It takes a community…
Support was ‘ wind at my back’ for cancer survivor who now looks forward, not back
By Linda Petersen
Sept. 7, 2017
PROVO—If it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps it takes a larger community to help heal a child.
After she was diagnosed with liver cancer in the summer of 2015 at age Kelsie Albee of Manti found that community in the form of the people of Sanpete County.
Albee, now 19, is reluctant to talk about her experience with cancer because she prefers to look to the future—except when it comes to talking about the people who were there for her during her ordeal.
“Throughout the whole experience, I never really felt all was lost. The whole community was the wind at my back. Learning that as a 17-year-old is huge,” she says.
When doctors found the 5-by-7-inch tumor in Albee’s liver, they told her that while it was aggressive, it could be treated, and if everything went well, she could move on to live a long life.
But at first, nothing went as planned. The tumor did not respond to several types of chemotherapy. Over four months, Albee grew increasingly ill. Traditional chemotherapy had to be discontinued after complications arose.
In November 2015, she underwent experimental radiation therapy and chemoembolization (where anti-cancer drugs were injected directly into the blood vessel feeding the tumor), but results were slow. Albee was running out of time.
So, in January 2016, her surgeon, who had previously been reluctant to operate on the tumor, seeing that the traditional therapies were not working and that the tumor was continuing to grow, decided to go ahead with the operation.
“They really considered it a last option—a Hail Mary,” Albee says.
On Feb. 8, 2016, Albee’s doctor removed the cancerous tumor. The surgery, which had been expected to take six to eight hours, took 14 because the chemoembolization had killed the tissue that needed to be removed.
Despite the complication, the surgery went extremely well. Albee spent a month recovering in ICU, even celebrating her birthday there, but as she healed, the light at the end of the tunnel grew brighter.
“Day by day, it felt exactly like springtime,” Albee says. “All of the warmth, sunlight and vitality returned to my life as my health improved.”
The community held several fundraisers to help the Albee family with the costs of treatment including a demolition derby, a fireman’s challenge and numerous events sponsored by community members.
In a myriad of other ways, the community showed its support. Kelsie’s senior class at Manti High even elected her homecoming queen although she was too ill to attend school, let alone the dance.
While she basically gave up her whole senior year to cancer, she is not bitter about the experience. “You can choose to grow or become bitter. I just will not accept the latter,” she says with a wisdom beyond her years. “That’s how the illness wins. I plan to fight every single day to live as passionately and as fully as possible.”
These days, Albee, who is preparing to go on an LDS mission, is doing really well. While doctors will need to keep an eye on her and she has experienced what she calls “bumps in the road”—kidney issues and fatigue—she is moving full steam ahead with her life.
After a year at Snow College, she is currently a psychiatric technician at the Utah State Hospital, a job that she loves. She has been cleared by her doctors to go on a mission and is working with the church Missionary Department to get her medical paperwork processed. (The evaluation is extensive, given the seriousness of her previous illness.)
“Through it all, I have believed in the resilience of the human soul,” Albee says. “There was not a day when I doubted that I’d have a good life. I feel privileged to have had a unique experience and to have had the community behind me all the way through it.”
“I have been given so, so much,” she adds. “I have seen people who do not know me—countless people, hundreds of people—reach out and support me….I was able to be tough because of the people behind me.”
Albee says she was supported every step of the way by her family. Her father, Jayson, is a Sanpete County sheriff’s sergeant who supervises Search and Rescue while her mother, Shirlene, works in county dispatch.
She is the second-oldest of four children, with siblings Tyler (who was on an LDS mission while his sister was sick), Jamie and Scott.
“This was not just about me; it was about my whole family. As a family we had to pull together and be strong,” Albee says.
After her mission, Albee hopes to someday marry and have children and to pursue a career in the mental health field.
She describes her illness as “the best thing I’ve ever survived.” While her future is uncertain, it’s now the normal uncertainty of any 19-year-old. One thing is for sure: Wherever she goes, she says, she will keep the goodness of the people of Sanpete County in her heart.
“The biggest thing I want is for the community to know is how much I appreciate their support. I don’t think it’s typical for a community to rally around an individual like that. That support changed my life, and I will never forget that. Wherever I go, Sanpete County will always be my home.”