In July, Kathleen Harrison’s doctors discovered her breast cancer — thought to have been wiped out by a previous round of chemotherapy — had spread to her lungs, brain, kidney, lymph nodes and spleen.
Last month she started her second round of therapy and again faces the piles of medical bills that rack up as tests are run, treatments completed and consultations take place. This time, her friends are stepping in.
Kamrie Riley, along with nearly a dozen other local individual fashion consultants for California-based clothing company LulaRoe, set up their pop-up boutiques from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Labor Day to raise funds for Harrison’s health care bills at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Many pointed to Harrison’s strong emotional constitution as one obvious reason they are lending a hand.
“She is a blessing,” Kamrie Riley said simply of her friend.
The business owners will donate 10 percent of their profits to Harrison, and LulaRoe will match a portion of the price of each clothing item sold.
“I must confess, it is very humbling,” Harrison said. “It just makes me cry, you don’t expect people to be that good to you.”
Her first diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer — a very aggressive disease that often fails to respond to even the most intensive treatments — came in October 2014. Her first round of chemotherapy was finished by May 2015, and her mother was subsequently also diagnosed with cancer. Harrison attributed her constant fatigue to acting as her mother’s primary caregiver during that time.
“I knew I was tired but because caring for my mom, I just thought was really exhausted,” Harrison said. “It didn’t matter even if someone was here and could help take care of her — I couldn’t recover. It seemed so crazy to me seemingly healthy person should be so tired.”
It wasn’t until this July, the same month her mother passed away, that Harrison found out her own cancer was back. At first, the doctors believed the new growths might be a second primary cancer, but after numerous tests determined it was the metastasized breast cancer.
Through it all, her friends and coworkers at the Central Peninsula Hospital watched their friend stay unrelentingly sturdy.
“She has been an incredible trooper,” said longtime friend and former coworker Michele Petterson. “She is not letting things get her down.”
At the same time, she said, Harrison has continued to be a nurturer an emotional support for her friends and family.
Ruthi Riley, Kamrie’s mother, has known Harrison for the last five years.
“She is literally the kindest, most heartfelt person I have ever met,” Ruthi Riley said. “…When she first was diagnosed she was positive and she knew she could beat it. She was going to make it through have living life full of joy. She believes there is a plan, she is just a fighting spirit.”
Harrison, Ruthi Riley said, has also been incredibly grateful for all of the support she has received, including the many meals brought to her home, the GoFundMe page her friend started and the other fundraising efforts put on by family.
Right now her income is Paid Time Off hours donated by her former coworkers, but Harrison said, she hopes to return to work as soon as possible. She has been trying to rehabilitate her left arm, which has gone limp from the spreading cancer, and after her last dose of chemotherapy was very hard on her body.
“(I) feel so blessed,” Harrison said. “While this is no one’s choice for a diagnosis, I don’t know how it could have been better.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.