Survivor shares story at Steve’s Run

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Katie Hess, a breast cancer survivor, speaks to a crowd of runners and walkers at the annual Steve’s Run Saturday. (Submitted photo)

Katie Hess, a breast cancer survivor, speaks to a crowd of runners and walkers at the annual Steve’s Run Saturday. (Submitted photo)

A third of her life ago, when Katie (Jones) Hess was 24, “Life was great. I was dating my boyfriend, Adam. I had a great job. I saw great things in the future and didn’t think anything bad was going to happen.”

Then came her August 2003 breast cancer diagnosis.

“We had no family history, so it was quite a shock to even face something like that,” she recalled July 25 as keynote speaker at the 41st Steve’s Run on Southwestern Michigan College’s Dowagiac campus.

Initially, a doctor told her not to worry because of her age, but referred her to a surgeon for consultation.

“He decided to do the biopsy and gave me the diagnosis” of an aggressive stage-three form of breast cancer that had invaded her lymph nodes, Hess said during the award ceremony state Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, WNDU reporter and anchor Christine Karsten and Fifth Third Bank Vice President Randy Reimers conducted in SMC’s Alumni Plaza.

“That meeting was quite a blur,” she said. “I don’t remember much other than some options I had, which didn’t make sense at the time because this was completely foreign to me. I do remember him talking about different surgeries and things I would have to do. I told him I never thought at this point in my life, or any point, I would have a boob job. He did not know how to take me.”

But her sense of humor proved pivotal in becoming a cancer survivor sharing her story 12 years later.

“From that point,” Hess said, “I decided to face the entire thing with humor and determination. I wasn’t going to let it get me down. My now-husband was with me every step of the way. Instead of leaving, he proposed. We spent the course of my treatment planning our wedding. We married one year to the date I had my first chemo treatment.

“When we got married,” Hess said, “I had already been told there was no more sign of cancer. I was done with treatments. I did have to get married bald. I wore a wig, which is not really every little girl’s dream for her wedding planning. But the only thing that mattered when we got married was that we had a future together.”

Starting their family was never guaranteed.

“Chemo put me into early menopause, so we never knew if we would be able to have children,” she said,” but they have three daughters, Hailey, 7; Allison, 4; and Adrienne, 2.

The girls are “my main reason for getting the courage to speak up to raise awareness and money for finding a cure,” Hess said. “I don’t want them to have to face the same things.”

Steve’s Run proceeds are divided between the Steven Briegel Scholarship Foundation and cancer research funded by the Mayo Clinic, represented by Major Gift Officer Mary Schmidt.

“Going through cancer did a lot to me,” Hess said. “I’d be lying if I said I was confident the entire time that I would make it — but I did. I had amazing doctors and amazing family and friends who stood by me the entire time. I am truly honored to be standing here, talking to all of you.”

Hess started in graphic design at SMC in the fall of 1998, changing her major to elementary education.

The Dowagiac native lives in St. Joseph and is employed as a Department of Human Services caseworker in Benton Harbor.

Joining Katie on the flag-festooned plaza steps were other cancer survivors, including her mother, diagnosed in 2012.