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Kees: "Relay For Life Gives All Of Us Hope"

(Ed. note: Along with Collie Stairhime, featured in last week's issue of The News-Tribune, Anna Mae Kees (pictured, left) has been named one of the two honorary chairpersons of this year's Hicksville Relay for Life which will be held at the Hicksville track on Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25. Anna Mae has been in remission of her cancer for 10 years, and here she tells her story in her own words.)

On August 10, 1994 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I had a couple of urinary tract infections over the previous six months or so, was treated and back to normal. The morning of August 2, I noticed blood in my urine, met with my doctor and was referred to an urologist who did a cystoscope, discovered two malignant tumors and, following a C.T., saw that it had not spread and was localized in my bladder. Cancer is graded one (good) to four (bad). Both of mine were stage three. I had six weeks of treatment, was tested and told that I was "in remission." As I look back over that summer, I remember I developed a lot of lower back pain, and I kept getting so very tired as time went on. I don't know if they could have been symptoms for cancer or not.

I had cystoscope follow-ups every three months and on March 13, 1995 during my routine cystoscope, another tumor and three suspicious areas were removed and biopsied. All four of them were stage three malignancies. I had been feeling good and had no symptoms of anything being wrong. My cancer was back!

This time I had two choices. I could have my bladder removed or go very, very aggressive with chemotherapy and radiation at Ft. Wayne. I chose treatments and had seven months of chemo and 37 radiation treatments. There are several chemo drugs, and I was on four. One of the four they called "The Big One," and it lasted all day. I knew as I sat there getting this treatment I was going to be very sick for about 10 days. Radiation is given five days in a row, and then you rest your body for two days and repeat.

During my treatments I had eight wonderful doctors for testing, surgeries, etc. when it was suspected that the cancer had spread to my throat, bones, kidneys, breast and uterus, but luckily everything turned out okay.

A question people hesitate to ask about cancer is what effect does chemo and radiation have on your body, what is it like, what are you thinking and usually women want to know about hair loss? Not all chemo drugs cause hair loss, but three out of four of mine did. I prepared myself by getting two identical wigs made to match my hair color so when the time came I was ready. For me about the tenth day after my first chemo treatment, I had my first symptom. The surface of my head felt like it was on fire but no pain. The first times I wore my wig in public I was self-conscious, but after that it really didn't bother me. I decided it was a small price to pay and went on with my battle to beat this thing called cancer.

I didn't know much about it when my doctor told me I had cancer. I thought it was a death sentence, and with the shock of it, I actually fainted right then and there. When I came home, I thought I needed to prepare for it. I'm not afraid to die, but I think it is human nature to want to live. I had been praying from the time the doctor told me I had cancer, but on the third day something happened that I can't explain. When I completely turned it over to God, the heavy weight of it all left my body and a calming peace came over me and continues within me today. I had to do my best knowing whatever happened it would be God's will and I would accept it.

I decided I wanted to educate myself about cancer so my husband, Nub Kees and I went shopping and bought books about cancer, chemo, radiation, etc., and I stayed up all night reading them. Then I gave them to Nub, my sons Steve and Lindsey, daughter Brenda Gillespie and mother Marvel Amaden to read so they would understand what I would be dealing with.

I didn't go through it alone. Nub was my rock and took me to every treatment, many doctor's appointments, testing and surgeries. He kept things going at home, took very good care of me and, I might add, he still does. I had good days, not so good days and some bad days, but I kept on doing what I needed to do. My sons, daughter and families, my church family, and my friends were all there supporting me and most of all praying for me - "Oh the Power of Prayer." I received so many cards all of those months and I still have every one of them. I'll admit I'm a pack rat saving things. I'll add a little humor here and tell on myself - I saved my hair as I lost it. I have two baggies full of hair grey hair which I lost first and one with my natural color. I don't know why.

I also kept a daily journal, and I think other than having a record of how I felt physically and emotionally, it seemed like therapy for me. To this day, I keep a record of my doctor's appointments, tests and surgeries.

For some unknown reason, I didn't shed a tear for myself except when I would get good news, then I would cry like a baby. On the other hand, I've shed many tears for friends, classmates and acquaintances who have fought their hard battle (and it is a battle) but didn't survive, and it totally rips me up inside. I've talked to a lot of people one on one and by phone answering questions and just listening. Sometimes that helps.

After I had been in remission for about two years I received a phone call from my urologist and surgeon's office in Ft. Wayne asking me (of all people) to go on a Ft. Wayne TV news broadcast and together discuss and answer questions about bladder cancer. My thoughts were perhaps it just might help someone be aware of symptoms, get yearly physicals and save a life, so I did it.

I think everyone deals with cancer in their own way and each one has a story to tell - I could write a book. From my own viewpoint, I sense a silent but very strong bond among cancer patients and survivors that is very special. Just by holding hands, a pat on the back, a hug or just by looking deep into each others eyes, we seem to be saying, "I know and I understand."

Come October 2005, I will be in remission 10 years. When the doctor told me that good news, I looked to the heavens, thanked God and cried my joyful cry. I've had a few side effects, some are visible and some are not. You'll see me at ball games with my stadium seat for my back and making trips to the little girl's room more often, but that's all okay. My energy level is not what it was before cancer. I tire more quickly, and I'm told to rest more often and watch the stress level. You learn to cope and go on with your life as you count your blessings. I've also learned to slow down, pace myself and appreciate the simple everyday things of life so much more.

I get tested twice a year by my Urologist and my Oncologist, plus I get my yearly physical. I also pay attention to my body and have anything suspicious checked out. I've had 22 cystoscopes and some surgeries. The most recent was May 27, 2005. Last year, May 2004, my cystoscope showed a problem. It was removed, biopsied and okay. On February 1, 2005, I noticed a small lesion on my eye lid. It had to be removed, and guess what, it was malignant, but so far it is okay. So you never know. Hearing the words, "You are in remission," is the best news for now, and we live everyday knowing cancer can come back at anytime.

Relay For Life gives all of us hope that one day we can all hear those sweet words, "You are cured." Nub and I will be walking with the Golden Aces team again this year. We are the team that sells out of homemade apple dumplings, and you might hear us doing some cheers and singing songs again. Even if you aren't on a team, come out to the high school track and enjoy the festivities.

It is amazing to this "71 year old hometown girl" how many of you support Relay For Life. It gets bigger and better every year, and I thank you on behalf of every cancer patient and survivor. God has blessed me so much and may God bless each and every one of you.



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