Kihei paddler fighting lung cancer
By Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
|"You take life a day at a time," says Kerry Workman, who will return to Seattle in August for a CAT scan.
Christie Wilson The Honolulu Advertiser
WHAT: Canoe race fundraiser for Kerry Workman
WHERE: Hanakao'o Beach in Lahaina.
FORMAT: Open to six-man canoes and one- and two-person kayaks and canoes.
COST: $20 per paddler.
INFORMATION: (808) 875-8964 or e-mail email@example.com.
Donations can be mailed to The Friends of Kerry Workman, P.O. Box 284, Kihei, HI 96753.
A paddler for the Kihei Canoe Club, Workman was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and underwent four months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment so intense she nearly died this past January.
But Workman, 50, of Kihei, returned from that treatment in Seattle determined to be back in the canoe for her eighth competitive season.
At first, she had a difficult time in the canoe. After all, it had been nearly six months since she won a silver medal at the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association's State Championship Regatta, then as a member of Wailea Canoe Club's open mixed crew.
Everything seemed fine until this past May when she went back to the emergency room twice and a checkup found cancer in her body.
"I think realizing I couldn't race this year was almost as painful as knowing I had more cancer," Workman said. "I cried and cried.
"That kept me going. That was my goal for recovery, to race this year."
A canoe race fundraiser to alleviate medical costs will be held Saturday at Hanakao'o Beach in Lahaina.
A year ago, Workman was still racing despite discovering she had lung cancer.
She went to her doctor because of persistent pain in her clavicle area. She assumed it was a cracked rib but a chest X-ray showed a tumor the size of a quarter in the lower lobe of her right lung.
"I was devastated," said daughter Allison, 20. "My mom and I are best friends. It was really hard to swallow."
Cancer claims peer
A non-smoker her entire life, the lung cancer was in her body for four years, only it never showed any signs.
A biopsy conducted a week later led to the diagnosis of bronchioloalveolar carcinoma that occurs in 1 percent to 3 percent of all lung cancer cases.
Since she was in a six-week diagnostic period, Workman continued to paddle, and participated in a fundraising race for Hawaiian Canoe Club paddler Mark "Marko" Kawaiaea, also a non-smoker diagnosed with lung cancer.
She cupped Kawaiaea's face on race day and told him, "I have just been diagnosed with lung cancer. I'm paddling in your race today and you better paddle in mine next year."
Kawaiaea passed away this past Memorial Day.
"That was hard for me," Workman said. "I knew Marko from the gym I worked at. He found out he had cancer a month before me.
"That's a very fine man taken at a very early age. It was very hard to take."
After a cure
After the state championships, her crew won the Dutchy Kino Memorial Long Distance Classic in Ma'alaea despite an earlier PET scan that showed lymph nodes on both sides of her chest and up into her neck.
In September, she flew to Seattle to begin treatment only to find out she didn't actually have bronchioloalveolar carcinoma. Instead, it was non-small-cell lung cancer in which aggressive treatment might offer a cure.
"I took pictures of my daughter, son and myself in a canoe to my appointment with my oncologist," Workman said. "This is why I live and this is why we have to go for a cure. I don't want to prolong my life. I want to go for a cure."
"She's always made it clear that we are her heart and soul," Allison said. "If all of a sudden you took us and paddling away, I don't know what my mom would do."
This is where all of Workman's years as a paddler, personal trainer and athlete helped saved her. Since she was so fit, doctors gave her strong amounts of radiation.
"They gave me amounts of chemotherapy and radiation which people die from and which I almost did in January," Workman said. "The radiation was everyday for six weeks."
Right after that, she had six hours of chemotherapy three times a week for three weeks.
Despite the "nasty treatment" that numbed her body and formed scabs all over, her optimistic and upbeat attitude kept her going.
"I don't want to hear any statistics or percentages. I'm going to be your exceptional patient," Workman told her doctor.
"Cancer comes along and it wasn't something I expected but I take it head on. I had so many people at the Cancer Institute say 'You're going to end up in hospital in fetal position with this kind of treatment,' but I was walking around holding my own."
Support from friend
This attitude that she has always had and instilled upon her children kept them going as well when only a handful lent support.
One of those supporters has been Terrie Eliker, who lost 50 pounds in six months when Workman was her personal trainer. Eliker, 47, of Kihei, flew up to Seattle twice, the latter trip coming after the realization that Kerry might die alone.
"She's done so much for my mom," Allison said. "There's no way I can thank her enough. She's pretty much the key person who was with my mom."
This past May, it looked like Workman had achieved her goal of paddling once again. It took her awhile to get back into shape, but nothing would stop her, not even an oxygen tank she took with her into the canoe.
However, a paddling practice session reactivated treatment-related inflammation and fluid had built up around her heart and lungs, causing pain in her chest and difficulty in breathing. She had to go back to the emergency room twice because of "pain nobody should experience."
Then during her first checkup in Seattle since she returned to Maui, she found out there was cancer beyond the area zapped by the radiation.
"I was surprised," Workman said. "I thought that the treatment I had gone through was so aggressive, it would have gotten it the first time. It was very advanced. It was hard to take for me and my kids."
"I tried to be strong but both of us just lost it," said Allison, who was with her mom at the time and now lives in Seattle.
Workman goes back to Seattle for another CAT scan at the end of August for further investigation of the cancer. In the meantime, she still attends weekly Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association regattas with her oxygen tank and plans to be at the state regatta at Ke'ehi Lagoon on Aug. 7.
Time of rest
For a person who fell in love with paddling the first time she set foot in a canoe, Workman is now learning to rest.
"You take life a day at a time," Workman said. "Physically I look about the same as last year. What's going on inside my body is a whole different game now."
Added Allison: "She's unbelievable, caring, honest, supportive, loving. Everything good you can think about a person, that is my mom."
Reach Stanley Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-8533.