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Kim – ‘You Never Expect to Hear Those Words’

In retrospect, Kim Houston will tell you she should have acted sooner. “I was fatigued. I could never get rid of that lethargic feeling—like you’re coming down with the flu. I was having some stomach cramps and rushing to the restroom. I put off going to the doctor for about five months because I’m busy. Busy working, busy chasing after my kids, busy running my home. Busy.”

It was her husband who convinced Houston, a training and business solutions manager for Marriott International, to see a doctor. In January 2013, after two misdiagnoses, she was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. After the colonoscopy, the doctor told her he was 99.9% sure it was cancer. “I was not expecting to hear those words. You never expect to hear those words.”

Houston summoned her event management experience for the fight. “I handled it as if I were conducting an event. I had to compartmentalize and put my feelings to the side because I didn’t have time,” she recalls. “But I treated it seriously. What’s next, what’s the plan?”

The plan was surgery, followed two weeks later with the start of chemo. Twelve weeks of treatment, with her husband at her side. “I love the fact that he never said, ‘My wife has cancer,’ or, ‘Kim has cancer.’ It was, ‘We have cancer.'”

There was eventually time for those feelings. “My oncologist gave me great news after my last chemo treatment…That’s when I allowed myself to have a good cry.”

Houston will hit the five-year mark next year. “I go every six months for my CT scan, but every once in a while that fear creeps into my brain and my heart and I’ll kind of push it away real quick. I don’t like to play that game.”

“What I’ve learned through the entire experience is that you need to slow down and listen to your body. All the warning signs, all the messages were there,” advises Houston. “The second biggest takeaway is you have to take your health in your own hands because if you’re not satisfied with your diagnosis, demand second, third, fourth, tenth opinions.”