My mom, Kathy Martin, was diagnosed with Colon Cancer after a hysterectomy in November 2008. The cancer had spread to her ovaries and the doctors weren’t certain what type of cancer it was right away, but knew it was a late stage because it had spread. Being away from home at college, this news was even more terrifying than if I could be close to home. I felt like every minute I spent with her after the diagnosis was a gift (of course I should have thought that before too), and I was so glad they chose to use University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as their hospital because it was closer to me (and my sister) at school- and they helped her kick cancer’s butt. Being my mom, she was always someone I looked up to. As a little girl I remember her singing Lean on Me when I didn’t want her to leave and go to work. Whenever I hear that song, I think of us in my grandma’s driveway with her singing to me. Her career as a teacher, helped shape my future as a teacher as well. She continues to be there to answer questions and guide me in my career. Although I am more similar to my dad in competitiveness, temperament, and shyness (or lack thereof), my mom’s compassionate and kind heart certainly has taught me a lot and I hope rubbed off on me too. Most importantly, my mom has taught me to be a fighter and never give up.
My dad had called after my mom’s hysterectomy to tell me that my mom just wanted to see us after surgery, but I wasn’t convinced that was the only reason. Of course as a young adult, my initial reaction was terror. The drive home was harder than anything I’ve ever done, wanting to be with my mom and family as we found she had Stage IV colon cancer. The whole drive home I thought my mom had either died during surgery or had a cancer. What seemed to be the two worst-case scenarios. I remember my dad waited to tell the rest of the family until my sister and I got home and heard the dreadful news. The year following was as painful as the drive home: surgery after surgery, chemo after chemo, and then radiation. We were all in it together, helping my mom fight off the nasty disease. What I remember most about learning to cope, was spending time alone thinking about how I could help her while being away. I spent many hours on the treadmill and then began running outside. It was really the first time I had run out of my own will. At the time I never really thought about it as a coping mechanism, but now as I look back, I realize that running helped me escape from the reality of a loved one fighting cancer.
I truly believe that my mom has made a connection with the philosophy of “Get your Rear in Gear.” We began running Get Your Rear in Gear the first Spring after she was diagnosed and something connected with her and my family. She then became race director in Ladd, IL- the little town that could. She wanted to spread the message that a healthy lifestyle and regular screenings could help prevent colon cancer. She certainly did spread the message to our whole community and made an impact. She always tells people to get their rear in gear and get scoped if they are over 50. She definitely passed that onto me and I proudly wear my “Love Your Butt” and GYRIG shirts. She isn’t afraid to tell anyone about her experience and encourage people to take control of their health. She knows that getting rears in gear can save lives.
To support my mom, we got a team (the largest participating) together for the Get Your Rear in Gear – Chicago® 5K race during the Spring of 2009. Our family and friends raced around a park, while my mom sat with her fanny pack filled with drugs pouring into her body. We raced for her. After the year of tears, drugs, and surgeries, we found out the chemo worked. My mom was on the road to the healthy woman we knew.
My mom planned the Ladd GYRIG for 5 years. Six months prior to her last race as director, my mom posted “2 surgeries, 6 months of chemo, 4 weeks of radiation, countless prayers and good wishes, 5 years of anticipation and got the word today – CANCER FREE!” Hundreds of people celebrated with her and with our family. Five years while going through pain no one should have to endure she committed herself to planning GYRIG races in Ladd for Colon Cancer. Not only did she plan an event to raise awareness for colon cancer and healthy lifestyle, but she also lives out the mission of Get Your Rear in Gear.
I have participated in 7 GYRIG races (two years in Chicago, and my 5 years in Ladd). I am inspired by my mom. I am also inspired by her efforts to create more awareness for colon cancer and a healthy lifestyle. I don’t want any daughter to go through what I went through watching my mom struggle to fight off cancer. I don’t want any mother to have to go through the surgeries, pain, and struggle of fighting off cancer like my mom. I run the race to honor of my mom, an inspiration and race director.
Every year as people gathered in Ladd, it was obvious that my mom has had a wonderful impact on the community. My hometown is very small (1,300 people), nearly every business supports her as well as all of our family and friends. My mom’s dedication to not only the Get Your Rear in Gear race, but also the lifestyle is an inspiration, and something that will always be important to me.
I don’t want to be honored as a Face of Blue for Colon Cancer. I was affected by colon cancer, but its the people who lived in Ladd and were next to and cheering for her every step of the way. They are true superheroes. My dad was by my mom’s side for every surgery and hospital stay. My mom was the one who fought cancer for a year and still is affected from the surgeries and drugs. It was her brother who walked her to the mailbox everyday during lunch. Her friends are the ones who visited with her during her chemos and while she was lying at home too sick to do anything else. I’ll never forget the “cancer” blanket her friend Becky Nett brought over to keep her warm. When I visited I knew better than to try to use it even if my mom wasn’t just in case she would want it in later. They are the true faces of blue. I was sitting in meeting three hours away during her first surgery, I was eating Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of my family during her second surgery because that’s what she wanted, and during her first chemo treatment, I was in Costa Rica. I moved to Mexico to begin my teaching career less than two years after her diagnosis. My mom’s unselfishness showed more than ever while she was sick. She didn’t want my sister and I to stop our plans to be with her- she wanted us to be happy because that made her happy.
She is the true hero and face of blue. Her fight was incredible. When given the odds of surviving stage IV colon cancer, she wasn’t blinking back tears, but opening her eyes wider to get better focus for the fight ahead. It always amazed me that the one with the sickest body had the strongest hope, fight, and heart.Return to Faces of Blue