I told my sister Kathy her brain should have its own Instagram account. It’s been photographed more often than the Kardashians, and it’s far more interesting.
Six times, Kathy has had surgery on it, and six times that beautiful, complicated, challenging organ has survived.
If you look inside my sister’s brain, you’ll see a working shunt system on one side, and a broken catheter stuck in the middle. You’ll see a ventriculostomy, which allows fluid to move from one ventricle to the next. You’ll see a resection scar from a recent tumor removal.
And here’s what else you’ll see:
You’ll see fierce love for friends and family, especially her stepson, the charismatic Traveain. Woe to any facility ill-equipped to handle Traveain’s electric wheel chair. Kathy has fired off many a stern letter, including one to her alma mater, to rectify that situation ASAP.
You’ll see devotion to her students (which nearly gave us all a heart attack). As promised, Kathy texted us updates when she and her husband Keith made their way to Mayo Clinic for a critical consultation following her most recent brain surgery. “Disaster!” she wrote and we all clutched our phones. “The pizza delivery guy arrived right when the high school was having a fire drill.” The message left us all understandably confused. “I ordered pizza for my Geek Squad students and that delivery guy better find them. His tip depends on it.” I mean, really, who orders pizza for their students while enroute to Mayo Clinic with 34 staples in her head? As I may have mentioned, in 2007 Kathy was named Wisconsin’s Teacher of the Year, not only for her tech program but also for her mentoring of at risk students.
You’ll see peace from a daughter and a sister who has been since birth the family touchstone. She calls herself Switzerland (one of the few countries she and my mother have not been to among their many global travels) because she rarely takes sides in family squabbles. She is the mellowest among us, quick to remember birthdays and anniversaries and faithful in her attendance at important family functions. She has seen every play her goddaughter Katherine has ever been in, and that’s saying something.
You’ll see a little disdain for undereducated Packer fans. I’ve gone to games with Kathy for more than three decades. She knows her stuff. One game, we sat next to a local celebrity who prattled on to his companions. He was loud and he was wrong. Eventually, a squirming Kathy couldn’t take it anymore. She looked at me and said, “Good God,” then leaned across and spoke directly to the gentleman. “That’s not Dorsey Levens. He hasn’t even been on the team since 2001,” she said. Though momentarily stunned, the gentleman recovered admirably and he and Kathy chatted easily for the remainder of the game.
You’ll see strength. You’ll see it oozing from every pore. I was with Kathy in her hospital room not long after she’d learned the tumor they’d just removed was malignant, metastasized breast cancer. We were alone for a little while and I, channeling all of the medical knowledge I’d acquired through years of faithful George Clooney watching, ran her through some tests. “Ok, squeeze my hand.” She did. “Follow my finger.” Her eyes followed my hand. “Lift your right leg. Good. Good. Now your left.” I was just goofing around a little and testing whether her little sister obedience was still intact (it was). I also had a serious question. “What are you thinking about your diagnosis?” I asked. “It is what it is,” Kathy said, and paused a minute. “And we’re going to fight the hell out of it.”
Of course, we’re grossly offended that any cancer cells at all would have the nerve to invade that beautiful brain, but we also know Kathy and our money’s on her.
Next week, she’ll be back at Mayo for Gamma Knife Radiation after which, she and her husband Keith are looking forward to resuming their regular summer activities. She and my mom plan a July trip to Cuba.
Today, we’re walking with Kathy and her team, Holy Walkamoley, in the Menomonee Falls Relay for Life. She’ll take that remarkable brain of hers around that survivor lap and, once again, we’ll all stand and applaud.