November 01, 2006

Community Embraces Their Own

Katherine Myers-Penati, an East Hampton resident and mother of four, had been feeling fine last August, with no symptoms whatsoever, when she got the news that would change her life forever:

Feeling sudden pain three days after going with her 11-year-old daughter on a moonlight kayaking trip sponsored by Group for the South Fork, she went to the doctor, suspecting appendicitis or, perhaps, an intestinal blockage. Instead, 48-year-old Myers-Penati was diagnosed with stage four cancer of the colon and liver.

"It caught us by surprise," she said. "I was just absolutely shocked. I can't believe this is my life right now."

But instead of becoming overwhelmed by despair, Myers-Penati went into fighting mode, heading to Memorial Sloan-Kettering where she is undergoing chemotherapy.

And she won't have to face her illness alone. Along with her two sisters, Peter Honerkamp, managing partner of the Stephen Talkhouse, is organizing a fundraiser to benefit Myers-Penati at the venue slated for November 18 at 8 p.m. Bands to perform include Joe Horan & Friends, Little Head Thinks, The Infidels and The Jam Bandits. The suggested donation for the event is $25.

It is only when speaking of the outpouring of love and support she's received from family, friends, and community residents that Myers-Penati's voice fills with tears. "It's overwhelming," she said, adding that concerned well-wishers have surrounded her with love, calling and knocking on her door. Although she now lives in East Hampton, Myers-Penati grew up in Amagansett, and in her time of need, a community has rallied to carry her through the hard times.

As for her four children, ages 22, 20, 18 and 11, Myers-Penati, a real estate agent, said although times have been difficult, she is trying to maintain a regular daily routine. "They're taking their cues from me," she said. "Keeping everything as normal as possible has been my strength, my fortitude. I'm grateful every morning when my feet hit the floor and they still feel the same."

Myers-Penati added that throughout her difficult journey, her son has been her "bodyguard." And she stressed that honesty with her children about every step of the process is key.

Refusing to dwell on the negative, Myers-Penati said she tells her young daughter a story, a truth to which she remains steadfast. "I believe it is by the grace of God that we went on that kayaking trip," she said.

Although she'd apparently had the tumor for some time, because she'd had no symptoms, Myers-Penati was unaware of her cancer. The pain she felt after kayaking was the result of the tumor breaking through the colon wall. "It had gotten too big for its home," she said, forcing her to seek treatment.

Although at first her blood work appeared fine, Myers-Penati's physician told her to go to the emergency room, where a CAT scan revealed the tumor.

Had she not gone kayaking, a highly physical activity, Myers-Penati believes she might not have been diagnosed and been able to seek treatment.

If there is one thing Myers-Penati would like to stress, it's the lesson she learned on the critical importance of going for a colonoscopy before the age of 50. "Learn to pay attention to your body," she added.

Myers-Penati credits her doctors and the staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. "Everyone there is amazing," she said. "I'm in very good hands."

As for the future, Myers-Penati's outlook is positive. "I've got Irish and Dutch in my bloodstream," she said, adding that giving in to doubt or fear is not an option. "I've concluded that this is going to be a rough time. But I am going to get through it."

For more information on the Stephen Talkhouse benefit, call 267-3117.

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