June 20, 2008

Celebrate . . . Cancer Free: Survivor Sees Greater Compassion in Today’s Fight Against Cancer

By Samantha Swindler, The Times-Tribune, Corbin, Ky.

Jun. 20--It's been 26 years since Barbara Catich beat her first bout with breast cancer, and 24 years since she beat it a second time.

She told more than 100 cancer survivors and their families Thursday evening that the treatment, the resources, and the compassion for people fighting cancer have greatly improved in the past two-and-a-half decades.

She spoke during the survivors' dinner held by the Tri-County Relay for Life. Catich was first diagnosed in October 1982 and shortly thereafter underwent a modified mastectomy.

She said Thursday if she had been better informed or had a patient's advocate, she would have researched her options and perhaps chosen a different surgeon.

"Surgeries at that time were very devastating," she said.

She has since undergone four different reconstructive surgeries. At the time of her first in 1983, post-mastectomy breast reconstruction was considered an elective plastic surgery, and her insurance would not pay for most of the costs. The Women's Health & Cancer Right Act -- which made reconstruction of symmetrical breasts part of mastectomy health insurance benefits -- wasn't passed until 1998.

And Catich faced more battles before her reconstruction was complete. A marble-size tumor was found under her scar tissue in 1983. The drugs she were given as part of her treatment were experimental at the time, and also not covered by the government insurance she had as a teacher at Robins Air Base.

She couldn't afford to take time off of work during her cancer treatments, so she continued to teach while she weighed a mere 88 pounds.

"I looked haggard, tired and worn out," she said, yet some of her co-workers said they didn't know she was battling cancer.

Catich thinks they were simply uncomfortable dealing with someone who had cancer.

"Today, you do not need to hide anymore," she said, "or be shuttled to a hidden part of a hospital for your cancer meetings... I have come from dark to light and I have learned to be my own advocate as well as an advocate for others."

Thursday, Catich advocated for something else -- a Tri-County "welcome center" for cancer patients that would provide a warm, welcoming place, information, support, medical resources and an oncological nurse.

She encouraged the survivors in attendance to push for more local cancer resources and information for patients.

"We are a family, and as a family, we need to stand together," she said.

And the "family" that has attended the survivors' dinner has more than doubled in a year's time.

In 2007, the Tri-County Relay for Life invited 41 survivors to its second-annual dinner. This year, they outgrew David's Steakhouse and invited 102 survivors who filled the Corbin Technology Center.

Even though the event wasn't held at his restaurant again, David's Steakhouse owner David Keck once again provided all the meals for the cancer survivors free of charge.

So far, the Tri-County Relay for Life has raised approximately $30,000 of its $75,000 goal. Donations can still be made up to and even after the relay, which begins at 7 p.m. today at the Corbin Speedway.


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