Abilene woman benefits from cancer fund, keeps playing harp, piano, organ
Special to Reflector-Chronicle
Cancer couldn’t stop Kristin Fleming’s music.
The Abilene woman has been playing a variety of instruments, starting with the piano when she was four, and including the organ, harp, harpsichord, and the bells.
And even though cancer slowed her down, it never got the best of her.
The 68-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of last year, after she felt a lump before going to the doctor for an unrelated blood test.
“I think I need a mammogram,” she told them.
“No, you don’t need one,” they said.
She insisted and they found the cancer. It was already stage two and had spread to her lymph node.
She had a mastectomy and chemo, and through it all, tried to keep her life together.
At the time, her husband, suffering from strokes and dementia, was in the nursing home in Inman and she made the 70-mile trip several times a week to see him. If she wasn’t up to the driving, friends took her. “I hated to have them do it but I couldn’t do it myself.”
And she missed very few Sundays playing the organ at Trinity Lutheran, or for the choirs at the Abilene Middle School.
“Those kids were wonderful to me,” she said. “They were supportive and so good.” When she missed school because of hospital time, “the kids were so excited when I came back.”
Through it all, she received help from the Elsie Brooks Cancer Fund of Dickinson County. The fund, established in 1993, provides financial assistance for anyone with cancer who lives in the county. And it was a godsend, Kristin said. “I needed (the money) for transportation. It was a godsend, I’ll tell you.”
The Elsie Brooks Cancer Fund is funded through private donations, said Sandy Willey, secretary/treasurer of the fund, and through a cancer fundraiser at the Abilene rodeo. Every Friday of the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo, the fund raises money at the rodeo through its Tough Enough to Wear Pink night. In the past six years, the rodeo has raised nearly $12,000 for the Fund. Anyone can apply for the funds, Sandy said. “We send out brochures to people, when we hear they have cancer, asking them to call us if we can assist them. We don’t ask for financial information. As long as they live in Dickinson County, have cancer and are being treated, they are eligible for treatment.”
On Tough Enough to Wear Pink night at this year’s rodeo, Aug. 2, cowboy boots will be passed around to pick up donations, and the barrel racer cowgirls, sponsored by Bankes Drug Store, will sell their autographs. Fans are asked to wear pink to the rodeo to show their support.
Through her cancer, Kristin remained positive.
“I decided, I’m going to do everything uplifting for myself so I won’t feel down in the dumps.” She made sure to wear bright clothing, bought a good wig, and treated herself to flowers. Even on her bad days, she laughed, “I managed to do what I could do, and then came home and crashed.”
In November of last year, she moved her husband to the nursing home in Enterprise, a 10-minute drive. He is doing well.
“It was the best move I ever made,” she said. “Even when I was sick, I went to see him, even for a half hour, at least four times a week.”
She is not cancer free; her chemo treatment has been put on hold due to heart problems. But she feels blessed. “I don’t need to live another fifteen or twenty years. If I can live five more years, I’ll be happy, I’ll be thrilled.