As an artist, Kathleen Salfi’s work gave her great pleasure. With two part time jobs and her art business, HandPainted Wishes, the 54-year-old mom and grandma had a full plate. But, in spring of 2020, she began to hemorrhage. She was frail and weak, but feared a doctor’s visit, knowing instinctively that something wasn’t right. Kathie was too ill to create new pieces or prepare for the busy summer art fair season. After hemorrhaging for about a month, her son urged her to go to the ER.
On April 14, 2020 Kathie had an internal ultrasound that showed possible cancer. On April 16, her mother’s birthday, it was confirmed that she had 3C endometrial cancer and needed a complete hysterectomy. “I honestly can’t put into words how I felt. I had a lot of decisions to make, but I didn’t have time for feelings or pity. I had to make the decision to stand up and fight or not tell anyone and lay down and die”. Kathie was hesitant to share her news with family and friends, but at a family function when she saw her six brothers and sisters and extended family gathered together, she knew she had to tell them.
Kathie had surgery on May 13 and suffered many complications, including MRSA, acute nausea and allergies to her medicine, during her recovery her daughter in law took care of her. The family, joined by friends, rallied for Kathie, helping with errands and driving her for treatment. Unable to connect in person as often as they would have liked due to COVID, she and her sisters used the app, Houseparty, to check in every day. She documented her journey in a book she compiled with her sisters.
On July 21, Kathie was scheduled to have a port put in but three veins were blown and she had to have a picc line put in. On July 23, she had her port surgery. She began chemotherapy on July 29 after a battle with her insurance company to get coverage for the chemo treatments, which she finished in November 2020. After her second dose of chemotherapy, Kathie’s hair fell out and her daughter shaved it off for her. “I could lie down and die or I could shave my head and fight. So, I shaved my head as a way of saying, ‘You’re not going take me down’”. Kathie ordered beautiful hats and scarves, researching chemo-friendly material in bamboo, silk, satin and 100% cotton that that doesn’t aggravate skin.
Ever the artist, Kathie designed keychains and wristbands with her motto, “Fist Up! Fight the Fight!” on them. Her network answered her rally cry with pictures of themselves with their fists up, wearing the wristbands. “They were there for me 100 percent”.
In addition to the support she received from friends and family, she counts the staff at Hope Community Cancer Center in Cape May Courthouse, NJ who cheered her on during challenging times. “They work very closely with me. They make me feel like I am the only one that matters.” Her positivity continues as she continues to heal. “This is temporary, your life is not. Stand up and fight. Put those fists up and fight. You beat the cancer. Don’t let it beat you. The fight is important, don’t lose yourself in it. Remember to love yourself and be kind to you.”
Kathie tries to go for a walk every day to gain her strength and to keep moving. She has even begun creating art again with plans to appear at art fairs and shows in the future.