“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
-Winston S. Churchill
I’m writing this piece of hate mail to you on April 15th, 2015. To most people that’s our nation’s much-loathed tax day. But to the first four in my nuclear family, it’s a very happy occasion. Thirty years ago on this date, Kate was born and that was a day that our lives changed forever. I was almost nine years old when the stork dropped her off and she melted my heart down then, and forever, into a pool of simmering brotherly mush. Our relationship has changed as we’ve each aged thirty years since then. But one thing has stayed the same. She’s part of me – my family, my blood, my only sister.
Dave, when you attacked her, you scored the most direct hit possible on my family. Kate’s the glue, the one who loves and is loved by all of us, including her nieces and nephews, in the most intense and unique way. She’s not just nuclear family, she’s all of our best friend. This is why that day last June when we got her CT scan results was our own Pearl Harbor Day. It took us many weeks to get our heads back on straight and months to get some semblance of our lives back. But make no mistake, you hit us hard and the last ten months have been awful. Seeing her hurt – whether mentally or physically – is just heartrending. Having to endure it has been a huge personal learning experience for me, and it’s not one where I like the results. I’ve found that I’m in a sort of E.T. / Eliot state when it comes to Kate’s well-being. When she’s doing well, I’m doing well. And vice versa.
But selecting Kate as your victim was a fatal mistake. You should have known that by attacking our most sensitive spot, you were going to evoke the most ferocious, violent, angry and united response possible…because SHE is the person we, the Hennemuth family and the entire love and support network behind us, are wired to fight the hardest for.
You’ve also brought upon yourself the wrath of a young woman with an overwhelming will to live. Kate’s performance in this death match has been beyond stellar. As I said to a good friend who was in a state of awe at Kate’s courage and grit, we didn’t know what kind of the fight she’d put up until she was tossed unwillingly into the ring. Her strength, honesty, and good nature throughout have brought us to our knees with pride, love, and inspiration. In addition to being that person we loved anyway, this fortitude has rallied her fan base around her and concentrated their prayer and energy into a Dave-killing machine of its own.
And on that note, let’s review some of the highlights and key contributors to this ass-whooping performance so far.
-Right out of the gates, a few key leaders of Team Kate emerged and produced and sold several hundred FUD T-shirts and Team Kate bracelets.
-Kate was swiftly connected up with one of our country’s (and probably one of the world’s) leading sarcoma destroying experts, Dr. Bill Tap at Memorial-Sloan Kettering. He told us the disease (aka you, Dave) was diffuse and advanced at the outset. But after two brutal rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer had been reduced to a state of complete inactivity. Of course it’s never that simple but that’s what the opening return salvo of this battle looked like.
-My dear Mom, a happy person who loves her home, husband and dog, packed a bunch of her favorite plastic grocery bags and moved to Manhattan to sit every minute of every day with her daughter as she suffered through treatment. She just wouldn’t have been everywhere else. Kate’s outstanding and supportive fiancée Kyle has been right by her side (and now my Mom’s too in that 1BR apartment) the entire way. My Dad has been to New York for every important moment and to chauffeur Kate and my Mom back to Moosic Lake for some weekend R&R between treatments. And an entire squadron of friends and family at Moosic Lake have back-filled my Mom’s absence to help out my Dad with meals and entertainment, to care for the dog etc. This has been going on for over ten months now.
-Nearly 100 people showed up at St. Ann’s Novena last summer specifically to pray for Kate. And I witnessed no fewer than a dozen people I didn’t even know come up to my Dad to express support one night that he and I went out to dinner. Indeed, from my vantage point in CT, it feels like the entire Scranton, PA area has been wrapped around Kate like a warm blanket since the whole thing began.
-One of my dearest and oldest friends, Dr. David Cognetti is an ace ENT cancer surgeon was a rock of knowledge and support in our darkest days early on. Many families who suffer a cancer battle are always looking for answers. We were lucky to have our own personal coach in David. Cogs, I am forever grateful.
-Many of Kate’s best friends in this world surprised her this winter with a party in which they trimmed their hair and donated it to be made into wigs for suffering cancer patients. They had been plotting this event and growing out their hair for months in advance.
-Team Kate raised $52K for Cycle for Survival to research the treatment of rare cancers. Overall, Cycle for Survival’s harvest this year was $25mm+. These events are just nuts…by which I mean full of energy and beyond inspirational. The purpose of that energy, of course, is killing you, Dave. Kate was asked to kick-off the even with a speech and she stood up in front of hundreds of people and nailed it.
Which brings me to Kate herself. Her highlight reel is too long for this blog post but I will relay one quick story that I think about all the time. Before treatment began and when the cancer’s footprint was at its peak, most of Kate’s face was numb, her headaches were unbearable and her senses of taste and smell were gone One day she was having particular difficulty with sporadic blurriness and twitching of one eye and we worried that the connecting nerve might somehow be severed (ie eaten through) or otherwise fail. Kate took a deep breath and delivered me her perspective on the matter: “Well if I lose that eye, at least I have another one.” It was similar with her senses of smell and taste: “I mean I’d like to have them but I can do without.” Most of us wouldn’t count these functionalities as luxuries. And few of us would have been looking on the bright side in such circumstances. (Keep in mind that she could barely even stand up some days because of the headaches.) My sister’s attitude and her survival remind me every day that there is always worse and that being less than hopeful and positive – which I have a bad tendency to do – is pointless.
This is what you’re dealing with, Dave. You have already endured medieval-grade torture. And it’s not going to end until every last cell of you withers in a bath of caustic chemicals or is incinerated by unbearably intense radiation waves. Should the chemo and radiation come up short – and that certainly hasn’t been the case so far – we’re going to embark on a regiment of alternative treatment about which there are volumes of data and many positive outcomes. (Kate is already studying up on this.) Basically, we’re going to hit you from every angle, with everything we’ve got, for as long as it takes, until you are crushed and beaten and forever incapable of re-entering the ring. To adapt the famous Winston Churchill quote to my own needs here: We will “never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never” will we stop loving or supporting our dear Kate in her battle to rid her body of her cancer and to live the full life that she wants and deserves to live.
So dear Kate, as you sit on your 30th birthday courageously receiving your chemotherapy treatment, please remember that all of us on Team Kate are forever behind you.
Happy Birthday, Kate. We love you.