Niagara Gazette

July 18, 2013

DELUCA: Words of love open new chapter for Lewiston woman

Michele DeLuca Commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Her husband doesn’t remember saying it.

But, she remembers. It was a hot summer day, many years ago, when Kathy Kifer was sitting near an air conditioner eating her lunch, wearing an old T-shirt, and bald from a round of chemotherapy.  

“You are so beautiful,” Al Kifer told his wife with such sweet sincerity she knew he meant every word.

I don’t think there’s a woman alive that doesn’t respond to the soul touching words of a man who sees her beauty beyond her imperfections. It’s that kind of love that has likely spurred Kathy to her most recent success, but I’ll say more on that a few paragraphs from here. 

The Lewiston couple has been married for 39 years. The breast cancer that disrupted her life 30 years ago, would eventually require several surgeries, more chemotherapy and radiation and the removal of, first, the lower portion of her left arm, and then later, the remainder of her arm.   

But, Monday, as I sat in their charming little house in the village, drinking ice tea with lemon and chatting about her writing, I was struck by how lovely she was, despite her challenges or perhaps because of them. The color of her close-cropped auburn hair matched the petals of the flower decorations on her shirt, as did the blue from the tiny stones in her earrings.  Her creamy skin belied her recent 60th birthday. She said, completely unselfconsciously, that it was too hot to wear the prosthetic arm she typically wears to work. I found that attitude of self-care rather inspirational. 

After 30 years she is free of cancer and lives a life of gratitude for simply being able to see her sixth decade. Age 70 and beyond will be an unexpected gift. 

Kathy, who works part time for the Town of Lewiston Fire Bureau, just self published her first book and has sold about 35 copies on Amazon. It’s a love story she started writing before the cancer struck. 

I first met her a dozen years ago, and I didn’t know she was an aspiring writer when I did a story about her for a lifestyle TV show I was working on at Adelphia. Even back then, she was deeply involved in cancer support groups at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, and had created a calendar of women battling the illness. To this day, she continues as a group facilitator, but the result of her personal investment is too many friends who have died from the devastating disease.

Still, there’s some kind of karmic justice in that, when she returned to her writing after such a long absence, she found people to support her with equal fervor.  Before she published her first book, she shared every chapter with her friends in a writer’s group at the Lewiston Library, and they encouraged her forward. 

Two nights ago, I started reading the e-book version of  “If a Tree Falls: A Love Song Comes True,” and I must say, it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for a newly returned writer.  The plot is about a rock star in hiding, thought to be dead, and the nanny that brings music back into his life. 

Yes, it’s a romance novel. And to some, that might seem a cotton candy version of writing. But, anyone who loves to read knows that well-written love stories can impact the reader, giving insight and hope to those who whose lives are challenged by matters of the heart. 

As she brought me up to date with her own life story, Kathy recalled telling her sister, “I don’t want to die with a book in me.” Happily, she won’t.  And, it turns out, there’s another book inside author Kathleen Kifer. This one is going to be like no love story I’ve ever read. It’s about a woman who looses her arm to cancer, and the challenges she conquers before finding a man who loves her completely.   

While Kifer and her character have similar stories, Kathy says hers is different in at least one important way. 

“I was blessed. I was married to a guy who already loved me,” she said. “Her husband rejects her.”

How rare to see a female storybook character of strength and beauty who lives happily ever after, empowered by her imperfections. One might think it is rare in real life as well, but Kathy is proof that it happens. 

She is having the time of her life tapping away everyday at her keyboard. In this element, her hard-won wisdom and years of challenge are a gift. She says that the words are practically “falling out of my head.”

“I’m living in gratitude and it’s helping me appreciate everything around me,” she said. “I know doing what I love makes a big difference.”

She has inspired me to reexamine the things I’m doing in my life that I forget to feel grateful for, and to continue to pursue what brings me joy. Sitting with her also gave me a whole new appreciation for the aging process and reminded me that it is so much better than the alternative. How can she complain when each new day is a gift? How can anyone?

“When I think that turning 70 is my next frontier,” Kathy told me, “I’m just so excited to still be here.”

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263