Friends Rally Around Lowell Mom with Terminal Brain Cancer

Photo by Annie Blanding. Used with permission.

Three years ago, Dave and Kate Lax welcomed their daughter Evelynn into the world. Then, a year later, they received devastating news: Kate had a rare form of brain cancer.

Known as diffuse midline glioma, this is a rare cancer that is diagnosed in fewer than 800 people a year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Kate’s case involves an aggressive H3 K27M mutation which is usually seen in pediatric patients.

“They gave her 12-18 months, [and] she’s exceeded that,” says family friend Jackie Tousley.

In the summer of 2020, Kate had two brain surgeries and followed that by participating in a clinical trial for a new cancer drug. The results were positive, and Kate focused on making the most of the time she had with her family, friends and daughter.

Unfortunately, cancer symptoms returned this year. Without many options, Kate opted to have a third surgery. The operation was considered extremely risky, but she wanted to do whatever she could to extend her time with Evelynn.

“If she had not had the surgery in July, she would probably be gone now,” Tousley says.

While the surgery removed the tumor, it also left Kate partially paralyzed. After completing some rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed, she came home to be with her husband and daughter for her remaining time. Her cancer is considered stage four, likely to return and has no further treatment options available.

Concern for Community Safety

Many in the community may know Kate as Katie Lum. She grew up in the neighborhood west of Hudson Street and south of Foreman Street. Her mom, Kim, was a longtime teacher with Lowell Area Schools.

After her initial surgeries, Kate threw herself into figuring out how she came to have a rare form of cancer that normally afflicts children. Her research led her to a local manufacturer.

“She feels that her cancer was the result of a toxic chemical TCE used by Root Lowell,” Tousley says.

Root Lowell is no longer in business although a different manufacturer operates at its location. The site is listed on the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy website as a contamination site for the following:

  • Chlorinated Volatile and Semi Volatile Organic Compounds
  • Lead
  • Petroleum Volatile and Semi Volatile Organic Compounds

Kate started a Facebook group to share information about the contamination, and Tousley says she found eight other people with connections to the area who had brain cancer. In a post in the Facebook group, Kate writes:

I believe that my cancer is directly linked to almost 2 decades of exposure. This is not provable and I’m not seeking money.

“She was hoping to have some public meetings,” Tousley says. “She really wants Lowell to be a wonderful safe place to live.”

Those plans were cut short by the recurrence of Kate’s cancer, but community members can still view the information she collected in the For Love of Lowell – Cancer Cluster Investigation Facebook group.

How to Help Kate Lax and Her Family

Kate is currently home in Lowell with her husband and her daughter. She is paralyzed on the right side and experiences weakness on her left side which makes it difficult to talk, eat or perform other tasks of daily living.

Currently, Kate receives 24/7 care for her daily needs, and according to friends, this care is not covered by insurance. They have set up a GoFundMe account for those who want to help the family cover these costs.

At only 37 years-old, Kate will eventually leave behind her husband and young daughter. As Tousley says, “It’s not supposed to be this way.”

For updates on Kate and to donate to the family, visit the #KateStrong GoFundMe page.

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