Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan McCoy who is battling sarcoma cancer laughs with her sister Monica Brown of High Wycombe, England while looking at photographs from McCoy's childhood on Tuesday.
Family rallies around Kia McCoy
Kia McCoy looked to rekindle her love of figure skating before she received a cancer diagnosis that changed some of her plans.
JEFFERSON -- As reunions go, Thanksgiving hasn't always been a big deal for the McCoy family.
Getting everybody -- about 16 and growing -- to meet near Lake Erie in the summer was the main time to mark the calendar.
"That's a big tradition," said youngest child Caleb, a former Central Gwinnett football player, the only boy among four children of Mike and Kia McCoy.
This week, though, should be a little more memorable as relatives from around the country, and from France and England, gather for the first time in recent memory.
There's a family picture scheduled, the first in four years, and friends and neighbors have opened up rooms to accommodate the influx of family, which features six grandchildren and another due in December.
"I can't remember the last time we were all together for Thanksgiving," Caleb said.
The family gathering comes about eight months after Kia found a knot on her left leg after working on a figure skating motion called the "sit-spin."'Great memories came back'Kia, a former Ice Capades skater, had rekindled her love of figure skating in the last two years thanks to her sister, Monica Brown, who lives in England, who had participated in an adult figure skating competition.
"Obviously I knew I could do this, but when your body hasn't done something in a long time, it takes a minute to get that information to get down," Kia said.
Between high school and college, Kia traveled the country, and was on two television shows with the Ice Capades, and later taught skating in Green Bay, Wis., while her husband began an 11-year National Football League career with the Packers. But then life became busy, and raising four kids took priority.
In September 2010, she stepped on the ice for the first time since the Ice Capades.
"I thought it was exciting," her husband, Mike, said. "A chance for her to do something she loved all her life, the right time and right moment with her sister. As she got more and more into it, a lot of great memories came back into it."
Mike said it was especially exciting when their grandchildren were impressed and he figured they thought, "If grandma can do this, I can do other things in my life."
All told, Kia participated in the French nationals and two competitions in Germany, where she collected first- and second-place medals each of the last two years in each of the artistic and technical programs.
"It was great to see one of her passions when she was growing up, and to see her rediscover that passion," Caleb said. "That was pretty neat."Diagnosis and treatmentAfter the last medal-winning performance in May, Kia visited a sports massage therapist and later a family doctor in June. The knot that she described as the size of a gumball did not produce debilitating pain, but was, "just annoying," she said.
But on July 7, Kia received a diagnosis of sarcoma, a soft tissue cancer that develops from certain tissues, like bone or muscle.
According to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, there are 12,000 to 15,000 new cases each year, and 50,000 patients struggle with this cancer at any given time. Sarcomas make up 15 percent of all cancers in children and young adults and 1 percent in adults. While there are 100 different subtypes, the form Kia was given was the type called pleomorphic, which is an undifferentiated type.
The website beatsarcoma.org, which was launched in 2007 by a sarcoma patient, calls it "the forgotten cancer" and said 1 percent of all cancer research funds are directed toward sarcoma.
Kia said the initial explanation of why she contracted the cancer was centered on a family history or excessive radiation in that part of the body. She didn't have knowledge of either of those in her life.
The news was also surprising because Kia said she's been diligent about annual physicals and mammograms, and often told others to take notes of symptoms before a visit to a doctor.
One of the first doctors said it looked like a hematoma, which is a circumscribed collection of blood, usually clotted, in a tissue or organ. At that time, it appeared to be a very short recovery.
"We'll have to go in and clean it out, and I can have you back on the ice in 10 days," Kia recalled a doctor saying.
At that point, no one, not even the doctors, considered the diagnosis serious.
So the initial recommended treatment was 25 radiation therapies that would hopefully shrink the sarcoma from seven centimeters so there would be a less invasive surgery, Caleb said. What doctors told the family was radiation shrinks sarcoma, not chemotherapy.
Fatigue was the only expected side effect from radiation, but after the first week, Kia needed a cane to move around, and by the third week, her left leg had doubled in size.
The fourth and fifth week brought a low-dose chemo treatment, but a satellite tumor had also been discovered.
Oncologists then suggested a double dose of chemo, even though that treatment works about 10 percent of the time, Brown said, but Kia and the family decided against it."We learned more and more each time, and chemo didn't have a very good success rate, nor does it ever cure," Caleb said. "We didn't have a good feeling, just because how she reacted at a single dose."
Finally, the surgeon who performed the biopsy offered to perform a limb-salvage surgery, and Kia and the family were prepared for an amputation to get rid of the cancerous leg.
So on Sept. 6, the surgeon removed the left femur, quadricep muscle and inserted a titanium rod.
"It's pretty much an amputation with a metal rod," Caleb said.
A month after the surgery, after she'd spent 12 days in the hospital, Kia made marked improvement, and her sister was proud to say, "she's breaking all of the rehab records."
But a month ago, another scan found spots of sarcoma on her lungs that doubled every six weeks. That's when a prognosis of six months to live was delivered based on expected growth rate.
A scan early last week reported there weren't any new spots, but the existing spots were growing at the same rate, Caleb said.
"I feel strong," Kia said. "I feel healthy, am able to do my physical therapy and eat and get out."
The three sessions per week of physical therapy are designed to strengthen muscles around her midsection, and to move her leg. Nerve regeneration from the knee down will take some time, she said.
While the next steps are to continue physical therapy, get updated tests, including some that may be part of a clinical trial, and make modifications to her diet, Kia said she looks at a bigger picture.
"I have a very firm faith," she said. "I know that the Lord has numbered the days of my life, and I'll live every day that he's ordained for me."
"She sees the big picture, she knows this life is temporary anyhow," Mike said. "This is part of life. We can either be better by it, or be bitter by it."
Because she's transitioned to almost constant change throughout her life, including moving 27 times and her husband playing for three NFL teams, Kia has also handled rehab well, Mike said.
"She's a person with the same enthusiasm and optimism she's had all of her life," he said. "That's why she's recovered so fast."
Since 2006, Caleb has played American football in France, which plays its season in the spring. So he had already planned to be home in the offseason to visit his siblings and their families. But when he learned of his mother's diagnosis, Caleb came back early, and was granted permission by his team that he could stay until near the start of the season in mid-February.
Because Mike, who gives faith-based motivational speeches to Catholic school children around the country, had already planned his fall schedule, Caleb agreed to be his mother's personal caregiver.
"I didn't know what it was going to entail," he said. "I didn't know how involved, and how she needed help with a lot of things. Once I got back, and saw the state she was in, it was pretty hard. It was good just being able to spend that much time with her."
Wearing bracelets that are inscribed with "Team Kia" and the motto from Kia's father to, "live it up," the family and physical therapist want to see Kia on the ice again.
"If you can walk," her sister said. "You can skate."