There are a select number of people in this world who can brighten up a day with their presence because of a never-ending smile, a positive attitude and the respect of those who have the pleasure to know them.
One such person is Kathy Tibbetts, 62, whom I worked with for nearly six years at HIMG. She is one of the front-line employees greeting patients as they arrive for appointments. A senior nonessential volunteer, I was dismissed when COVID-19 hit.
Tibbetts was born in the old Lawrence County General Hospital in June 1959. She says that seems like a lifetime ago, and so much has happened in her life since then — both good and bad.
“I grew up in a loving, supportive family with a younger brother,” Tibbetts said. “I was lucky enough to marry a loving and supportive husband. David and I have two wonderful adult children, and in September of 2016 we were blessed with our first grandchild. We just celebrated our 38th anniversary two days ago.”
Tibbetts believes that God has richly blessed her life.
“I’m so blessed that God allowed me to discover a lump in my left breast during the early stages of cancer,” she said.
The discovery occurred the same day her first grandchild, Lennon Kate Ray, was born. The joy of holding that grandbaby in her arms for the first time ended with concerns of a small nodule discovered during a late night self-exam.
“I agreed to share my story because women need to be reassured that you can survive cancer,” Tibbetts said.
“By taking a proactive approach with a positive attitude and self-exams, there’s hope. Annual mammograms, checkups and weekly self-examinations should not be taken lightly. If just one woman is motivated by my story to take charge of her health, then it’s worth it.”
The earliest appointment at her health provider came the following week. Next, she was scheduled for a mammogram and ultrasound exam, followed by a needle biopsy and the uncertainty of waiting for the results.
“On Sept. 27, 2016, I discovered the gut-wrenching feeling of being diagnosed with cancer,” Tibbetts said. “There wasn’t a single family member to lean on when I heard the news. David was working out of town; my daughter, Courtney, was on maternity leave with her newborn baby; and my son, Joshua, was on vacation in Florida. When they were finally told, I felt guilty because the joy of a grandbaby seemed overshadowed with my discovery of cancer. I even wondered what I had done to deserve this.”
Within days, Tibbetts was given a positron emission tomography (PET) exam to pinpoint the location and stage of her cancer; she was Stage 1.
“During the next several months, I became familiar with words that were impossible to spell and difficult to pronounce,” Tibbetts said. “Words like Adriamycin and doxorubicin, oncology, hematology, HER2 metastatic breast cancer and others. Those were words and phrases for the usage and treatment of cancer. They had several side effects, and they were noticeable.”
Tibbetts’ experience with breast cancer has prepared her to speak with certainty about various cancers, treatments and stages.
“I lost my hair in less than two weeks after beginning chemo treatments,” Tibbetts said. “I wore a wig at first, but they were so warm I just wore a head scarf. I went through bouts of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tears, sweat, reddish-colored urine and sores in my mouth. I also lost 30 pounds and suffered bouts of depression at times. And through it all, my husband, David, was a knight in shining armor that waited on me hand and foot.”
Tibbetts eventually had a double mastectomy with implants. She will continue doctor visits every three weeks for Herceptin treatments that help prevent cancer’s return. She says it was the support of her family, friends, co-workers and God that pulled her through those years, as well as that beautiful grandbaby, Lennon Kate Ray, who will be 5 this September.
Tibbetts says the whole experience has made her faith stronger than ever. She’s back to work now. The hair on her head is real again, and her never-ending smile has returned — a smile that still brightens up the day.