Refusal to quit pays off for local cancer survivor

LIFE GOES ON … Kristy LeBlanc says determination and a positive attitude were the key components in her survival from colon cancer. The 39-year-old White Castle resident is the Honorary Survivor for the 2010 Relay for Life, set for Friday at COPAC Stadium.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written for the POST SOUTH by former Editor John Dupont as a service to the American Cancer Society and people he knows in the community.)

A White Castle lady will soon embark on a path toward a promising career, one year after her life took an unexpected detour.

Kristy LeBlanc will enter the nursing field later this spring, less than six months after her final treatment for colon cancer.

The 1988 graduate of White Castle High School, meanwhile, wants to prove to others that life can continue after cancer.

She will serve as an Honorary Survivor for the 13th annual Relay for Life on Friday at COPAC Field. Festivities run from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m. Saturday.

It marks a new chapter for LeBlanc, who was diagnosed last June. The diagnosis came as she prepared for her final exams from nursing school.

“Everyone thought I was just nervous about the finals, but I knew something wasn’t right,” said LeBlanc, 39. “I was supposed to start working in June at Our Lady of the Lake – instead, I had surgery.”

Surgeons re-sectioned her colon after they detected two positive lymph nodes.

Constant aches and pains prompted LeBlanc to undergo the examinations that led to the findings.

“A lot of times, cancer symptoms can be so vague,” she said. “People don’t run to the doctor with every ache and pain.”

She learned of the findings while in recovery, when she overheard nurses saying “they found something”.

At the same time, her father (Roy Savoy) had been hospitalized for a quadruple heart bypass.

“I wasn’t thinking about my cancer – I was thinking about my dad,” LeBlanc said. “I think my mom and dad took it harder than me about me having to get chemotherapy.”

LeBlanc said she took her situation in stride.

“God gives you the strength to handle it, I guess,” she said. “I was always the strong one in the family, probably because of my work in healthcare at the Nephrology Unit of Our Lady of the Lake, I never asked ‘Why me?”

The chemotherapy was perhaps the most challenging part of her illness, but she said others probably struggle more.

“Just going through it at my age, I feel for older people – the rough stuff beats you down, for sure,” LeBlanc said. “Younger people probably have it harder, though, because of the nausea.”

The chemotherapy posed challenges not only for her, but also for her husband of 18 years, Kim LeBlanc, and their seven-year-old daughter Chloe.

Her husband, along with her parents, took on most of the daily chores while Kristy fended off the treatment’s side effects.

Not once did she consider that she believe she would not overcome the cancer.

“After waiting ten years to have a child, I knew I wasn’t going to give up easy,” LeBlanc said. “I kept telling myself I’m going to be here.”

At the same time, she’s found great inspiration from them – even Chloe.

“She was so excited when I finished chemo,” LeBlanc said. “I had the chemo on a Wednesday, then they hooked me to a pump for two days and disconnected it from me on a Friday.

“I got a certificate at the end of the chemo, and my daughter told everyone she was so excited because her mom graduated from chemo,” she said.

Her husband, a cane farmer, was in the middle of grinding season when she underwent chemo.

In the midst of the grueling labor, he took care of Chloe and brought her to school each day at St. John Elementary.

“I had great support … everyone worked as a team,” Kristy said. “Sometimes you don’t realize how great your family is until you’re in a bind.”

Her father was her “chemo buddy”, bringing her to the treatments while Kim was working. Her mother, Louise Savoy, would often bring cookies for people in the doctor’s office while they were waiting for Kristy.

Attitude probably played the greatest role in her survival, LeBlanc said.

“I had great friends, family and support,” she said. “I never got sad – I only saw it as a temporary setback.”

Next on her agenda will be employee orientation after the May graduation. But in the meantime, she keeps busy volunteering her time to the American Cancer Society.

LeBlanc did a promo interview with WJBO radio last week.

She has also spent time at the State Capitol trying to convince lawmakers to increase funding for colon screenings.

FITCO (Fit Colon Project) provides funding to offer colon cancer screenings for the uninsured and under-insured.

The state originally funneled $1.5 million to the program, but has since scaled back to $300,000.

The program is set to end this year, but she and lawmakers are pushing for restoration of the $1.5 million to keep the project intact.

“This program has helped find people with cancerous polyps – that would save the state money through early detection,” LeBlanc said. “The sad thing is that I never imagined I was in Stage 3, but that’s how it happens.

“Usual symptoms don’t set in until the later stages,” she said. “I’m lucky and glad I didn’t ignore the symptoms. After Stage 3 comes Stage 4, which is a lot more complicated.”

LeBlanc also fulfilled one other plan last week. She left Friday with her husband and daughter for a trip to Disney World.

She and Kim will also embark on an Alaskan cruise in July.

“Once you go through this, you learn to appreciate the little things in life,” LeBlanc said. “You have to enjoy life while you have it.”

A HAPPY FAMILY … Following her survival from colon cancer, White Castle resident Kristy LeBlanc (left) has developed a greater appreciation for her family and friends. She is seen her with daughter Chloe, 7, and her husband Kim.