Writer recalls woman who helped others handle cancer


Sometimes, the angels are called home.

We don’t want them to leave us. But theirs is a higher order.

So when Kathy Cannon of Henderson died Nov. 29, it was painful news. She had been battling thyroid cancer for 24 years and it finally got the best of her — that and a brain tumor that she had been diagnosed with in March. She was 73.

On Saturday at the LDS Church in Alamo, where she grew up, Kathy will be remembered. And anyone who ever came in contact with her will never forget her.

She was a remarkable woman on so many levels. She was a registered nurse with a wonderful disposition. She was a people person and she knew her calling was to help those in need. For years, Kathy helped run the Las Vegas Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association (ThyCa) chapter and support group that met once a month at the old Nevada Cancer Institute.

Which was how we met in 2001 when I was trying to win my own thyroid cancer battle.

Kathy immediately embraced those new members of the club, a club no one wanted to join. There were probably 20 or so at any given time, mostly women who had been diagnosed with or had already been treated for their thyroid cancer. Kathy was the den mother. She was there to educate, to support, to guide everyone through their fears, help channel their anger and keep everyone thinking positive. After all, she was one of us.

But nobody in that room had encountered what she had. None of us were fighting the kind of fight she was. We really had no idea what kind of suffering she and her family were going through. Kathy had been diagnosed with an aggressive, more complex form of thyroid cancer back in 1989.

They say if you’re going to get cancer, let it be thyroid cancer. It has a high success rate of remission and getting cured. But cancer is cancer and you don’t fool around with it. You may not need chemotherapy, but the radiation treatments will knock you on your butt and you’ll find yourself feeling like absolute crap before things hopefully turn around.

When Kathy was diagnosed, her doctors assured her she would beat it and her life would be relatively normal. But she didn’t get better. Thus, she embarked on a hellish journey, traveling from hospital to hospital, seeing doctor after doctor. From Ohio State University to M.D. Anderson in Houston, to the University of Colorado outside of Denver to the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia. She participated in virtually every possible clinical trial at great personal expense.

She was fortunate in one regard — her husband, Bob, could afford to send her all over the country.

For a brief while, we shared the same doctor in Colorado. Dr. Bryan Haugen has an excellent national reputation. He had managed to get me cancer-free, and a couple of years ago, Kathy and her husband went to Colorado hoping Dr. Haugen could do for her what no one to date had been able to do — get her cured.

He knew of Kathy, having met her at ThyCa conventions, because Kathy wanted to know everything she could about her opponent as she was battling. She probably would’ve made a great coach in that regard.

But nobody bats 1.000. Even Dr. Haugen, brilliant as he is, could not cure Kathy Cannon’s cancer. But she never gave up trying to find someone who could help her.

She continued to reach out and help those who needed it, people who were scared out of their wits to learn they were saddled with cancer, only to come to know they had a friend in Kathy who would not let them face their battle alone.

Yet inside, one can only imagine the despair she and her family were going through. Her husband, her brother Keith, her children Michael and Kim and their spouses, her six grandchildren, all helpless in their quest to get her better. Bob, who owns thoroughbred racehorses and spends his summers at the Del Mar racetrack north of San Diego, never gave up hope.

But there’s only so much disappointment one can endure. Kathy was getting worse over the past few months. The trips from Las Vegas to Philly or San Diego to Philly were taking their toll physically. The doctors at Penn, while optimistic, probably knew deep down that they wouldn’t be able to save her. The brain tumor only made matters worse.

Bob would put up a brave front. He’d make his bets, root his horses home, go out with friends for dinner and try to keep his mind occupied while his wife was in Philadelphia going through yet another battery of tests.

It was the cruelest of ironies. This woman, who had devoted her life to helping others, could not be helped herself. Yet neither Kathy nor Bob nor their kids ever complained. They never sought sympathy. To the very end, they believed the doctors would save her and she would get her life back.

But the calendar was about to turn to December and Kathy Cannon had run out of hospitals and out of time. The angel was being called home.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at 702-387-2913 or scarp@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.

 

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