “My goal is to continue to be an ambassador for the IASLC, raising lung cancer awareness and funding, and also supporting their research commitment for lung cancer patients like me who are young nonsmokers,” she concluded.