The journey of cancer survival

One UWGKC community partner shares her inspiring story

Rachel Casey’s life changed on April 1, 2018. That’s the day she joined Community Assistance Council as Executive Director. It was a moment she had worked her entire life toward.

And then on June 28, everything changed again. That’s the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a moment she hoped she’d never face.

True to her focus on serving the community, Rachel’s first reaction after calling her husband was thinking about how she could keep her newly joined organization running.

“My immediate response was ‘I do not have time for this!’” she recalls. “I’m the first to admit I’m not a patient person. Alright, what’s the problem? How do we solve it? Let’s do it.”

She jumped into action. Her second phone call was to Carol Owsley, former CAC Executive Director who served in that role for 30 years—and was a cancer survivor herself.

“I asked her, ‘What do you advise?’ It turned out we had the same doctors, and we’ve stayed in regular touch.”

Unfortunately, Rachel is like millions of cancer patients who have a history of cancer in their families, and have their lives changed as a result. One aspect of what makes Rachel special is her determination in combatting the disease. She started chemotherapy in July 2018, followed by four months of radiation. After a mammogram and reconstruction, she knows she is still a cancer patient today, but doesn’t let that distract her from her mission at CAC.

“Everybody knows somebody who’s gone through this. It’s like, OK, let’s just deal with it and then get back to the work that needs to be done. It’s just my mindset overall.” 

CAC, which is a funded partner of United Way of Greater Kansas City, has benefited from Rachel’s tenacity. She has successfully juggled the fundraising, strategic planning, events, staffing, board, community relations, and communications of the organization through it all.

“I can't sit here and worry about myself,” Rachel says. “We have people who need food, shelter, utilities on, and much more!

When asked what inspires her, she recounts a difficult day and what it taught her. 

“One of my board members kept saying ‘You got this.’ That was the day my white blood cell count was essentially 0 and I was not allowed to attend my first CAC Gala. I wasn't sure that I did have it, and she was trying to be supportive, but she didn't know if I had it either. It's not very poetic, but I would tell anyone, just focus on what you do know and what you can do, and focus outside yourself whenever you can.”