By~ Shannon Mitchell
It was September of 2009 when a phone call from Susan Lynn Kuligowski changed her daughter Kate’s life forever. Feeling ill and experiencing excruciating headaches at the time, Susan called her daughter expressing concern for her health. The next day she decided to visit her doctor where he ordered an MRI.
The MRI showed that Susan had 5 tumors in her brain. However, the doctors were not convinced that it was primary brain cancer and they decided to run a PET scan of her entire body. After waiting in the hospital for what felt like forever, Kate and her family received the diagnosis – it was stage IV Lung Cancer.
With no symptoms of illness prior to experiencing the sudden intense headaches and pain, Susan Kuligowski had never had any previous health concerns and she had never smoked. “We were shocked and very distraught over these findings” Kate recalls upon hearing the news, “but believed every second that she could beat this horrible disease.”
Kate immediately began researching treatments that were available, and located the best doctors to care for her mother. It wasn’t long before Susan began treatment for the brain tumors first as they were pressing on her occipital lobe and causing disabling neurological symptoms. During this time Susan was unable to speak complete sentences, suffered from short-term memory loss, blurred vision, her equilibrium was off and she felt immense emotional frustration.
Kate at the time remained hopeful of her mother’s condition “It was so hard to see her in this state, but we tried to be as positive as we could and remained optimistic.”
Susan’s first line of treatment was radiation. She went for the Novalis TX radiation procedure on a Friday and almost immediately following the treatment she was exhibiting a negative reaction to it. Experiencing vomiting and a loss of coherency she was rushed to the ER. Kate and her family later found out that the radiation had actually caused her brain to swell but fortunately they were able to stabilize Susan and she was sent the ICU.
A week later, Susan underwent a five-hour surgery to remove the largest tumor from her brain. The surgery was a success and Susan began acting like her old self again.
“She amazingly bounced back from the surgery, we were over the top excited and again very hopeful for a full recovery. We knew we still had an uphill battle to face, but if there was anyone who could do it, it was my mom.”
Kate decided to move back home to help care for her mother, together with her father who had quit his job to be with Susan. “I wanted to be by my mom’s side every step of the way.” Which she did, by attending every doctor’s appointment, treatment session, surgery and scan.
During the next six months, Susan went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to try and destroy the tumor in her lung. Months went by while Kate and her family nervously waited to hear about the outcome of the treatments.
While living at home Kate and her family held a fundraiser party for her mother and had over 300 friends show up to lend their support. It reminded them all that for anyone facing this horrible disease, families and loved ones need to remain strong, to keep fighting and to never stop showing their love.
“I tried to make my mother feel as special and beautiful as she could through the entire ordeal. I wanted her to know how many people were supporting her, it was a special night we will never forget,” Kate recalls.
After seven months, the cancer had spread to her spine, “She quickly went downhill after this and was unable to move around or walk. She was confined to a bed for the last few weeks and sadly left us to be our guardian angel on June 5th, 2010,“ Kate and her family experienced a loss of more than a family member, mother, and wife they lost a woman with such strength.
Lung Cancer is the number one cancer killer in the United States but is the least funded. At this time there is no early detection process in place for this disease and proper funding for research simply does not exist. There is a critical need for more support, research, treatment and prevention.
“It is unacceptable that the lung cancer survival rate of 15.5% has not changed in over 40 years, I never thought at the age of 29 I would have to see my mother go through something so terrible. It was by far the worst time in my family’s life.” Kate believes that by removing the “smoker’s disease” stigma attached to lung cancer we can move forward to change the way the government and other organizations view lung cancer.
Although what Kate went through with her mother was hard on her and her family, she has a new joy in her life with help from her guardian angel; her mother. Kate is expecting the birth of a baby girl in January and cannot be more excited.
“I can only hope that I will be the type of mom mine was. She was an amazing mother and best friend, I miss her dearly.”