Sharon native and cancer survivor to 'stay the course' with Great Race
If you're Downtown on Sunday morning cheering the runners in Pittsburgh's annual Great Race, look for the lady in the teal bandana and white Cleveland Indians ball cap.
Don't hold the hat against her. Kathleen Heller is a Pirates fan through-and-through who remembers going to Forbes Field with her father when she was a little girl. A native of Sharon, Mercer County, near the Ohio border, she lived in Cleveland for 3 1⁄2 years and roots for both teams.
Heller, 57, is a cancer survivor with an amazing story of determination and persistence whom we should all cheer.
She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in January, the beginning of a whirlwind of treatments she finds hard to describe. Heller had been feeling bloated and could not shake the suspicion that something was wrong. It kept getting worse.
“It didn't occur to me it was cancer,” said Heller, who now lives in State College.
And why would she think it was? She had been an athlete her entire life. She played basketball at Penn State. Even as she sprinted past 55, she worked out every day — running, walking and kickboxing.
Because she was so fit, her doctors opted for a tougher treatment, a mixture of chemotherapy drugs given through a catheter implanted in her abdomen, instead of the intravenous alternative. The treatment is so rough, only about 42 percent of those who get it finish it.
Wouldn't you know it? Heller finished it in four months. Her oncologist, Dr. Josh Kesterson of Hershey Medical Center, wasn't surprised.
“She should've been a poster child for this regimen,” he said.
It wasn't easy. Heller estimates she gained between six or seven pounds after each treatment because so many fluids were pumped into her body. The treatments stole her energy, but here's the kicker: Even at her lowest, she reached deep within herself to find the energy to stay active. A few pushups here, a few weights there.
“Even if I could walk 1.8 miles on a treadmill, I was always moving,” Heller said, citing the steady support of her husband, Rich. “When you're feeling that sick, you access your faith and your beliefs and you do what you can and turn it over.”
At her lowest point, she thought of the Great Race, which this year will bring a record 15,500 runners to city streets. Heller ran her first race in 1986 with her sister, Susan Borawski, and finished it nearly every year after.
“I had it in my mind that I was going to make it to the race” this year, she said.
Two weeks after she finished chemotherapy treatments in July, she went to the Arts Festival 5K in State College. She had to walk.
“It was no longer about time; it was just about, ‘How can I finish it?' ” she said.
Heller isn't that philosophical about gynecological cancer, nasty illnesses that affect more than 80,000 women every year. She's convinced that women need to be more vigilant about symptoms and know their body well, especially if they have a history of cancer in their family.
She received good news in late July. Blood work and a CAT scan showed no evidence of cancer.
“It was a nasty detour,” she said about her experience. “I had a belief that I had to stay the course.”
The course brings her to town tomorrow. I'll be looking for that white Indians hat. Can't wait to give Heller a high-five.
Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 o r firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Linebacker Timmons hoping for contract extension
- Four helicopters respond to Route 51 crash in Rostraver
- Steelers plan to use smart pass rush against Seattle QB Wilson
- Miami (Fla.) gets prepared to take on ‘physical’ Pitt team
- Penguins 4th line is showing promise
- School lunch group hopes to revise rules it calls impractical, too restrictive
- Small stores take big gamble by not upgrading credit card readers
- Western Pa. students bristle at changing menu choices
- Carrick crime ‘blitz’ shows early signs of success
- Penguins notebook: Dupuis’ intangibles provide 1st-line value
- Despite injuries, Penn State’s Nelson ‘thankful’