The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Kelly Kuster, cancer survivor and hope for others

Many Marquette alumni experience positive life-changing events throughout their young adulthood, but for Kelly Kuster, a Milwaukee resident, fighting and surviving stage IV colon cancer was never part of her plan.

Kuster, 36, will be featured on the June 2013 “Colonder” through the Colon Club, a nonprofit national organization focused on raising awareness about colon cancer in “out-of-the-box” ways.

Kuster said she was chosen out of 150 applicants for her spot on the Colonder.

“From the moment you are selected as one of the 12, you are treated by the Colondar team as a hero,” Kuster said. “It is very humbling.”

Kuster’s battle began as a teenager when she noticed symptoms of chronic abdominal pain before undergoing surgery to remove ovarian cysts, which partially caused the discomfort.

In 2006, Kuster underwent a complete hysterectomy oopherectomy (a procedure which removes a woman’s ovaries and uterus). However, a few months following surgery, symptoms of colon cancer still persisted. Another doctor found stage IV colon cancer in Kuster’s sigmoid colon, which, according to her interview with the Colon Club, led to more complications.

Kuster said she tries to tell other individuals undergoing similar treatment and sickness that “it is a disease, it can’t define you.”

“It is easy to feel defeated when you read about survival rates,” Kuster said. “As a stage IV colon cancer patient in 2006, I had a less than five percent chance to live five more years. My husband, Bob, and I knew the only option for us was to fight and not give in to statistics – this was a daily physical and mental battle.”

Kuster added that her husband has continuously been her anchor.

In 2007, after successfully completing treatment, Kuster was cancer-free with “no evidence of recurrent disease.”

Danielle Burgess of the Public Relations Department of Semicolon Communications, a public relations firm founded by a colon cancer survivor, said Kuster serves as an inspiration to those affected by the worst diagnosis.

“Her story offers hope that there is life and survivorship even when you’re diagnosed with stage IV cancer,” Burgess said.

Burgess added that Kuster’s young age is a key factor in raising awareness for the realities of cancer.

“We try to spread the word in out-of-the-box ways that shock the public that colon cancer is happening in adults much younger than when it’s ‘supposed to,’” Burgess said.

Shannon Cunanne, a junior in the College of Communication and community relations chair of Colleges Against Cancer at Marquette, said her organization works to raise awareness throughout the Marquette community.

“I have witnessed the struggles cancer brings on to individuals and families and decided that I wanted to become more involved in promoting cancer awareness,” Cunnane said.

Cunanne added that ways the CAC promotes educating all individuals about cancer include fundraising throughout the month of October for breast cancer, hosting the Great American Smokeout to create awareness of lung cancer and putting on an annual Relay for Life walk.

As a survivor, Kuster said she is able to spread a special message through her work with the Colon Club.

“People are surprised to hear I’m a stage IV colon cancer survivor,” Kuster said. “I usually get very odd comments. That’s why the Colondar is such an important project. We need people to understand that you can be diagnosed with colon cancer as young as your teens. It is not just for men over the age of 50.”

Kuster stressed that if women (in particular) feel something is not right, they must follow their instinct to prevent more grave issues down the road.

“If she doesn’t think her concerns are being taken seriously, she should ask for a second opinion,” Kuster said. “I wish I would have stood up for myself when medical staff treated me poorly.”

Burgess said many symptoms of cancer, including stomach pains, constipation and bleeding, are sometimes due to irritable bowel syndrome, stress or other health problems, which all seem “typical for college students.” She stressed that in the past, these issues have been discussed in the medical field as minor issues, when in reality they may be indicators of a serious illness.

“We want to use Kelly’s story to show college students that while cancer may be unusual, it cannot be ruled out and must be screened for if symptoms of colon cancer occur,” Burgess said.

Kuster added that it is beneficial when universities like Marquette strive to provide informational sessions and seminars for students.

“The more information we provide to young adults about their health, the better,” Kuster said. “If we illustrate the importance of good health habits and regular screenings, cancer can be prevented or detected earlier when it is easily treatable.”

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