Beating the Big C


Kat Kollegger, Co-Sports Editor

Five years ago, as registered nurse and teacher Catherine Lawson stood in a Wando hallway, she wasn’t sure if she would be around for five more.

“I was standing in Medical Terminology in fourth block in Mrs. [Julia] Dewitt’s room in H hall and my phone rings,” Lawson said.

As Lawson answered the phone, she had a hunch the voice on the other end might tell her exactly what she didn’t want to hear.

“The weird thing is I knew I had cancer,” she said. “Julia Dewitt was in there and she knew I was expecting the phone call, so I asked her ‘Do you mind if I step out?’ So my doctor goes ‘Yup. It’s cancer with micro-infiltration of one lymph node. So now you get the full breast cancer experience. You’ll have to have chemo, you get to have radiation, all of that. The good news is it’s a more treatable type than the other type,”  

Lawson knew the diagnoses meant lots of treatment and a long road to recovery.

“It wasn’t really the cancer diagnoses that upset me so much, it was the fact that we missed it and let it get into my lymph nodes,” she said.

With news of her condition Lawson praises her husband, children and co-workers for their support during her fight. “They were sad, but so supportive,” she said. “Having a strong support system makes a huge difference.”

Lawson was by no means alone during her struggle with cancer. She fought alongside three others who she praises for helping her feel strong and coaching herself through difficult periods. “My friend Joe Kutcher was going through cancer at the same time, as well as Rachel Edwards. I read in the school paper as I was waiting to get chemo one day and I saw the stories about Joe and Rachel. So I was like ‘Oh. Well I can do this,” Lawson said.

“Joe Kutcher [a math teacher] was a good friend of mine and whenever I’d be feeling bad I would think, ‘What would Joe do? He would come to school.’ And really coming to school and going to work helped me,” she continued. “I didn’t want to just sit at home; that made me feel like a patient and I didn’t want to feel like a patient, I wanted to work.”

Lawson credits her husband as being the one of the most loving and supportive through the six month battle. Perrin Lawson was surprised by his wife’s cancer diagnoses, but was determined to do everything he could to support her and get her back to normal.

“I just tried to be positive and upbeat,” Mr. Lawson said. “She made it easy, since she’s a very strong person and never complained.”  

“I had every reason to believe that her treatment would be successful, and never doubted that it would be.  Her medical background meant that she knew which questions to ask and what to expect every step of the way,” he said.

The couple fed off each other’s positive energy to work through difficult stretches; like when Lawson had her head shaved.

“When I went to have my head shaved, that was was probably the weirdest things and other than having chemo and feeling bad, probably one of the worst things,” she said.“So I had it shaved and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, but my husband walked around the corner and goes ‘Oh, I think you look cute!’ so then I was like okay I’m good now. He’s so sweet.”

Mr. Lawson recalled seeing his wife for the first time with a shaved head.

“I thought she looked fantastic! She looked just like Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien.  She was actually joking around with everyone in the salon while they shaved her head,” he said.

Ironically, Mr.Lawson was diagnosed with prostate cancer midway through his wife’s treatment.

“He asked if he should be worried about his prostate biopsy and I was like ‘Oh please Perrin. Really what are the chances?’ Some famous last words… I was like ‘you gotta be kidding me,’” Lawson said.

Mr. Lawson was shocked by his own diagnosis. “My wife said ‘what are the odds that we’d both have cancer at the same time?'”  

Mercifully, both husband and wife received treatment that led to being cancer free. While the journey was a challenging one, Mr. Lawson is grateful to have made the cancer journey alongside his wife and pleased with the outcome they experienced.

It certainly brought us even closer together.  We’d never really had anything serious happen in our immediate family, while so many people that we knew had.  Every family faces challenges sooner or later,  and this just happened to be ours,” he said.

Even five years out, breast cancer changed Lawson’s outlook on life as well as her self image. Being a registered nurse meant Lawson was used to caring for others, not being cared for.

“It made me the patient. I had lots of doctors and lots of appointments,” she said.

But after being a patient for six months, Lawson felt herself able to understand patients and survivors easier.

“I can relate to people differently now. I’ve been there, so I understand,” she said.

By self coaching, Lawson said she was able to push herself through treatment.

“I wanted to know what was the worst case scenario, and then I convinced myself that I could handle that,” she said, encouraging others going through the fight to try and do the same thing.

She stresses the importance of remaining positive and strong during cancer treatment.

“Her attitude was very positive right from the beginning. She had complete confidence in her surgeon and oncologist. Through it all she kept her great sense of humor, even when she was feeling horrible. She made it clear that she had no intention of leaving me without a wife, or our daughters without a mother,” Mr. Lawson said.

Five years post-cancer, Lawson is doing well and continuing to teach Health Science and Medical Terminology at Wando. She is grateful for her outcome, and hopes other patients can get the same experience.

“It feels so good,” Mrs. Lawson said.

Going through cancer makes you appreciate life that much more,” Mr. Lawson said.