On June 30, 2015, Kate Greco received the news that she had long been waiting for: “Your scans look great!”
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”
The update – from Erika Meneely, NP, in the Genitourinary Cancers group at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center – came 363 days after her first CT scan identified a tumor, which led to a diagnosis of transitional cell carcinoma, grade 3 of 3. Just two weeks before receiving her diagnosis, 31-year-old Greco had accepted an assistant principal position in the Malden Public School system and was busy planning for her new role.
“When I found out I had bladder cancer, all the unknowns were scary. I knew I had to be strong and immediately latched on to the quote, ‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice,’ ” says Ms. Greco. “It was true; I knew I had no other choice. I have so much more to do in life and I had just accepted an amazing position. There was no way bladder cancer was going to get in the way of that.”
An Intricate Balance
The following 12 months were an intricate balance of meetings with parents, chemotherapy, teacher evaluations, CT scans and efforts to ensure her students’ success. As the new year approached, however, Greco made the decision to take a medical leave to undergo an eight-hour procedure in which surgeons constructed a new bladder, called a neobladder, out of her intestine. Her clinical team – led by Frank McGovern, MD, of the Department of Urology – worked to reduce the tumor’s size and eradicate microscopic cancer cells prior to removing her bladder by prescribing intensive chemotherapy with a combination of medications over a period of six weeks.
“Kate approached this difficult treatment with unbreakable courage and determination, managing multiple side effects, cumbersome clinic appointments and long chemotherapy visits with unflappable focus,” says Ms. Meneely. “Despite a complicated diagnosis at a young age, she never asked ‘Why me?’ and she always arrived with a smile. Two days after surgery, she was handing out Christmas cards to her team members. She is truly an inspiration to all those facing cancer.”
With her cancer treatments now behind her, Ms. Greco has returned to her passion as an assistant principal, but her connection to her caregivers and the MGH continues. She spends each Monday afternoon volunteering at the hospital as a patient escort, providing others with that extra bit of positivity that helped her during her time at the MGH.
Strength and Positivity
“You must know what the end goal is and start heading for it from day one.”
“I was never at chemotherapy alone. My family and friends filled the space around my chair and entertained me for hours,” Ms. Greco says. “During my last session, we even had to find more chairs. It was standing room only in there. They went in to work late, left work early or took vacation days just to spend time with me. I am so lucky.”
Ms. Greco says she has learned amazing lessons during her battle that she hopes to share with others.
“Strength comes from a place of positivity,” she says. “You must know what the end goal is and start heading for it from day one. Each cancer patient faces some scary things, but with a smile the outcomes and ride along the way are surely always better.”
To learn more about how you can support Mass General Cancer Center programs like those that helped Kate Greco, please contact us.
This article was first published in MGH Hotline.