For local cancer survivor, October is a time to reflect

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If Kathy Lovetere is being honest with herself, all that October pink can be a bit much.

Lovetere, in fact, does not even particularly care for the color. And yet when it comes to the spirit and the purpose of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and its emphasis on educating and empowering women, the Canton mother of three is fully on board.

Kathy Lovetere with her family on a recent trip to San Francisco

Kathy Lovetere with her family on a recent trip to San Francisco

After all, it was only two years ago that Lovetere experienced firsthand the lifesaving power of early detection. Having lost her mother to cancer at an early age, she had committed herself to healthy living and also to regular self-breast examinations.

So when she discovered a sizable lump during a self-examination on the day before her 53rd birthday in August 2013, Lovetere wasted little time in scheduling an appointment with her doctor, who ended up recommending an ultrasound as a precaution.

At the time, neither her doctor nor Lovetere thought it was anything to worry about. An educational assistant at Canton High School, she was getting ready to return to school and decided to squeeze in the ultrasound appointment before the start of the new school year. She even drove herself to the appointment, wholly unprepared for the news she was about to receive.

“So there I was in the parking lot at Newton-Wellesley Hospital,” she said, “just standing there by myself in disbelief that I had breast cancer.”

To this day, Lovetere still gets emotional when she thinks about those terrifying first few days after learning she had cancer. She ended up at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where she was formally diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer — an aggressive form of the disease that comes with an equally aggressive treatment protocol.

In Lovetere’s case, that meant four months of chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the tumor, and ending with 20 treatments of radiation — five days a week for four weeks. Of all the treatments, it was the chemo that concerned her the most, she said, but she put her faith in God and trusted her medical team and decided to approach it like she was a warrior in a “mind and body fight.”

“When I would go in for chemo, I would do a lot of visualization,” she recalled, “and I would visualize that when the chemo was going in they were like those little green plastic army men, and they were just charging in there and going after the cancer cells, and that’s how I got through it.”

Lovetere said the chemotherapy regimen, which she began on her 30th wedding anniversary and ended on New Year’s Eve, was “extremely difficult” at times, and there were days where she wasn’t sure if she could keep going. But she pressed on, determined to stay alive for her kids and her husband, and she ended up learning a lot about herself in the process.

“I really surprised myself with my strength, with my outlook,” she said. “Way into my chemo I somehow hosted 25 people for Thanksgiving dinner, and looking back on it now, I don’t even know how I did it.”

Lovetere said she was also lucky to have an incredible support system that included her family, friends, and coworkers, who were there for her every step of the way. She said it was the little things, like her kids — Matt, 31, Billy, 27, and Maggie, 23 — all coming over for Wednesday night taco feasts, that kept her going through that brutal fall and winter.

Lovetere also credits her faith in God, which had always been strong but grew considerably throughout her cancer battle. “I’m not a churchgoing person,” she said, “but I have this huge amount of faith in God and I never felt like I was alone.”

***

Eight months after her initial diagnosis, on April 4, 2014, Lovetere walked out of Dana Farber after her final radiation treatment with a big smile on her face. “That was the day I considered myself and the doctors considered me cancer free.”

That was also the day that she decided to keep a journal, and nearly every day since she has written down five things that she is grateful for. Many of those lists are filled with the people in her life — everyone from her husband, Peter, who recently completed the 39-mile Avon Walk to End Breast Cancer by himself as a show of support, to her hairdresser Maria, who brought a group of women from her church over to Lovetere’s home to pray over her during her darkest days of chemotherapy.

Lovetere is also grateful for new experiences, and especially those that she gets to share with her family. Just recently, in fact, she and Peter, their three children, and Billy’s girlfriend Katie enjoyed two weeks in San Francisco, Big Sur and Yosemite on what Lovetere described as the “trip of a lifetime.”

“We called it the ‘celebration of life,’” she said.

There have been other memorable experiences as well over the past 18 months, including the Falmouth Road Race in August, which her children ran on behalf of Canton-based We Beat Cancer, and the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk in September, which the entire family took part in as members of Tara Shuman’s wildly successful “Team Tara,” which raised an astounding $125,000 to fund cancer research at the Dana Farber.

Lovetere said that walk was particularly emotional for her because it passed by the building that her mother had passed away in. While she was at Dana Farber, she could see the very room that her mother had been in nearly 20 years earlier, and she avoided even looking in that direction for the duration of her visits.

When she finally got the strength to look up at that room while on the Jimmy Fund Walk, Lovetere said it was “really emotional but really uplifting at the same time.”

“I think that’s what cancer does, at least to me and a lot of women that I’ve met,” she said. “It gives you this strength that you didn’t even know you had. And it was during my cancer when I finally made peace with my mom’s passing.”

***

As she wraps up her second cancer-free October, Lovetere can’t help but marvel at the tremendous strides that have been made in the fight against breast cancer.

The same is true, meanwhile, of Lovetere’s personal cancer battle. In fact, earlier this month she had her most recent mammogram and everything was clear. She had been going every six months, but the doctors told her on October 13 that they don’t need to see her for another year.

For the most part, Lovetere has been able to stay positive and tries to take everything “one day at a time.” Yet she does have her moments when she thinks about the cancer and worries that it might come back.

“I think it does change you,” she said, “and as much as I don’t want to think about it, I still do from time to time.”

Lovetere said she tries hard not to look too far into the future. But she also promised herself that she wouldn’t hide from her feelings and would be open about it with her children, and especially her only daughter Maggie.

“When my mom was dying, cancer was something you didn’t speak about,” she said. “But when I was diagnosed I wanted my kids to know all about it. I wanted them to see that I was okay with everything, and to know that you can use your mind and your strength and you don’t have to be afraid.”

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