It's been nearly nine years since Kathi Sharp was first diagnosed with cancer.
Zeffen Thurow, 10, was only a baby at the time.
Zeffen Thurow, 10, slid down the slide at Bane Park with his sister, Zetta, 7, last week. The Brainerd fifth-grader, who battled brain cancer last year, has been selected as the honorary youth chair for Relay for Life on Friday at Adamson Field in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
But together they demonstrate that cancer can strike anyone at any time in their lives, which is why the Deerwood woman and the Brainerd boy have been selected as honorary chairs of Relay for Life, a fundraising and awareness event planned Friday at Adamson Field hosted by the American Cancer Society.
In August 2000, Kathi, then 41, was diagnosed with endometrial uterine cancer and underwent a total hysterectomy. She had less than a 1-2 percent chance it would recur. Unfortunately, two years later, it returned. A tumor was found, not attached to any organ, in her abdomen. She underwent external and internal radiation in which radiation-filled needles were inserted inside the tumor. Three weeks later, the tumor was gone.
Then in 2006, a spot was found on her lung. It wasn't growing so doctors continued to monitor it. But in January 2008, doctors discovered this spot had grown double in size within six months. The bottom lobe of her right lung was removed in February 2008 and the tumor was found to be the exact type of cancer as the other two occurrences. She underwent chemotherapy for six months and is now cancer-free.
Kathi Sharp, who works as a taxpayer services supervisor for the Crow Wing County auditor's office, is a three-time cancer survivor. She has been selected as a honorary chair for Relay for Life on Friday at Adamson Field in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Kathi tried to remain positive throughout her three-time cancer struggle. She credits her friends and family, including her husband, Al, and daughters, Nicolle Hines, of Becker, and Monica Sharp, of St. Cloud, in helping her make it through this ordeal. Above all, her 7-year-old grandson, Jimmy, was the greatest reason why she needed to carry on.
"He was a big part of me getting through this," she said of Jimmy.
She stayed in Ramsey with her daughter and her family when they lived there as she was undergoing treatments. Her grandson was 10 months old at the time and each afternoon she and Jimmy would spend time alone together. This helped cement the bond they share, she said.
"It gave me a reason not to mope around and not concentrate on the bad," Kathi said. "It gave me a reason to be happy and not sad.
"I think if you have a positive attitude going into it, everything is easier. It doesn't mean you're not going to have bad days. There were days I just sat down and cried. I'd have my cry and say that's it. Enough feeling sorry for yourself."
Later, during her most recent cancer recurrence, she lost her hair during her chemotherapy treatments and was worried that Jimmy would be scared of her. But she said Jimmy, completely unfazed, told her he knew why she lost her hair.
"He told me, 'Because you've got hair cancer. I had a teacher last year who had hair cancer just like you but it came back,'" she said with a smile. "I'm very fortunate. I have my faith and I have a ton of family and friends who were there for me every step of the way and some people don't have that. I've got people who care."
Kathi is excited to attend Friday's relay and feels honored to have been selected as a honorary chair for the event.
"This is a passion for me, this relay," she said. "I hope someday all this money raised will be the saving grace and solve the problem. I don't know if this will happen but any step is a big step."
Zeffen, who will be a fifth-grader at Forestview Middle School this fall, is a brain cancer survivor and will serve as the honorary youth chair at Friday's relay. As early as late December 2007, Zeffen, then 9, began complaining of headaches. But it wasn't until Feb. 6, 2008, when he began suffering from not only debilitating headaches, but was vomiting and started to exhibit weak facial muscles, much like those who suffer a stroke. His parents, Charity and Rod Thurow, took him to the doctor. During a CT Scan at St. Joseph's Medical Center, doctors discovered a 4-inch golfball-sized tumor growing out of his brain stem and he was immediately rushed to the University of Minnesota Medical Center. He was diagnosed with medulloblastoma. The next day he underwent surgery and surgeons removed as much of the tumor as they could. He then underwent 30 sessions of radiation, staying at the Ronald McDonald House during the week and coming home on weekends. He also underwent chemotherapy, losing his hair.
Zeffen missed out on a lot of school last year while a fourth-grader at Garfield Elementary School and used a walker at school because one of his medications caused weakness in his legs. Thurow, who loves playing soccer, just wanted to get well again.
"All I cared about is being healthy again," said Zeffen. "I didn't care about school or nothing. I just wanted to be healthy again."
He finished his final chemotherapy treatment in October and finished his maintenance medications in April. He had his port, in which he received medications and treatments, removed from his chest in May. He will continue to undergo MRIs every three months and other tests to make sure the cancer has not returned.
While the 10-year-old is mentally and academically doing well, he is not physically there yet, said his parents. His medications have affected his joints and muscles, which has frustrated him when he plays soccer. Some of his chemotherapy medications caused him to experience hearing loss for high-pitched sounds so he now wears hearing aids in both ears. He was fitted for them last spring.
Last year his parents pulled him in a wagon around the track during Relay for Life because he was so weak. On Friday, Thurow will be walking around the track with Kathi as they lead the other cancer survivors during the ceremonial first lap of the event. His family's team is Zeffen Kickin' Cancer. They will be hosting a soccer shoot at the relay where participants may win candy and prizes.
Rod Thurow said it's now his son's turn to get back to being a kid. Zeffen feels the same way.
"My objective is to be where I was before all this," said Zeffen.
"Well, I'm really, really happy that he survived," said Zeffen's 7-year-old sister, Zetta. "I missed him when I had to stay at grandma's and he was at the hospital. There was no one to play with."
"Me and my sister fight over stuff but we still love each other and hate to see each other hurt," added her big brother.
Zeffen's advice for those who are battling cancer:
"I would just say never lose hope. Never give up," said Zeffen. "My mom and dad stayed positive and helped me through it."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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