After six months of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation, Kathy Anders is not yet considered a breast cancer survivor, but she is well on her way.
Anders, 49, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, and while the disease changed her life, it was the parents, staff and students at Manzanita Elementary School that touched her heart.
Anders, a single mother of three, works in the school’s front office. When word spread that she had cancer, plans started being made for fundraisers, parents started cooking dinners, cards and posters were made and every effort was made to make sure she knew she wouldn’t go this the ordeal alone.
Students raised $7,000, which not only helped pay her monthly bills while she recovered, but it also went toward out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Anders said she couldn’t even begin to express what the students, staff and parents did for her.
“I am a proud person, but you can’t turn help away,” she said. “How do you tell all these wonderful people thank you? They will never know how much they carried me during this time. These people are my family. We may not have been born into the same family, but I love them nonetheless.”
Anders was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 48. She found the lump doing a self-exam, and went to a doctor. At the time it was diagnosed, Anders was in Stage 1, and while early, doctors said it was a very aggressive tumor that could have grown quickly if not removed.
It was a golf-ball size lump, Anders recalled with tears. “It was devastating. I was sitting here at work when I got the call that confirmed it was cancer,” she said. “It was from that point on that everyone here picked me up.”
Once chemotherapy started, Anders said she was no longer allowed to come to work because her immune system was so weak.
Even though she couldn’t come to the school, parents, teachers and staff made sure she wasn’t alone.
With tears, Anders recalled one teacher who went to every radiation treatment with her, and another who went to the chemotherapy appointments, while others brought food, posters; made get well cards and brought gift cards to her home.
“The doctors say I responded well to treatment, but I am positive it was this emotional support that really helped me get through this,” she said. While having breast cancer is a traumatic experience, Anders said the ordeal taught her that she is truly not alone. “I had someone constantly with me to pull me out of those dark places,” she said. “Whenever I would get down on myself, someone was always there. I just want people to not be afraid, and accept the help that’s out there.”
People outside the school also stepped in. Anders said co-workers in her mom’s office also raised nearly $4,000 that went toward monthly home bills while she was out of work.
“So many of these people did this and never wanted anything in return,” she said. “It’s nice to know there are good people out there.”
With her hair growing back, Anders said she is in limbo. Doctors can’t call her cancer free, but have told her she is on the right path to recovery.
In her own words: Following the ordeal, Anders wrote the following statement: So there I was in the doctor’s office, going to get dressed after having yet another test to determine more information on my cancer. As I was entering the dressing room area, another woman was leaving. She was one of those people who make you stop and take notice when she enters the room. Slim, tall, blonde, wavy hair and beautiful. She looked at me as if she had known me all my life. “I just have to touch you,” she said to me. At this point, I had been walking in a daze for the past couple of weeks. I didn’t know how to respond to her. And before I could decide what to say, she put her hand on my arm and smiled as if to say everything would be alright. No other words were exchanged. I stood there as she walked away. From that moment on, a calmness came over me, as if I had been given some very special gift. No more worry or anxiety.
After leaving the dressing room I asked the ladies at the front desk who this wonderful person might be. They had no idea who I meant. Neither of them remembered seeing anyone who matched the description. I spent the rest of the day wondering who she was and why she had come to me. I have always been a believer that there are people walking around us who are truly angels.
They come to us only when we need them the most. That day was a very dark day for me. I am now and forever will be grateful for that gift. While I had never met my angel before that day, I do know that I have other angels here at Manzanita walking around as teachers, EA’s, principals, custodians and classified personnel. Please accept this small token as a remembrance of how special you are to my family and me. Your wings will always remain perfect in my eyes.