Catherine Never Let Stage IV Colon Cancer Keep her Off the Mountain

January 8, 2021
“I like to go places where I see beautiful things,” Catherine Custer said. “I love hiking and backpacking, being outdoors, because it gives me peace. I tell my friends all the time, it’s good for my soul.”

As the mother of two teenagers, an investigator in the local prosecutor’s office, and the biggest cheerleader for her husband’s family business, Catherine stays busy. But her mind is always wandering to the thought of her next outdoor adventure. “Snowmobile, fishing, boating, water skiing, and recreation. That’s what I love.”

But over the last couple of years, Catherine has been forced to reduce her hikes. She was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and chose the oncology program at Hancock Health’s Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center for her treatment. Colon cancer put Catherine’s ability to pursue her love of hiking in jeopardy—especially since a cure for this virulent cancer is unlikely.

A Shock to the System

Born and raised in Rush County, Catherine still lives in the area with her husband and daughter. Her son Chase is now a freshman soccer player at Northern Michigan University. “It has been a good place to raise kids,” she said of their home, “because you know everybody.”

Catherine’s cancer was discovered when she went to the emergency room after being unable to keep food down for a couple of days. Her oncologist, Dr. Fadi Hayek, recommended an intensive round of chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, Catherine’s cancer spread to her bladder and liver. Dr. Hayek informed her that she would likely never be cured. But with the ongoing treatment, they would work to contain the disease and she could still live a long, relatively normal life.

Discouraged by her diagnosis, Catherine sought second and third opinions in Indianapolis and Michigan. “I went to other places and got a second opinion to see if anybody could do anything more or different, and everybody always seemed to be on the same page as Dr. Hayek,” she said.

“I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,” Catherine said about her maintenance chemotherapy regimen at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center. “The goal is just to prevent it from spreading further at this point. It’s one less drug. It’s faster, and it’s easier on me.”

Back on the Trail

Though she’s cut back, Catherine is hardly sitting on the sideline. She credits her close relationship with her nurse navigator as giving her the confidence to take chances and stay active. “I went on a vacation, and I didn’t tell Dr. Hayek because I knew he would tell me no,” she said with a wry smile. “So, I just didn’t ask. She’s just like, ‘You tell us this stuff. Not Dr. Hayek.’ So that’s nice, too.”

She appreciates the convenient care Hancock Health provides. “It’s been so important to me to have a place to go for treatment that is so close to my home,” she said. “There are a lot of days, especially after treatment, when you just do not feel very good at all. To have a shorter drive versus having to drive home an hour when you’re feeling sick to your stomach or lightheaded makes it a lot easier.”

Now Catherine’s back hiking. With a lake house in Northern Michigan, she has plenty of opportunities to escape.

And even though son Chase was there for his mom’s diagnosis and drove her to many of her treatments, he doesn’t let her use cancer as an excuse when they’re out on the mountain. “Last time we were in Marquette, two weeks ago, he made me hike the difficult way up this mountain instead of taking the easier incline,” she said. “He pushes me. Some days I’m like, ‘Hey, this is hard on me.’ And he’s like, ‘Get over it.’ My kids keep me humble.”

And she credits Hancock Health with getting her back out into the woods. “Thanks to Hancock Health, I’m back doing what I love,” Catherine said. “I’m ready to hit the trail again.”

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