"I was shocked when I got the call from Beth; she had breast cancer. I wanted to cry."
But she couldn’t, she needed to be strong for her twin sister, and that’s what Kit Marshall, mayor of Aledo, was determined to be.
This year about 564,800 Americans are expected to die of cancer—that’s more than 1,500 people a day, according to the American Cancer Society.
Statistics like these are staggering, but almost forgettable, until it affects someone personally. For Kit it was real and the yearning to be with her sister was made more difficult because she and her husband were missionaries in Africa.
"I couldn't reach out and hug her," Kit said. "She had traveled from Zambia to South Africa for a check up. She told me that the surgeon wanted to schedule her for a double mastectomy the next week. I was flabbergasted."
Kit asked more questions and then asked her sister to "put on the brakes" and seek a second opinion from a doctor who specialized in breast disease.
"She did, and after further tests, began chemotherapy," Kit said. "She also reached out to Dr. Ray Page for an opinion because we knew him and his family and she was coming back to the States for further assessment and treatment."
Kit said working with Dr. Page was tremendous, that he and Sheila were "rocks" during a tumultuous journey.
"He did further tests and the diagnosis changed to lung cancer that presented in her breast; not the norm," Kit said. "We got the news while she and I sat on the tarmac waiting to fly to North Carolina to help our other sister, Laura, with her son's rehearsal dinner. The busyness of the weekend was God's timing in coping."
Kit said she cried privately but was "stalwart" for family.
"I sat with Beth during some of her chemo treatments and we turned those times into party times at the ‘beach.’" Kit said. "Careity offered support to us and chemo massage during some of her treatments. Beth's sense of humor was infectious for others in treatment. We prayed a lot and hugged often. It was painful but we lived life."
Beth was diagnosed in January 2010. The cancer was arrested twice and Kit decided to travel back to Lusaka, Zambia with Beth to see her home and country. It was a trip of a lifetime with many sweet memories of the places Beth and her husband David, took her.
"It was sobering in July of 2013, when David called and said he was trying to get them back to the States because Beth was in trouble with her breathing," Kit recalled. "By the grace of God they made it. It was the longest drive to Weatherford with a portable O2 bottle. She was admitted to Weatherford Regional for stabilization while I dashed to Aledo to open our FirstFriday event and tape a segment for Gallows Road."
Kit said she rearranged her schedule and spent as much time with Beth as she could.
"She asked me if I was alright if she died in my house should God not miraculously heal her, or she could go to a hospice facility... I almost lost it," Kit said. "She stayed."
Kit said watching how she handled her family was thought provoking, as well as her statement at one point, "Kit, I just want to be found faithful."
Beth died on Aug. 28, 2013.
Before Beth ever knew of her impending battle with cancer, Kit too, was forced to take evasive measures when she discovered a lump on her breast.
"I found a lump in my breast while on a business trip the day before Thanksgiving 2002," she said. "It wasn’t until the week of my birthday, in March 2003, when I was diagnosed with DCIS due to many tests with inconclusive results. Shocking? Yes." (Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast and is considered the earliest form of breast cancer.)
There was no history of cancer in her family. Kit said she gave herself 30 minutes to process the news before calling her parents who were in North Carolina taking care of her grandmother and her daughter Stephanie who was a college sophomore.
"Stephanie overwhelmed me with her supportive and encouraging response when I thought I might have to bolster her," Kit said. "I waited to tell our son until after he got home from school. He was a senior in college.
Kit said his first question hit her between the eyes, "Mom, are you going to die?"
"An emphatic no emitted from my lips and I knew then that the best thing I could do was involve him in my treatment decisions," she said. Driving home after that appointment was yet another challenge emotionally as I realized my life was forever changed."
Fortunately, it was early enough that she had options. Kit had a lumpectomy and multiple rounds of radiation which she finished the day after he graduated. It was a double celebration, she said.
"It took a while to share because I wasn't enduring chemotherapy or mastectomy and so I wasn't as impacted," Kit said. "Oh, but I was; you don't have almost three dozen rounds of radiation for a cold, broken fingernail, or anything else but breast cancer."
Kit said she learned the importance of doing her own research and being involved in the decision making process for her treatment.
"I learned to be cautious in whom I talked to during my journey because there are those who will take you down to the pits of despair with their stories," she said. "Hope and encouragement are the needed ingredient, not despair. Support from family, church and friends was endless as I clung to God and my faith."
Kit said her prayer afterward was, "God, when you know I am ready, use my story to help and encourage others who trod this path of cancer." And He has, she said.