Wednesday, September 05, 2012

...the saga of Kathi Goertzen and the price she paid...
Have you ever heard a news story that absolutely left you blind-sided? I had just returned home from my 40th Class Reunion in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and everything went so well, and I'm glad I went because I have some new good memories that I'll have forever. I was expecting to spend the next week operating at a slower pace and just ease back into "livin' Coos Bay style". I was watching Mariners' baseball that Monday night, and one of the sportspeople said something about the death of "mgmmxxph of KOMO-TV news"...I didn't pay any attention to the name. I hooked up with the Mariners' blog-site to comment on the game, and on the news page (the blog is run by The Seattle Times), was an article about Kathi Goertzen, a news anchor who passed away that morning. For quite a few years, things went exceedingly well for her during her news career; right out of college, she secured a news position with KOMO, was a well-known anchor/reporter in the Seattle Area, and she and her co-anchor were the longest-running Anchor Team west of the Mississippi, and as you know, that's rare in TV news, where many hirees are here-today, gone-yesterday.

Beginning in the late 1990's, though, she began having problems. She lost the hearing in her right ear, and parts of her face began feeling numb. It was found that she had a non-malignant meningioma, just below the right side of her skull, and needed surgery right away. Doctors removed most of the tumor, and she bounced back and continued anchoring the news for another few years before the tumor had once again grown, and once again she underwent surgery. Throughout the late 1990's and beyond, she had surgery six different times for the same tumor. Why "six"? Because not all of the tumor was removed until it was much, much too late. Removing all of the tumor could have resulted in damage to the nerves that controlled swallowing, the ability to smile , and speech. The tumor had wrapped itself around those nerves and just kept growing until the next surgery, because the decision was made not to take out the entire tumor. She'd emerge, recover for a while, go back to her news anchor position, but all the while the tumor was growing...
Then the process would be repeated; get most of the tumor, control the rest with radiation, hope for the best. Except, the radiation treatments and experimental drugs used on her just weren't effective. Her last surgery involved dealing with not only the original tumor, but an offshoot of that tumor which was growing behind her eye. Her first Surgery was back in 1997. Her second was in 2005. And after that, it was operation after operation, in which the surgeons were able to remove most of, but not all, of the tumor, which eventually spread out to other parts of her brain. Technically she succumbed to pneumonia, which came about due to the harsh effects of all those surgeries and experimental treatments. In 1997,when she was diagnosed, she already had been a news anchor for close to 17 years. And if Surgeons had removed ALL of the tumor back then, perhaps she'd still be alive today. After yet another surgery (in 2010), she was left disfigured and couldn't appear on the air anymore. But she still went to work, doing what she could, landing interviews and helping out in general. One such interview was with sportscaster Keith Jackson. Her speech was easily understandable; Jackson gave a great interview, and cameras pictured Kathi from the back, so viewers wouldn't be shocked by the effects of surgery on her face. (Which didn't look all that bad to me.)
Kathi in better times.
I can't help but think that if she'd had all of the tumor taken out when it was first diagnosed, she'd still be here today. She could've taken pride in the fact she'd been a successful news anchor for so long, and she could still be "in the biz" as far as writing, producing, interviewing, etc. Did the fact that she was a News Anchor, whose facial characteristics are transmitted nightly, influence the choices made NOT to remove the Entire Tumor? Is this, perhaps, a fatal case of putting one's job before everything else? Clearly, she loved anchoring the news, and everyone loved her and were praying for her. Maybe she couldn't face life as Not Being An Anchor. In a way, the job might have killed her. Gotta look good for the cameras, after all. From what I can tell, Kathi was a dear, sweet, genuine and gracious lady. The world can't afford to lose people like her. I'm sure people would've understood if she couldn't appear on camera anymore; indeed, she was gone for long periods of time after some of her more recent surgeries. In 2009 she had surgery, recuperated, came back to her Anchor position, and then had to leave again two weeks later because doctors said the Tumor had Grown Again.
My major in College was Radio/TV Broadcasting with a Journalism minor, and I've always paid special attention to the world of broadcasting, and the people in that world. It's my sense that Kathi was not ego-driven to a fatal degree, but somehow the relentlessness of the news factored into the decisions made regarding her surgeries, most of all the decisions not to "get it all" because it could potentially be harmful to her career. Indeed, she knew people wouldn't want to see her face, the way it was after her final surgeries. She said in an interview that it would be "unfair to the viewers" to comprehend the news with her looking like she did. She knew she couldn't be an anchor anymore. If she'd come to that realization years earlier, maybe she'd still be alive today. Anchoring isn't everything. Maybe she didn't want to adopt that outlook. But it's just a job. As such it's not worth dying for. No matter how you look at it, her death is a tragedy. My heart goes out to her family, her co-workers, and her viewers.
This post has been bouncing around in my head for the last week and a half, and it's been driving me nuts. Everything I've seen regarding Kathi, over the internet, television or newspapers has been nice and very sweet and supportive and complimentary. Maybe I can't help but see the other side. I've never lived in the Seattle Area, never saw Seattle TV, and knew nothing of Kathi until the day she died. But I do remember a TV station in Spokane, Washington, that I used to watch; they had a great weatherman, Peter Colford, who succumbed to cancer in the mid-1990s. Very, very sad. This post is the by-product of several weeks' analyzation of internet writings and all the video I could find. And I've come away thinking, "what a sad story". A tragedy indeed.


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