From fighting fires to fighting cancer, Rostraver woman displays strength
Kate Crawford of Rostraver Township used to fight fires for a living, but now she is fighting against stage IV metastatic breast cancer, with the support of family and friends who joined forces last Saturday for a fundraising motorcycle cruise and classic car show in Rostraver.
“We had a real great turnout, despite the weather. A lot of people came and we raised over $3,000,” said the 30-year-old Crawford, a mother of three young children, twins Lily and Grace, 5, and Stephen Jr., 4, who is named after his father.
She praised Slider City Grill, which hosted the event.
“This whole thing was their idea,” Crawford said.
Proceeds from the fundraiser will help the family with the costs of various medical and travel expenses incurred for her care, while a portion will be reserved for breast cancer research.
She is waging a battle that the doctors have painted as an uphill climb. After being diagnosed in January 2013 with invasive inductal breast cancer at age 28, doctors put her chances of surviving five years at less than a 30 percent and the chance of being cured even bleaker — just five percent.
The cancer had spread to both breast, ribs, liver and her spine. Currently, she is undergoing targeted cancer treatment every three weeks, which has kept the breast cancer from progressing.
“That's all I can ask for. I feel healthy and I feel good. I don't have a lot of pain throughout the day,” Crawford said.
She admits to having her down days fighting the disease. “I have my dark days. I get knocked down, then I have those days that rejuvenate me,” Crawford said.
Crawford said she relies on her father to help her get through her ordeal.
“I really do believe strongly in my faith,” Crawford said.
Crawford's life had been on a far different trajectory before cancer intervened. She had been an industrial firefighter working for U.S. Steel Corp.'s Mon Valley Works, when she met her future husband, Steve, also a U.S. Steel firefighter.
At the tender age of 15, she was a junior firefighter in Elizabeth, the first female in the department, she said. She followed the path of her father, Richard Johnson, a volunteer firefighter, and her grandfather, the late Richard Johnson, who was a member of Greensburg Hose Co. No. 3.
Crawford continued her training, becoming part of the first female fire fighting team to train at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown.
“I've always pushed the gender envelope,” she said.
In 2007, she and her husband dealt with the death of their first child, Shannon, who was born with a heart defect and lived only three days.
Out of that tragedy, she and two other mothers formed Project Sweet Pea in 2009, a nonprofit that helps support families with infants in the neonatal intensive care unit and those who experienced pregnancy and their baby's death.
Crawford understands the needs of those families since all three of her children were born premature and were in the intensive care unit.
It was when her son was three and undergoing intensive physical and speech therapy that she noticed a mass in her breast. She does not have a family history of breast cancer, but genetic testing determined that she had a mutation of a tumor suppression gene.
She has undergone both chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells, as well as radiation. The radiation, however, played havoc with her intestinal track that caused other digestion problems.
“I really believe radiation is a lot worse than chemotherapy,” Crawford said.
She is focused on gathering information from her physicians in Pittsburgh and seeking another opinion on whether to have a double mastectomy, a procedure that has divided her doctors over whether she would be a good candidate for the surgery.
“One doctor favors it. My breast surgeon doesn't agree with the research ... and doesn't feel it will be good for the quality of my life,” Crawford said.
Crawford's has detailed her journey through her cancer diagnosis and treatments in her blog, “The Chronicles of Cancer: The Mom, the Breast and the IV Pole.”
“It's more therapeutic to me. When I first found out the diagnosis, I just started journaling,” Crawford said.
Because of the prognosis that she would not be there to watch her children go to the prom, the Belle Vernon Area School District permitted the twins and Stephen Jr., to dress up in prom regalia and get their crowns at the 2013 high school prom.
Next up for the family is a long-awaited summer vacation to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.