10 years out from cancer

Register Editor

Register/Susan Lynn
Kelly Sigg, with her husband, Steve, marked her 10th year as a cancer survivor Friday. The day threw her for a loop for its significance.

Kelly Sigg cried pretty much all day Friday.
A multitude of feelings came in waves, bathing her with gratitude, other times with fear, but mostly in awe of where she is today and of what could have been.
When she stepped up to the microphone at Friday night’s Relay for Life, she was barely audible as she dabbed at tears.
“Ten years,” she said simply. “Stomach cancer.”
In fact, it was 10 years to the day that Kelly underwent her first surgery of the virulent form of cancer. This coming Friday she has another day to celebrate — the 10-year success of a second surgery.
“Back then, the worry was that I’d suffer more from malnutrition than from the risk of getting cancer in the rest of my stomach,” she said.
The pathology reports of only five days later, however, revealed more cancer. Two days later she was back under the knife to remove what little stomach was left.
Kelly was one of 78 cancer victims at Friday’s all-night event who participated in a “survivor’s lap.” One by one the participants introduced themselves. Some mentioned the kind of cancer they have overcome and for how long. For some, there was not one, but multiple kinds of cancer they have fought. Some seemed victorious; others humbled.

FRIDAY’S 10-YEAR mark hit Kelly hard.
“I woke up this morning, knowing the day was different,” she said.
It all began with a persistent feeling of nausea, like “morning sickness,” that prompted her to see her family physician, who ordered a biopsy of stomach tissue. The first results were benign, “which he didn’t believe,” she said. A second go-around of tests proved otherwise. “It was a ‘random’ cancer,” she said, owing to the fact that no one in her family had a cancer history.
Just as with the birth of a child, she can remember the cancer diagnosis and the ensuing surgeries down to every detail. How when the doctor called, he asked if someone were there with her, if she were sitting down. Surgery would be at 7 a.m. Saturday. Post-surgery, she felt surprisingly good. In a few days’ time she enjoyed a hamburger and chocolate cake.
It would be the last “real” meal of her life.
In a matter of hours, results of a post-surgery pathology report showed cancer in the remaining part of her stomach. It was a Wednesday. Surgery would be at 7 a.m. Saturday.
By the time it was discovered, the cancer was contained to the stomach, which was good, but its virulence would make it hard to fight. Doctors gave her a 27 percent chance of making it.
“I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time,” she said. “It would have made it hard to push through the treatments.”
After the surgeries she endured nine months of radiation and chemotherapy. First was the radiation, Monday through Friday for six weeks. The chemotherapy was five days a week for one week a month. For the next two years she had a CT scan every three months. From years three to five, a scan every six months. And now, “my risk and your risk of getting cancer are the same,” she said. “I was cut loose.”

IF ONLY. Not a day goes by that Kelly doesn’t somehow think of her experience and worry about getting cancer again.
“It’s always in the back of my mind. Every ache or pain or any unusual feeling — I wonder if it’s cancer.”
When the cancer was discovered Kelly was 38 with four children from college to sixth grade. Their needs, she said, kept her focus off of herself.
“I remember I cried when I found out I had cancer. The next time I let myself ‘go there’ was the last day of my chemotherapy treatments. I sat in my blue recliner and cried and cried. I guess because I had been working so hard to hold it altogether for the kids.”
And then, there was Friday.
“Oh, I think these are mostly tears of joy,” she said of the steady stream. “I’ve learned so much from this. About what’s important in life. Surviving a disease like this makes you:
— more compassionate,
— makes you want to reach out to people,
— makes you value people and relationships.”
In the 10 years since Kelly was diagnosed with cancer she has missed only one Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. She was only 17 days out from treatments when she made her first walk.
The walks “mark such a milestone that you’ve made it another year,” she said. “Until you know someone who’s had cancer, you don’t realize how significant that year is.”
Kelly also participates in a monthly cancer support group that meets from 10 to 11 a.m. the second Saturday of the month at St. John’s Catholic Church.
“We don’t even always talk about cancer,” she said of the camaraderie built between participants. “What is said there, stays there.” The meetings help build an invaluable support network for those touched by the disease, she said.
The cancer has left Kelly with a compromised digestive system. Food travels directly from her esophagus into the intestine. The lack of a stomach to hold food means Kelly must eat bird-like — very small portions throughout the day. Her battle is to maintain a minimum weight of 106 for her 5-foot, 6-inch frame. She’s shy one pound.
At restaurants, Kelly and her husband, Steve, typically share a meal. It’s the smallest of signs that they are a perfect match. Steve is minus 18 inches of his colon after suffering from diverticulitis. He, too, cannot manage large portions of food. A typical serving at restaurants is all they can handle together.
“It’s not that we’re cheap!” Kelly said.
Kelly and Steve will have been married six years Sunday. They dated while attending Iola High School and had kept in touch throughout the years. It was at a funeral of a mutual friend, Keith Hedden, who died of brain cancer, that they reconnected and the sparks reignited after 27 years apart.
Kelly holds hope in the battle against cancer.
“Twenty years ago, a diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence. Not today. They are making advances all the time.”
And Kelly is here to prove it.