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Defeating the Beast: Cathy Schultz’s Battle against Ovarian Cancer

Mitchell Lierman

April 24, 2019

In Cathy Schultz’s battle against cancer, the community and school rallied to join in her efforts to “Defeat the Beast.”

            With several rounds of fundraising ranging from student-staff softball games, to homecoming proceeds, to taco boat night at the high school, Cathy felt the love and support from the community in her struggle against ovarian cancer. When she received her last check to the tune of 780 dollars and “All You Need is Love” by the Beatle’s (one of Schultz’s favorite bands), she delivered an inspirational message through tears to the crowd of that January night’s basketball game. “Be kind. Always be kind.”

            Schultz’s cancer battle began as so many others do: she originally thought nothing of the symptoms. “I was tired and I couldn’t eat. I just thought it was gas pains, or maybe I needed to improve my diet,” Schultz said in an interview. After the pains became too much, she went to see her doctor May 3, 2018 to see what was causing her so much discomfort.

            The doctor’s originally tested her for diverticulitis and appendicitis, but findings from her first MRI exam were inconclusive. Her doctor gave her a prescription for Linzess to help her deal with the pain.

“Within two weeks, I couldn’t breathe. I called and said I had to get off the Linzess, it just wasn’t right. We finally got approved through insurance for a CAT scan after that.” Upon further testing, CAT scans revealed several tumors. “I lit up like a Christmas tree,” Schultz said. She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. “My husband and I drove back, and I immediately gave it to God.”

            Doctors tried to operate on the tumor, but during the surgery they realized they could not remove the tumor without first reducing its size. They put Schultz onto chemotherapy to combat the tumor until it could be safely operated on. When they first put Schultz onto the chemo regimen, they gave her a tumor marker reading of 950- the average person (i.e., somebody without cancer) has readings that hover around 35.

            The period between surgeries was rough on Schultz. On her first day back from the hospital, her incision from the surgery burst after she had taken her first round of chemo. She was put on a wound vac, unable to eat or drink for two weeks. “I have no recollection of this, that’s how sick I was.”

Schultz was scheduled for three chemos, a CAT scan, and then three more chemos, with doctors testing for tumor markers after each round. The first round of therapy brought the test readings to 300, a 650 point reduction from the previous round. Schultz was excited by the progress, she said. “We had so much energy.”

But as the therapies continued, the effects of the drugs began to dampen. By the third round, her markers had actually increased. “My oncologist just shook his head and said, ‘Cathy, you don’t feel good do you?’ And all I could do was tell him no.”

“There were some dark, dark times there. It was the uncertainty of what’s going to happen, and family- but faith. I had to tell myself that God is here.” Schult’z faith helped her battle the disease. 

“One of last year’s seniors stopped by to visit me one afternoon, and he just said that God had told him to come and see me. We had an amazing visit,” she stated.

 

Schultz said that her visitors were God’s way of showing his presence in her life. “He is here, and he shows me all kinds of signs.” Schultz recounted several signs that she saw that God was with her, including a heart shaped crack in a sidewalk.

            “I was happy to see them, and we talked about just everyday stuff. I don’t like to do the weepy crying, it doesn’t help me.”

Schultz believes that God is the main reason she is still here today. “There were a lot of things, my doctors, the medicine, the school, my family, my faith, my husband. But the main reason is God; he still wants me here.”

“I’ve gotten to this point now, what do you want me to do?” Schultz recalled asking in prayer one night. “And I’ve signed a contract for next year.”

Going forward, Schultz will always have stage 4 ovarian cancer, but thanks to medical advances in drugs, it will likely remain non-life threatening.  “It’s livable. There are people who live for 15-20 years with this. And I’m shooting for 20.”

Schultz will be on a PARP inhibitor for the rest of her life, a drug that helps prevent tumors from developing and returning. In clinical studies, the drugs proved to be 70% effective. “Doctors have said that ovarian cancer will be completely livable within our lifetime,” Schultz said.

“I’m mentally ready to come back,” Schultz continued, “but physically, my body is going to have to do some catching up.” Schultz plans to walk to gain the strength she needs to teach next fall. “I was walking a mile, but now it’s like I’ve been sitting in a chair for almost a year. So this summer I’m going to download some Rocky music and just keep on going.”

 

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