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Grandmother, ‘Mi-Mi,’ completes 60th treatment for colon cancer

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Grandmother, ‘Mi-Mi,’ completes 60th treatment for colon cancer

It wasn’t until Katherine “Katie” Dailey’s appendix burst that she found out she has cancer. Now she is in the care of IU Health Dr. Paul Helft.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

As she completes her infusion at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Katherine “Katie” Dailey has her best friend by her side. She met Becky Nowlin when she moved across the street from her in 1995.

Nowlin has only missed two of Dailey’s appointments – both due to COVID restrictions. Otherwise, she has been by her friend’s side as they raised their children together, experienced death and divorce, and then a cancer diagnosis. Nowlin was with Dailey when she heard the words: “Stage Four.” And recently the two friends were together when Dailey completed her 60th treatment.

It’s difficult for Dailey to pinpoint when she was diagnosed. It was a series of hospital visits that started in November 2016. At the beginning of the month she went to a local emergency room and left with antibiotics to treat what they thought was a urinary tract infection. She returned a few days later when her fever spiked. A CT scan revealed that her appendix had burst and a cyst was blocking the infection from flowing into her abdomen.

“I guess you could say that was the first blessing,” said Dailey, 53. After her appendix was removed, a biopsy showed something questionable. She was 49 and her surgeon suggested she have a colonoscopy. In March 2016, polyps were removed, along with 10 lymph nodes, and 21 inches of her colon. She was referred to IU Health’s Dr. Bruce Robb who confirmed she has colon cancer.

She then became a patient or IU Health’s Dr. Paul Helft, who specializes in gastrointestinal oncology. In her initial visit, on April 21, 2017, Dr. Helft reviewed the scans, and talked through her illness and treatments. Her specific diagnosis is cecum cancer. The cecum connects the small intestine to the colon.

“Dr. Helft said I’d probably had it for several years – maybe even in my 30s. It is on the right side and slow growing. I never had any symptoms so I may not have found it if my appendix hadn’t burst,” said Dailey. The mother of a son, 27, and daughter, 31, and “Mi-Mi," to three girls, Dailey wanted to know if the cancer was hereditary. Genetic testing confirmed that it is not hereditary and doctors recommended her son and daughter begin getting colonoscopies at the age of 35.

She started chemotherapy on May 5, 2017.

“I had no clue what to expect. I thought they had gotten it all through surgery but it was Stage Four right off the bat and it had spread to my lungs,” said Dailey. “At that time there were so many tumors but they were so little that surgery was not an option. Dr. Helft said ‘we’ll go pretty hard at it.’ “ After the first five treatments the tumors had shrunk and some had disappeared. Dailey began maintenance chemotherapy and has continued ever since.

“Dr. Helft said this is unheard of. He’s just amazed. He’s been such a great doctor,” said Dailey.

July not only marks the month of her 60th treatment, it is also Dailey’s discharge month from the U.S. Army. She was 19 when she joined the military in 1987. The month also marks her retirement from the Veteran’s Administration Regional Office where she worked for 27 years.

These days, she spends her time loving on her grandchildren. Her own mother died of a heart attack at the age of 49 and was unable to meet Dailey’s children.

“I want to be around to watch my grandchildren grow up,” said Dailey. “I’m determined to keep at this and take care of myself.”

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Colon Cancer

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Colon Cancer

Most colon cancers start as polyps that grow out of tiny glands lining the large intestine. Many have colon polyps but most don’t turn into cancer.