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Driving in a March snowstorm to bring her worldly goods back to Minnesota, Fran Keaveny wondered why she'd decided to leave Kentucky. The new retiree realized why just five months later. "I believe everything happens for a reason," Fran says. "I came home so I could be here with my family when I was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. Thank God I was here. It was a good plan."
Fran moved back to her hometown of Tintah, Minn., in March 2013 after retiring as a logistics engineer with a defense contractor in Louisville, Kentucky. While her house was being renovated, she lived with her younger sister and brother-in-law, Jeanne and Jim Putnam. "I had a horrible cough that I couldn't seem to get under control," Fran recalls. "Jeanne said, 'You're going to the doctor.' "
Exams and tests showed Fran had Stage 3 small-cell lung cancer in her right lung. Like most patients, Fran didn't have symptoms at earlier stages. Fortunately, the cancer was discovered before it had spread. Until recently, there was no screening test for lung cancer. Low-dose CT scans are now being offered for people ages 55-77 who are long-time smokers and therefore at high risk for developing lung cancer. "I felt I had been handed my death sentence," says Fran, who was 70 and a long-time smoker. "But Jeanne and Jim and all five of their kids were there with me to hear the news. I can't tell you how wonderful it was that they were there."
One of 10 children herself, Fran found her siblings rallying to her side. The family took turns driving her to the Essentia Health Cancer Center in Fargo for appointments, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. "I always had their support," Fran remembers.
Fran says she also found strong support from her physicians and staff at the Cancer Center. "They were all so friendly and so caring – we became such good friends," she says. "We drove 75 miles to get there, but it was worth it. They would always make sure I was OK."
Because the cancer can spread to the brain, Fran also had preventative radiation treatments under the care of Dr. Mark Cooper, an experienced radiation oncologist. "I just love this guy," Fran says. "He gave me the best care possible."
Fran says her family, friends and strong faith sustained her during her cancer journey. At the Cancer Center, Fran was drawn to a wall mural that says "Believe." To share her faith, Fran bought "Believe" magnets for other patients. "I wanted people who have as much faith as I do to take one," she explains.
When she began to feel better and got a good prognosis, Fran decided she wanted to give back to the community that had given her so much support. She became a hospice volunteer like her sister, Jeanne. In 2014, Fran was elected mayor Tintah. Four years out from her diagnosis, Mayor Fran is working hard to find funding for a sewage treatment system or grants to help her residents improve septic systems. There's an opportunity for the town to grow beyond 70 residents as new dairy farms are built nearby and Fran is determined to do what she can.
"My whole journey was not all gloom and doom," Fran says. "We had some good times, too. I figured if it is my time to go, it's going to happen. But lo and behold, I'm still here."