Mark Twain said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. Yep, that was Kasey Swartz alright. Kasey recently lost her battle with cancer. But man, what a fight it was! My first interaction with Kasey, we offered assistance through our Y’s Men program. She said that she was very grateful, but could she share it with someone that needed it more than her? That pretty much told me all that I needed to know about Kasey..she always thought of her family or others first. Kasey was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in January 2012, stage four breast cancer in 2013, was proclaimed cancer free in 2015, then in July 2016 it was back. What a heartbreaking road for a young woman with a small child and a husband.
But she didn’t want you to focus on that, ever. She wrote blogs, she spoke out about her fight against cancer- driving others to fight, she spent time with other cancer patients, she talked to any and everyone that wanted to talk to her. She raised Cambria in a world where “cancer sucked” (as Cami would say) but she had the best mom ever and the most wonderful experiences. She loved fiercely- her husband, her daughter, her family and her friends. She loved to dress sassy and was obsessed with shoes. She wanted to learn, experience and share all that she could. She laughed, cried, screamed and shouted. She was happy, sad, and angry at times. She craved normalcy. When she started work at the YMCA, she just bubbled over in happiness. I began to get to know Kasey a little better-we would text back and forth at night telling our stories to each other. I shared my mom’s battle with cancer with her, the murder of my best friend Karen with her, and of course my story about surviving childhood sexual abuse. One night after swapping stories, she told me that I was one of the bravest people that she knew. That she was inspired by me. “By me? You must be crazy-look at the fight you are in!” I said. She wouldn’t change her stance on that- so we agreed that we were both fighting something terrible. That too, told me a great deal about Kasey’s character.
As her role changed and she moved into the administrative assistant role, I had to take a step back as she now reported to me. It was very difficult, because by this time, we had shared a lot of things with each other. Sometimes I felt very conflicted about addressing things with her, but she insisted on being treated like everyone else. She always wanted to learn something new, ask questions, or share ideas. Sometimes it was hard to focus on what she was telling me because she would jump from one conversation to the next then back to the previous conversation. She never complained to others about feeling bad; she would come ask me if she could leave and even that was a rarity. One day she was very dizzy but decided that she would drive herself home anyway. She allowed me to follow her to the front gate of the base and told me “if something happens between here and my house they can get me there, don’t worry”.
One of the first days that Cambria went to kindergarten, Kasey came to work and she was out of sorts. This was unusual for her. A few minutes went by and she came into my office and started to cry. She and Cambria had a struggle getting ready for school and ended up being late. Kasey was beating herself up for leaving Cambria at school after they had argued. I told her to go back to the school and talk to Cambria. She didn’t know if they would let her. I told her that I felt like they would understand because of her circumstances. What circumstances? She asked. Uh, you have cancer? I said. “ oh. That? Well, I don’t want them feeling sorry for me so most of them don’t know anything about it” What?? Not too long after that, the headaches got worse and she had to go into the hospital. A couple of days after she had been in the hospital, she called me. Talking a million miles a minute! “My head feels so much better! And my vision is a lot better! I’m coming home tomorrow!” The next morning, I got what would end up being the last message I would ever get from Kasey. “Staying another night. Getting a spinal tap” with a frowning emoji. That was on December 8…..and she passed away about 5 weeks later on January 15. There’s a lot in her dash…the dash between when she was born and when she passed away.. April 23, 1987-January 15, 2017. And with her passing, there were many, many people that were sad and grieving. I don’t think she ever realized the impact she had on so many. I know that just in the short amount of time that I knew her, she impacted me. Not only impacted me, but left a permanent imprint on my heart.
Kasey’s office space is right as you come in the door to the YMCA. She would always smile and speak to everyone. On the glass behind her desk, she had artwork from Cambria, Cambria’s soccer pictures, information on a cancer support group, a flyer from Cures for the Colors and a Child Abuse Prevention Month Pinwheel. In her desk there’s dum dum pops, slippers, a heating pad, gloves, snacks…and the list goes on and on..so much life just in that little space. The week before she passed away, I finally took a look to make sure that there wasn’t a lap top or anything that needed to be secured, but just didn’t have the heart to even really look at anything else. In fact, I didn’t know the contents of her desk drawers until today. We were all praying for a miracle. The miracle came, but not the one we hoped for. The miracle came in that she is no longer in pain and her body is whole again. She is bouncing all over Heaven trying to see all that she can see! My heart aches for Cambria, Alec and her family. But they will all be together again.
So…it’s not the size of the dog in the fight…it’s the size of the fight in the dog. But sometimes winning that fight is going to a place where your body is healed and the cancer is no more.
Matthew 5:14-16 Amplified Bible (AMP)
14 “You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven.
2 Timothy 4:7Amplified Bible (AMP)
7 I have fought the good and worthy and noble fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [firmly guarding the gospel against error].