Sunday, June 6, 2010

After the Bell: Life Lesson in Keeping a Positive Attitude

(Kathy Covey rings a bell at M.D. Anderson; courtesy of Steve Covey)

My mom, Kathy Covey, one of the most tender-hearted and selfless people you could ever meet, recently rang a little brass bell in the Texas Medical Center. In so doing, she crossed a major medical milestone that marked the last of 16 chemotherapy treatments.

To say that she and everyone close to her is relieved is the understatement of our year.

My mom’s bell-ringing ceremony also signified an important life lesson for me: that, even in the presence of unexpected adversity, we should keep a positive attitude.

Last fall, when my mom first told me that she had a small lump in her left breast, she did not know whether it was cancerous. Her demeanor was upbeat, and she seemed unworried—an effort, I am sure, to reduce added concern on the part of her family.

Another mammogram a couple of weeks later revealed that the lump was malignant. My mom’s spirits remained unchanged.

What she found out next was that the recommended action to beat this cancer consisted of the notoriously body-weakening chemotherapy. This, after a considerably less invasive option, called Balloon Catheter Radiation, was ruled out, because the cancer had already spread into the sentinel lymph node in her left arm.

Under the care of Dr. Daniel J. Booser at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the world class facility right here in Houston, an aggressive plan to win was put before her:

- Phase 1: 12 treatments (once a week for 12 weeks)
- Phase 2: 4 treatments (once every 3 weeks for 12 weeks)

Facing a rocky, 24 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy, my mom promptly began the steep climb with gusto on New Year’s Day, using her naturally positive attitude to steady herself.

Along the way, there have been setbacks, many waits and a handful of medical procedures. She underwent a surgery to install a port (“portacath”) below her collarbone, which made regular injections easier for the body to accept.

She is dealing with lymphatic obstruction (“lymphedema”) due to 18 lymph nodes in her left arm being surgically removed in December. The effect of lymphedema has been a tolerable, but uncomfortable swelling of the same arm.

Through it all, my mom jokes that she lost her marbles: 16 of them, in fact—enough to represent every chemotherapy treatment. On the advice of a friend, she removed one marble from a glass votive after each session to mark its completion. Her chosen repository? A new fish tank, sitting on top of a shelf in my parents’ living room. In the tank as well are two unsuspecting goldfish, “Che” and “Mo.”

(Che and Mo Covey; courtesy of Emily Covey)

My mom's journey with breast cancer is not complete. A 6-week round of radiation begins in 3-weeks’ time. But to finish chemotherapy was huge—a momentous day, a chance to celebrate, a source of great relief.

She would tell you that she is pleased to have passed the challenge of chemo and that enduring it will have been a mere bump on the road of life.

Where does she find her strength and how does she continue to keep a positive attitude, in spite of the obstacles faced? She assures me it is her faith in God that sustains her.

To that I say, “Keep the faith!”


  1. Speaking for all of us who know Kathy (and for Shelties who can't type)......Kathy is an Angel. She not only lights up a room, she makes all of us who are lucky enough to be in the room feel blessed.....just because she is with us.

  2. What an inspiration you are Kathy. Keep up the good vibes and i am sending reinforcements from my side.
    Your son's blog post is a wonderful testament to you and the bond you have with one another.
    Sending blessings and positive waves. See you in October.