Over the past 10 years, Cathy Faulkner, of Cedar Rapids, has been diagnosed with cancer three times. But she hasn’t let it defeat her, or crush her zest for life. Instead, Faulkner believes her upbeat attitude has helped her persevere.
Faulkner, 57, was diagnosed with colon cancer — what she calls “pain in the butt cancer”— 10 years ago. She first started to sense something was wrong when she felt uncomfortable sitting in the stands at her daughter’s games. “I was having problems, but I didn’t have a clue it was cancer.”
Over the years, Faulkner’s colon cancer has spread to her lungs and to her brain. She’s had six or seven surgeries — a complete colostomy, surgery to remove the brain tumor, to put in ports and to place a prosthetic plate in her skull. Faulkner estimates she’s been x-rayed — MRI, CT, and PET scans — some 70 times. And she’s been through countless rounds of radiation and chemotherapy that she is grateful to have tolerated well.
Through it all, however, Faulkner keeps her spirits — and her sense of humor — up.
Pointing to the scar on her left temple, Faulkner talks about when her brain tumor was removed. “When this wasn’t healing, they took a skin graft out of my leg and an artery out of my arm. So if I itch my arm here, my head starts to itch there,” she jokes.
Speaking seriously, Faulkner says, “I believe in prayer and positive attitude. I’ve been through so much, but I’d sit up there in the hospital during my treatments and I’d see people who were way worse off. I’ve come through major surgeries with very little pain. I’ve been blessed.”
Faulkner and her husband, Randy, have four children between the ages of 37 and 13. When she was first diagnosed in 2003, her youngest son was just four years old.
“One of my sisters asked me why I didn’t just cry all the time when I was diagnosed,” she recalls. “I told her because I have a four-year-old and it doesn’t help you to cry. There’s no reason to be glum.”
Living with cancer certainly hasn’t been easy. She has lost her hair three times, and still has the wigs she wore until her hair grew back. After her brain surgery, she was given a protective helmet to wear. She did wear it to a garden party with friends, but not until she jazzed it up by glueing on jewels and other silly things first.
Through it all, Faulkner has been able to keep working, running an in-home day care where she babysits several of her grandchildren and a few other children. “I have been able to have the kids here and it’s better for me. I have a reason to live and a reason to get up in the morning,” she says.
She returns to see her doctor at Mercy Medical Center every three months and seems to be holding steady. Amazing, considering just three years ago she was told that she might have less than a year to live. “But they don’t want me upstairs and they’re not ready for me downstairs, so I’ll just have to stick around a little while longer.”
Faulkner doesn’t want the cancer to define, or limit, her life. She stays busy with family and friends. She and her husband volunteer with Camp Courageous. “Randy’s been on the board there for 20 years or better,” she says. In her free time, Faulkner loves to sew and make doll clothes. She even sells Avon on the side.
All joking aside, Faulkner knows that living with cancer has been terribly hard on her family, especially her kids. But this vibrant woman truly believes that every day is a gift and is determined to share that hope with others.
By Katie Mills Giorgio for The Gazette