It’s a word we never want to hear. When Kathleen “Kathy” Weber, NNP-BC, MSN, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014, she was convinced she wouldn’t survive. Kathy was fortunate that her cancer was found early, at Stage 1a. Now, cancer-free after six years of clean scans, her story is one of hope and inspiration.
Carrying the torch and keeping the faith
Kathy’s mother, MaryEllen Honeyfield, was one of the first neonatal nurse practitioners (NNP) in the country and retired from MEDNAX last year at the age of 75. With her mother’s legacy before her, Kathy initially chose business for her career path. Her mom encouraged her to pursue health care administration, which ultimately led her to patient care. Initially a pediatric intensive care nurse, she began picking up extra shifts in the NICU, where she further developed a love for nursing and taking care of babies.
As a Christian, faith keeps Kathy going. She knows her purpose in life is to care for and show compassion to others. She enjoys building relationships with families while working through a crisis and gets joy out of making a difference in their lives. Working in a Level II unit, providing intensive care for sick and premature infants, these connections are even stronger for her. As an advanced practitioner, she can practice independently with support from physician liaisons, which fits her personality and strengths. She knows that for those expecting or with young babies, the possibility of working with a neonatal nurse practitioner is the last thing on their minds, but she is grateful she can serve families in their time of need.
Having found her niche, the last thing on Kathy’s mind in 2014 was a cancer diagnosis. Always attuned to her health, she knew an issue with her shoulder—pain and immobility—was not to be taken lightly. She was persistent in determining the cause, which eventually led to her cancer diagnosis and a right-upper lobectomy. Free of the disease, she now devotes her time and clinical knowledge to others. Working with the Denver-based International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), she has become an advocate in her community and beyond, traveling the world to participate in the IASLC World Conference on Lung Cancer. There are two discussion points Kathy wants to educate others about:
- Lung cancer kills more men and women than any other cancer, accounting for about 25% of all cancer deaths.
- Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.
As a practitioner who leans on research every day, Kathy quickly realized there was a lack of educational outreach on lung cancer. Organizations looking to assist patients on their journey are underfunded, which contributes to the disease’s stigma. Through her journey, Kathy has learned that lung cancer research provides hope to lung cancer patients around the world. Advocating for early detection research and an end to the stigma surrounding lung cancer is no longer just a dream for Kathy and organizations like the IASLC—they’re putting words into action every day. Kathy’s lung cancer was found serendipitously, and she knows how fortunate she was to be diagnosed at an early stage and to be now considered “cured.” She continues to share her knowledge and experience so that others can achieve the same outcome.
Surviving and thriving
During her cancer diagnosis and treatment, Kathy’s son was young, and she was uncertain of the impact it would have on his life. Always concerned about others, her survival has made her even more compassionate. It’s allowed her the perspective to no longer get hung up on small issues. She sees the world differently now and has more compassion when approaching death. She carries this knowledge forward and often walks hand in hand with other cancer patients or NICU parents in her community. Working at a Christian hospital, Kathy prays with her patients—it’s even encouraged by hospital leadership. Applying her faith and her personal experience, she’s able to supplement the care she provides as an NNP.
Throughout her journey, Kathy has understood that life is about choices, and choices belong to each individual. Maturing as a practitioner, she’s learned to adjust her expectations and knows her job is to give and explain options. “None of us know what we would do or how we would react until something happens to us,” she explains. Even when cases seem hopeless, it falls on her to provide some level of hope. Having hope was imperative in her personal story, and she now lives to provide hope for others.
Her goal is and always has been to look at longevity. Kathy has a shared goal with her NICU colleagues to enjoy life to the fullest. The team supports each other and the need to take care of themselves, as well as others.
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