Real Women's Stories: 'My Loved One Saved Me From Cancer!'

These awe-inspiring stories remind us all how easy it can be to stop the deadly disease before it’s too late. How? Just by looking out for one another.

katie and carmen both had kidney disease and saved each other

‘I tried to give her a kidney; in the end, she gave me a greater gift’ 

Katie Zahasky, 60, Rochester, Minn.

Carmen Kasick, 63, Rochester

Carmen: In 2008, I found out I had polycystic kidney disease, which causes cysts to grow on the kidneys, eventually rendering them nonfunctional. I needed a kidney transplant in six months to a year or else I would need to go on dialysis to filter my blood. My husband and many other family members volunteered to donate, but they were all either not a tissue match or not in good enough health. Because I was running out of time, I decided to post a note in church, figuring it’s a place where God provides, filled with caring people.

Katie: On Good Friday, I went to church and read a note on the bulletin board saying that one of our members, Carmen, needed a kidney transplant. It seemed to be a message: What would Jesus do? Because Carmen was new in town, I had never met her, so I asked the pastor to point her out. I decided to sit next to her during the service and introduce myself. Once I got to know her over time, the idea of giving her a kidney felt right. To avoid getting her hopes up unnecessarily, I called the tissue donation center and got tested without telling her my plans. As soon as I found out I was a viable candidate, I visited her at home and said I could be her donor. We both cried and hugged.

Carmen: I couldn’t believe that somebody was going to give me the gift of life. I asked her over and over, “Are you sure?” She said she was.

Katie: I live alone, but my parents and siblings were not enthusiastic about the idea of my donating a kidney. They worried I was putting my health at risk. I told them we are all God’s children, and that Carmen was my sister, too.

Carmen: The Sunday before the surgery, the pastor announced the news to the congregation so that everyone could pray for us.

Katie: At the hospital, we were side by side until we went into surgery. But when the surgeon went to harvest my left kidney, he found a small cancer in the organ. Because kidney cancer is often asymptomatic, had it not been found through this surgery, it could have spread and threatened my life. But because they caught it early, they removed just 2 percent of the organ to eliminate the malignancy. Unfortunately, the transplant had to be aborted. When I woke up and learned that, I cried. In that moment, I wasn’t even thinking about how I’d been saved from cancer. All I could think was how I’d failed Carmen and how much she was counting on the kidney. Only after a few days did it really sink in that Carmen’s loss was my blessing. But I realized it wouldn’t feel much like a blessing until I knew Carmen could find a kidney through someone else. 

Carmen: When Katie told me the day after the surgery that she felt guilty for not being able to donate her kidney, I told her, “Nonsense! That was my gift to you, for offering your gift to me.” And fortunately one of my cousins was able to donate a kidney to me a few months later. Katie and I are still friends and often go out to dinner. At first, we each tried to pay for the other. Then we finally agreed, “We don’t owe each other anything. Let’s split it.”