Cross adopted Monty, a poodle/terrier mix, when she was inspired to take her focus off herself. “There were days when I basically stayed in bed,” explains Cross. “He would bring his toys up on the bed so I could play with him without expending much energy. When even that was too much, he’d just settle in and keep me company.”
What Every Cancer Survivor Should Know:
Meet Kathy Cross
Before her cancer diagnosis, Kathy Cross drifted wherever life took her. Now, she’s grabbed the reins and is calling the shots.
Kathy Cross, a 60-year-old woman from Manhattan Beach who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, finally gave herself permission to live a full and complete life, with no regrets. Though every woman responds differently to her diagnosis, Cross was determined to call the shots. She grew up influenced by her mother, whose decisions and actions were often controlled by fear. Consequently, both women often held back what they wanted or thought they deserved from life. The daily grappling with fear worsened for Cross’ mother when she fought her own 17-year battle with cancer, which ended a decade ago.
Watching her mother’s struggles made Cross determined to not become a victim should she ever be diagnosed with cancer. “I saw my mother waste too much time pining away in fear,” she says. Through the years, Cross had several noncancerous lumps removed and was nonchalant when she felt yet another mass. “Because I had been working out for two years, I thought I was developing a pectoral muscle,” she explains. She went to the doctor for another condition and found herself getting a mammogram, a sonogram to investigate something “suspicious,” followed by a core biopsy. Even when Kathy Calderon, NP, MFT, patient advocate for the Little Company of Mary Breast Center, broke the news of her cancer diagnosis, Cross was more “inquisitive than shocked.”
Cross credits Calderon and the information she received from members in the Embrace support group with teaching her “how to deal with cancer by viewing it as you would any other condition, such as diabetes or arthritis.” Still, her sense of calm didn’t develop overnight. Not only did Cross have to overcome the fear-based environment that she had grown up in, but she had to face a treatment protocol of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. ’I felt blessed having the Embrace group to go to each Tuesday while undergoing chemotherapy.” There were times she didn’t feel like going to the group sessions, but she viewed them as her job in the recovery process.
Ultimately, it was the group that pulled her through and gave birth to her new outlook. “I’ve made so many friends in that group,” says Cross, ’and they will always have a place in my heart.” There are usually anywhere from 17 to 24 people attending each weekly session, and Cross says that the women refer to Calderon as their angel.
“The group gives us strength,” she explains. “Everyone can talk about their raw feelings, and we understand each other in ways that even our family members don’t always understand. We unload everything to the girls and we always come out feeling better, stronger and usually laughing.” The meeting officially lasts for two hours, but it’s not uncommon for the members to head to lunch following the session and maintain a dialogue during the week with phone calls and e-mails.
Cross became very spiritual and spent much of her time thinking about her disease and its place in her life. Cross found herself tackling life changes with the enthusiasm fueled by her fortune at being given a second chance.
“I’ve done more in my one year of being a cancer patient than I’d done the rest of my life,” Cross says. “It made me grow up, take risks I had never taken before.” For example, after living in the same house for 37 years, Cross had one built — in Arizona, no less, with much of the planning being done over the phone from her bed while she was recovering from chemotherapy. Cross and Jim Fitzsimmons, her partner of 14 years, invited her father to move with them, and they will be living near family who will also be moving to Arizona from the East Coast. And there’s the dog, Monty.
Cross is done drifting, her self description for her approach to life before cancer. “This was my wake-up call,” she says. Cross refuses to allow cancer to be a defining element in her life. “I have learned to live for today. Today I am cancer free. So I feel I have won this battle. It can be done. And, if I get it again tomorrow, I’ll just treat it as another episode. I live each day to its fullest so I often don’t even think about cancer (in relation to herself); it’s an abstract thing now.”
Cross faced the loss of her hair with the loving support of her family, especially her daughter. She decided to never wear a wig, but her baldness sometimes made “outsiders” uncomfortable. During filming for a commercial on the Embrace group, Cross whipped off her scarf and suggested that they discuss being bald. “The shocked director blurted, ‘Are you okay with that?’” Cross laughs. “I was, but he wasn’t!”
Although the word “chemotherapy” can make a sturdy soul shudder in fear, Cross says that she almost looked forward to chemo days because she was so pampered by the staff at Cancer Care Associates. Cross also credits David Chan, MD, oncology director, for her recovery. “I didn’t look at him as my doctor, I looked at him as my partner,” says Cross, describing him as a very caring physician.
Cross chose Padre Pio as her patron saint and began buying his cards, which contain relics, and giving them to others who needed encouragement and support. [Padre Pio, 1887-1968, bore the stigmata, or wounds from the cross, for 50 years before being healed the day of his death. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.] Dr. Chan told Cross before her surgery that he suspected that he would find cancer in some of her lymph nodes. Cross was going to sneak her Padre Pio card into surgery with her but finally had to tell the staff about it. “They saw how much it meant to me,” says Cross, “and they allowed me to put it in a pocket in the gown.” That pocket happened to be over the area of the surgical site. Cross believes that a miracle eliminated any evidence of cancer from the suspect lymph nodes. “The operation was a cinch,” says Cross. “I truly believe he (Padre Pio) interceded for me.”
Cross had been most concerned about the radiation, but even that “turned out to be a breeze. I realized that I was most scared of it because it was the one aspect of my mother’s treatment that I didn’t go through with her. I never knew I could accompany her into the waiting room. When I was alone in that room after my first consultation, I sat there and began crying. I realized how lonely my mother must have felt. A patient who had just finished her treatment sat beside me, and I told her why I was crying. When that patient left, I felt my mother’s strong presence in the room with me. It was so calming.”
Cross and Fitzsimmons were engaged at Christmas last year and had talked about getting married after moving to Arizona. After her last radiation treatment in March, however, Cross said her daughter approached her on Jim’s behalf and said, “Jim wants us to go buy your wedding dress. You’re going to be married in three weeks!” Still somewhat in shock a month following the wedding, Cross says the weekend was a blast, although not everyone could contain their emotions during the actual ceremony. Her husband and father, the best man, were both crying, which made her weepy. Only her daughter managed to escape the tears, trying to keep the occasion under some control.