Kathy Andrews, Survivor

“Giving up is not an option for me,” said Kathy Andrews, a survivor of two brain surgeries. “I know I have a reason to be here, and I’m going to push through. I’m a fighter. When I think about what I’m going through and I hear about what other people are going through, I fight even harder. I’m not just fighting for myself, but I’m fighting for other people.” Those other people include her husband Kevin, her children Antoine, Kiera and Dalton, her friends, the students in her elementary school classroom, and the people she encounters at the radiation center where she goes for treatment every day.   

Kathy, the middle child in her single-parent home, got her scrappy attitude by watching her mother. “My mom was a fighter,” she said. “I think she was forced and pushed into a situation where she had to be a fighter because she loved her kids and she wanted to see us do well. Did we have the best of things? No. But we were never hungry or without shelter. She was our provider. I love her for that. My mom instilled a lot of good things in us and built us to be strong. There were no party-poopers in sad times. She would tell us ‘This is what you need to do; this is what you will do.’”  And they did. When her mother was at work, the older children learned to work as a team to cook, clean the house and take care of the younger ones. “We learned to rely on each other and work together. We learned unity early in life.”

“My first challenge growing up was I was a teenage mom. I had a son when I was still in high school. I had such a good support group that I was able to provide and take care of my son. I am proud of him. He is a strong worker. We share a very special bond together. I knew I was going to be successful because I had someone to be successful for, and that was my son.”

Kathy earned her degree in Early Childcare from Walden University and her masters at Relay Graduate School. She married Kevin, and added two more children to their family. Taking care of her younger siblings and then her own children developed and refined Kathy’s passion and skill in caring for little people. She ran her own daycare, and later worked in elementary education, specializing in students with learning challenges. It was during that time that Kathy began to suffer headaches, dizziness, hearing loss and changes in her equilibrium. 

“Having a headache in the south is the norm,” she said. “I would take tylenol, but the headaches got worse. Then one Sunday–I’ll never forget it–my whole world was spinning around me. I got very dizzy. I was sitting at the kitchen table and asked my husband to hold me because I felt like I was losing gravity. I went to the hospital, but they didn’t find anything. They did a CT scan, but they didn’t know what they were looking for.”

“I went to the ENT doctor to get my hearing checked,” Kathy continued. When she stumbled into the office, an observant nurse suggested a brain scan. “That’s when they found it,” she said. They found a large non-cancerous brain tumor growing close to her central nervous system. “I was terrified. I was angry. I was upset. I kept asking, ‘Why me? What caused this? Where did it come from?’” Gradually she came to realize, “It’s something that randomly happened. It takes a strong soldier to go through this.”

Not many surgeons were qualified to remove it, but there was one who was willing to try. The surgery took seven hours. He removed as much of the tumor as he could. Everything seemed to be fine for about a year, but then the tumor began to grow back. The same doctor performed the second surgery, which took 11 hours. After he removed 95%, he determined more surgery would be too risky, so he prescribed 28 rounds of daily proton radiation therapy. Kathy, who is more than halfway through the treatments, reports that the tumor appears to be shrinking. “It does drain me. It does make me tired and I feel nauseated. I’m still trying to work, but I have taken off a few days because I was so tired. The only way I am going to make it through this is to stay positive. My fight is not over. I’m going to do everything I need to do because I still have a reason to fight.”  

“Going through what I’m going through, it is tough. Do I cry? Yes, I do. If you don’t have a support group, it is tough,” Kathy said. “My daughter Kiera is so special. When you say ‘best friend’, I can truly say she will always be my best friend. When I hurt, she hurts. When I’m thinking things, she’s thinking the same things. I can’t drive, so she drives me to my appointments, and has supported me throughout my journey. She told me, ‘Mama, whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it. I’m going through this with you. I’m fighting with you.’ Just to know that she’s giving up her time to fight with me, that’s big. I appreciate that. She’s a strong woman. My husband loses a lot of sleep at night constantly asking me if I’m ok, if I’m comfortable. Dalton is full of energy, and that energy does spill off into me. My son, Antoine, will send me a text to say, ‘Hi Mom. Are you ok today?’ He’s not a big speaker, but his texts let me know he’s very concerned.” 

“After my first surgery, my faith came into reality. I look at every moment as a serious moment. Every minute of every day. When I get up in the morning, I’m just thankful to be able to get up. I’m so thankful to be able to breathe. I’m so thankful to be able to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am so thankful to be able to share positive things with my family members. I am so thankful for a good night’s rest. My husband and I and Dalton pray every morning on our route to school. Every night before we lay down at night, we’re praying. Every day, I’m praying,” Kathy said. 

“After my second surgery, I couldn’t bathe. I had to get someone to assist me with that. I had to have someone put toothpaste on my toothbrush for me. I had to have someone help me put my clothes on. I was using a walker. I had to use a bedside commode. Just sipping out of straw–simple little stuff–I was like a baby learning how to do those things. It was frustrating. It was depressing. I would have a temper tantrum. I had to stop and remind myself, ‘They are doing as much as they can for me.’ That gave me more determination to do things for myself. And gradually, as the time went by, the days, the weeks, the months, I got stronger. I was pushing myself through,” Kathy said.

“After my second surgery, the lightbulb came on. I started looking at who’s important and what’s  important to me. I started not stressing over things I can’t control. It’s a lot. I have a tumor. I can’t control that right now. I can’t snap my fingers and say, ‘go’. I can only go through the steps that I have been instructed to do to prevent myself from getting sicker, weaker. I can control doing the treatments. I can control praying. I can control my attitude. I can control accepting people to do things for me. Those are the things I can control,” Kathy said.

“I also learned, ‘Pay attention to your body’. It’s so important. You need to pay attention to who you’re putting your body around, and what you’re putting inside your body,” Kathy said, of  natural herbs, essential oils, uplifting people and positive thoughts, including verses from the Bible. “Psalm 100 says, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.’ I keep that in my head each time I go into my radiation treatment. There are some things too important to be overlooked. If you put natural things and positive things in your body, you’re going to get positive results.”

When people ask about her future, Kathy says, “My future is going to be bright. My goal is to work ten more years, then my husband and I are going to explore; we’re going to see the world. There’s still a lot I haven’t seen. There’s still a lot I don’t know, and there’s still a lot that I’m looking forward to learning. We’re here for a purpose. God has given us all a purpose. When He says ‘That’s enough,’ that’s going to be it. But while you’re here, enjoy life, enjoy each moment, each second in each day. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Push through. There’s a reason for everything. I know I’m here for a reason, and my reason is to keep fighting.” 

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