Kathy Angerman stopped climbing the 12-foot ladder to clean the cathedral ceilings at home because her grown children kept insisting it was getting too dangerous.
She responded by pulling out her smaller, 8-foot ladder to put up, and later take down, the Christmas wreath and other holiday decorations high above the fireplace.
Pleural mesothelioma may have changed her life, but it didn’t steal her love of life or her incessant sense of adventure.
“I don’t know what my children would do now if they knew I was still getting up on the ladder,” Angerman said with a laugh. “But I had to get my wreath up this year somehow. And I was careful.”
The portable oxygen tank at her side slows her pace today. She no longer takes those cross-country bus trips she once enjoyed so much. But it hasn’t dimmed her get-up-and-go attitude, or that inspiring streak of independence that always has defined her.
Instead of bemoaning a cancer that engulfed her, she celebrated the five-year survival mark (from first diagnosis) last fall in much the same way she will celebrate the five-year anniversary of the life-saving surgery later this month. She plans to celebrate again in March, marking one full year without chemotherapy.
“I’ll just make myself an Old Fashioned to celebrate,” Angerman said. “I make a lot of excuses now to celebrate my life.”
And with good reason.
Angerman turns 72 in February and believes anything is possible through faith in God and finding good doctors.
“I’m a walking miracle,” she said. “We all know mesothelioma doesn’t stop by itself, and that chemotherapy only does so much for so long. So there’s really no other way to explain what has happened, except that God has been good to me.”
The last two CT scans have shown no new tumor growth, which left her elated yet still cautious about her future. Her next checkup comes in late March.
Angerman, who lives 30 minutes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was diagnosed originally on Aug. 30, 2010. She had the aggressive pleurectomy surgery in January 2011. After a lengthy recovery, she spent much of 2012 traveling by bus across the U.S., seeing places she always wanted to visit.
She heard live jazz in New Orleans, then country music in Nashville, Tennessee. She ate barbecue in Memphis and watched the Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri. She traveled alone, and made new friends along the way.
When the cancer started growing again in 2013, she enrolled in an immunotherapy drug clinical trial at the University of Chicago Medical Center, which stopped the growth for about six months.
She restarted chemotherapy in March 2014, but after a year of no tumor growth, she stopped, weary of how worn down it made her feel. She is livelier now, despite the arthritis in her hips that never subsides.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do if or when the doctor tells me the cancer is growing again,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m turning 72 soon. I never thought I’d get to 70. The oxygen, that’s a pain in the neck, having to drag it around everywhere, but it hasn’t stopped me yet.”
She still takes day trips with various groups, does her own grocery shopping, and visits Walmart and Target, among other stores. Although she walks slowly, she still drives fast.
“I only go to stores that have carts because I have to lean on something and need somewhere to put my oxygen tank,” Angerman said. “I still have to get out and do things every day. The more I do for myself, the better I feel. It gives me more self-esteem when I’m doing for myself. And that keeps me going.”
Angerman has lived alone for several years. Her kids are grown and raising their own families. The former husband is long gone. She has kept a careful journal of doctor visits, prescriptions and treatment options, taking notes and continually asking questions.
Although her children and friends have been supportive throughout, she has made her own well thought out health care decisions.
It was her insistence on a second opinion after her original oncologist gave her less than a year to live and insisted chemotherapy and radiation were her only choices. She found and selected her surgeon at the Carbone Cancer Center at the nearby university.
She is pondering another clinical trial in Chicago today. At issue might be the three-hour drive each way. The son, who drove her to Chicago for each treatment earlier, accepted an out-of-state job. Yet Angerman doesn’t sit home and worry and wait.
“You can’t just give up, sit on a chair, watch TV and accept what’s going to happen. I understand people and family always wanting to help. I need help with some things now and everyone is so nice, but there are a lot of things I can do for myself,” she said. “And that’s good.”
The Christmas decorations stayed up a little longer this year and getting the ladder out wasn’t as easy as it once was. She asked a neighbor to hold it this time. Something she never would have done before.
“I can’t afford to fall off the ladder and break a hip,” she said. “I have to be careful and move slow. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go up there again.”