Live -- and let God
By Renee Carey
Published in News on April 26, 2013 1:46 PM
Kasey Swartz smiles while speaking about her battle with cancer during the Wayne County Relay for Life Survivors Banquet at the First Pentecostal Holiness Church on Thursday.
Kasey Swartz never even stopped to think about cancer.
She was 24, healthy, the mother of a beautiful 1-year-old daughter and an Air Force wife.
She had her whole life ahead of her, and few worries when she went to a routine physical exam, she told the nearly 300 people at the annual Relay for Life Survivors' Banquet Thursday.
Then there was a lump.
Then there was a biopsy.
And then there was the diagnosis.
They had asked her if she had family in town, Kasey said.
That's when she knew.
"I just started to go numb," she said. "I knew something was wrong."
Those in the audience nodded knowingly, chiming in with support throughout the keynote speaker's story. They, too, had heard that word "cancer" and wondered where they would get the strength to do battle -- or they had held the hand of a loved one as he or she heard the news.
Kasey had no family history.
"I was healthy. I breast fed. I ate my carrots," she said.
So the news was even more of a shock.
"I went home that day and grabbed my daughter," she said. "I just watched her play.
"I went from thinking 'how many kids will I have' to thinking 'am I going to be around to see this one grow up.'"
But Kasey's story is not one of sorrow, defeat or resignation.
She is a survivor, a fighter and a young woman whose path is one of courage and whose fight is now not only for herself, but for others who face the same scare, the same news, the same life-changing decisions.
She is the wife of a now-Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airman, Alec, who had to leave her behind as she waited in Michigan for the rest of the news -- had the cancer hit any major organs?
And as she waited, she prayed -- for the first time since she was 10 years old.
"I sank to my knees and asked God for my life," she said. "I really did not know him yet."
She says faith is one of the gifts cancer has given her.
"I don't know if I would have crossed that path if cancer had not crossed my path first," she says.
Then she heard the final diagnosis -- Stage 3 breast cancer.
That's when the fight began.
Kasey joined her husband in Goldsboro -- facing not only the uncertainty of a new place and a new life, but the spectre of cancer treatment in a brand new city far away from that family in Michigan.
That's when she met Dr. Jason Boyd, one of Southeastern Medical Oncology Center's newest physicians.
He told her about the 39 percent of patients with her diagnosis who would continue their lives cancer-free. And he asked her if she had any questions about the treatment.
"All I could think of to say was "does the chemotherapy room have WiFi because my dad just bought me a Kindle?'" she said.
Months later, those doctors and nurses who guided her through those first steps in her battle became her friends, sharing the ups, the downs, the laughter and the tears.
The toughest part, she said, was not the double mastectomy. It was hard to lose her hair.
"I couldn't look in the mirror," Kasey said. "I sure wouldn't let my husband see me without being covered up and with a scarf on my head."
Kasey, now 26, sees something different now when she looks in that mirror.
She is in remission now -- surviving even a recent scare that turned out to be a false alarm.
She sees strength and a woman who is ready to do battle should her cancer return.
She sees a woman of God who shares not only hope, but faith, with those she meets on her journey.
And she sees a mom who is determined to teach her daughter that battles should be met with courage, determination and a belief in yourself.
"I fought for my daughter," she said. "I fought to show her that no matter what life throws at you, you throw it back."
She has lost a lot to cancer -- her sense of invincibility, control and superficial security, she says.
But she has gained perspective.
"All I can see is right now," she said. "I love deeper, and I laugh harder."
And that includes spending as much time as possible with little Cambria, now 2, and "seeing just how much my husband loves me."
It is a gift, she said, she shares with all of her fellow cancer survivors and those who are just beginning their battles.
"I don't think God wastes a bad experience," she said. "My pastor told me if God gets you to it, he will get you through it. It is easy to believe in the good times. It is so much more important to trust in times of trouble."
And trust she does -- even as she honors those whose story did not end the way hers did.
"Cancer never wins," she said. "You are just called to a higher task."
She is on a mission, too, to be there for those who are facing the same challenges she did. She knows what it is like to face cancer head-on -- and she has advice for those who are struggling through those first scary days.
"Stand in front of your mirror," she told the crowd, "look into your eyes and say 'I'm going to make it' over and over again until you believe it."
And keep spirit and fun in your heart, she advised.
"My daughter thinks everybody has removeable hair," she said.
Kasey is inspired now by the stories of those who are sharing her journey -- the courage they have found through their cancer stories.
"I have met mothers who have buried their children and who are now advocates who raise money and awareness for childhood cancers," she said. "I have met people who would have done anything for a 39 percent chance."
So she fights still -- with style, humor, compassion for others and a realization that all she needs she will get from God.
And now, she has added something new to her travels along the path of life -- a motorcycle, a Kawasaki ZX6R, a testament to her decision to "live and let God."
"My doctors think I am crazy," she said.