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Kathy - Head & Neck Cancer

Kathy - Head & Neck Cancer

Kathy Carlson of Gig Harbor, WA is a two-time cancer survivor. When she’s not spending time with her friends, she enjoys going on medical missions to Honduras. Her initial bout with cancer took place in 2011, and she had surgery and radiation. While in remission, Kathy underwent biennial MRIs to monitor her health and any potential cancer recurrence.

In early 2020, during the height of the pandemic, her physicians detected a mass during a routine MRI and diagnosed her with an esthesioneuroblastoma—a rare type of cancer that begins in the upper portion of the nasal cavity. After completing the surgery to remove the mass, Kathy’s doctor recommended radiation as the next step in her treatment.

Hanna Osbert, Kathy’s 30-year-old niece, who is a pilot for a regional airline in Denver, has been there for her every step of the way. While they’ve always been close, Hanna was away at college during Kathy’s first battle with cancer and didn’t understand the severity of her diagnosis. When the cancer returned last year, it was a shock for their whole family.

Hanna hopped on a plane to support her aunt as soon as she found out. While Kathy has a strong local support system including her daughter, who took care of her in the weeks immediately following her brain surgery. Hanna wanted to be involved this time, and knew she was able to take some time off to be there every day.

Because of her previous treatments, Kathy was at a high risk of losing her eyesight and experiencing brain damage from radiation, so she and Hanna researched and weighed all of her treatment options. Kathy credits Hanna for helping to organize the information and make sense of all their research. Ultimately, after discussing the options with her family, Kathy decided on proton therapy treatment because it could more precisely target radiation within her brain to minimize possible side effects.

At the end of April 2020, Kathy started her daily proton therapy treatments. Kathy and Hanna rented an Airbnb in Kirkland for the six weeks she received treatment to minimize the commute.

Each day, Hanna and Kathy enjoyed the scenic drive over the WA-520 floating bridge to the Center. Due pandemic-related closures, they couldn’t do many activities outside of treatment so they capitalized off of being close to the waterfront and would take walks there with Hanna’s dog. They would also pass the time at the Airbnb completing puzzles, reading books, and watching movies.

Cancer survivors’ caregivers are often the unsung heroes working behind the scenes to ensure patients get the support they need during treatment and beyond. Kathy is very grateful for the emotional and moral support that Hanna, her daughter, friends, and the Center provided.

“I could not have done this without Hanna. Her moral support was beyond belief,” said Kathy. “She contacted my friends and asked them each to write me a spiritual message on a piece of paper which she made into a chain. Each day I would read a new message which helped to inspire and encourage me.”

Today, Kathy is recovering and did not experience loss of sight or brain damage. Earlier this year, she was cleared to travel to Dallas for vacation and on her way back, she stopped in Denver to visit Hanna. She is looking forward to spending more time with her friends as COVID restrictions lift and resuming her medical mission work to Honduras once she’s able.