“In sickness and in health.”
That line was in the wedding vows Bud and Kathy Watkins professed to one another 31 years ago. Never could the rural Bellefontaine couple have envisioned just how prophetic it would be. After living a healthy first quarter-century together, both Bud and Kathy were stricken with violent forms of cancer four years ago. It’s affected their lifestyle and depleted their savings. Through it all, the couple maintains an incredible positive attitude and devotion to one another.
“We make all kinds of jokes about it,” said Kathy with a resigned smile. “We put the ‘can’ in cancer. And the family ‘that cancers together’ stays together.”
The reality is no laughing matter. Kathy, owner of the award-winning Razz M Tazz Dance Studio, started with a case of whooping cough around Christmas four years ago that landed her in the hospital. It was there where doctors discovered she had ovarian cancer and removed a watermelon-sized mast. Since then, she’s been plagued with issues from a wound vac, endless rounds of chemotherapy, and multiple side effects. Almost simultaneous to Kathy’s diagnosis, Bud started getting scratchy rashes and blotches on his arms and legs that he says felt like a million bee stings.
“I used every hand cream, every lotion,” he said. But no relief. On the same day a determined Kathy rehabbed enough to walk in the 2015 Logan County Relay for Life, Bud found out he has a rare condition known as CTCL T-cell lymphoma.
“I finally got better, and he got way worse,” said Kathy. “He could hardly walk. So as soon as I was well, then I was the caregiver. Then turn around and in 2017, I’m feeling the best I’ve been in a long time and I go in for a checkup and my numbers are back up. I have cancer again. So here we go again.”
They’ve endured sleepless nights together because the pain has been so great. They plan to one day volunteer at the James Cancer Center at Ohio State University because “we know every inch of that hospital.”
They spent nights there together too, but while admitted to separate rooms on separate floors. Bud says the nurses would let him sneak up the elevator to visit his wife for a few hours. They’ve made so many trips back and forth to Columbus that their van broke down.
Help from county Cancer Society and United Way
Through it all, the Logan County Cancer Society, a United Way Funded Agency, has been there to provide financial and emotional support.
“Our insurance would cover only so much of our materials, but then the next piece, it wouldn’t cover,” said Bud, choking back tears. “And that’s when I met Jane Riggs and Carole Barrett. And they said, let us help you. And they gave us $300 a month to help with supplies. Bandages. That’s like gold around here. Kathy was drinking Ensure. They helped pay for that. They got us signed up for gas cards. Only two times did we have to pay for gas to get to treatments.”
The Watkins are two of more than 200 clients served last year by the Logan County Cancer Society. Since 1956, the organization has been assisting local cancer patients and their families with direct costs associated with treatment. Patients can receive vouchers or reimbursement for prescriptions, supplies, wigs, prosthesis, equipment, travel expenses, bras, and emergency financial assistance.
Incredibly, the Logan County Cancer Society incurs no operational costs because the entity is administered entirely by the Care Coordination staff at Mary Rutan Hospital, which devotes approximately nine hours of work time each week to cancer patients. United Way is allocating $32,381 to the Logan County Cancer Society in 2018.
“Yeah, we give back through United Way and we all have given or done something,” said Bud. “But here’s the thing. It might be YOU that needs it one day. I don’t care how good your insurance is. I don’t care how good you think you’re prepared for life and retirement or whatever it might be. If United Way and the Logan County Cancer Society couldn’t help us, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Bud and Kathy make time for us on a sunny spring afternoon before heading to the hospital to get Bud’s latest sores examined. They have a whiteboard hanging in their kitchen to keep track of dozens of appointments and doctors’ visits.
“I just want to be able to mow my yard,” said Bud. “Just to able to go in and take a shower without having to be bandaged and re-bandaged. I lost my hair. It never looked that good to begin with. But it just feels kind of weird. She lost her hair. You don’t think that’s a big deal? Well, that’s a big deal.”
“But we did it together,” said Kathy.
And with YOUR help from your United Way gift.
Dave Bezusko is Executive Director of United Way of Logan County.