LIMA — The Kreher sisters have always been close, but when one lost her ability to speak, the others picked up the slack.
The three sisters called it “playing catchphrase for the brain.”
“Even though Rebecca was the one dealing with it, it affected us all,” the youngest sister, Rachel Kreher, said. “We use the word ‘we’ a lot. So it doesn’t seem abnormal to continue to do that through this process.”
For those who pay attention to local politics, Rebecca Kreher’s name should ring a bell. After winning the seat of Lima’s 4th ward city councilor in 2015, Kreher has had a public voice in some of the most controversial issues affecting the city in the past four years. Throughout much of her term, the 39-year-old was also privately battling a form of brain cancer that often left her seeking solace in both faith and family.
Now that she’s been cancer-free for a year, Kreher said she feels more comfortable telling her story and wants others to take note of how social support and belief can help ease such struggles.
Kreher’s fight against cancer began in August of 2016. While sitting at home on the couch with her cat nearby, she noticed the strange smell of fair food in the air. The world started spinning soon after.
“Like the sensation came over me, and I thought: ‘This is not normal,’” she said.
She called her sister.
“I could hear some fear in her voice, which is not very common for her. She’s not typically a fearful person.” Rachel said.
Kreher had a seizure, and the subsequent months brought a gauntlet of doctor visits to identify the cause and the cure. Eventually, doctors found an astrocytoma — a big chunk of cancer in the brain — and a brain surgeon in Columbus offered to do the surgery to remove it in late spring, early summer of 2017.
Her family took the reins as Rebecca entered the recovery phase after the surgery. Rachel called it going into “T-rex mode,” as she prowled around the house making sure everything was in order and her sister was safe during the tenuous time.
“I couldn’t shut that off. My mind would not let me. My heart wouldn’t let me do that,” Rachel said.
The third sister, Casey Kreher, took care of food and drink, always ensuring her sister had water nearby, even if she said that she wasn’t thirsty. At one point, Casey re-arranged her schedule for four weeks to drive Rebecca to Columbus for treatment on a daily basis.
As for Rebecca’s brain, it swelled as it worked to heal. For a time, seizures were common, but instead of smelling fair food, Rebecca said she would just fall asleep. Over time, they counted 27 different seizure occurrences.
Chemotherapy also became part of her routine, and Rebecca spent many hours sleeping and in a daze brought on by the chemo. At one point, she even lost her ability to talk, as some of the important speech functions of the brain were frazzled by brain swelling.
“I was fine. I could speak. I could communicate, but then as the days proceeded, I lost my speech,” Rebecca said. “I couldn’t talk. I could only make sounds. That’s when all these seizures kept happening, and my brain was swelling.”
Her sisters used their years together to interpret the grunts.
While family played a large part, Rebecca said her faith made it possible to make it through.
“I thought to myself, if the Lord is not afraid, why should I be afraid?” Rebecca said. “Lord, you are responsible. You’re responsible, and it takes a lot of faith to go, ‘Maybe I am not going to get better, and maybe this is where it’s going to be.’”
Faith gave her an underlying calm, she said, that allowed her to push forward during some of the more difficult times. Rachel said Rebecca often required more rest than she’s used to, and there was some frustration about getting things done. As a team armed with faith, however, they were able to move past the obstacles.
“This was a wrench in the plan, and we were able to rise to that challenge together. It was just comforting to be able to rely on each other,” Rebecca said.
On the public front, Rebecca took a more deliberate approach to her work on Lima’s council during her recovery — reading and re-reading the information presented and talking to her fellow councilors at length to better understand the underlying issues involved. After taking a look back at her votes at the time, Rebecca said she comes to the same conclusions, but her method had to evolve. Now, she takes more notes and relies less on her short-term memory by taking pictures and writing things down. Kreher’s term ends at the end of the year, as Peggy Ehora won election to the seat in November.
The surgery also tampered with some earlier skillsets, such as calligraphy and sign language.
She now works with specialists to reconnect some of the neural pathways she may have lost during the surgery. Brains, in general, have incredible plasticity, and she’s had to relearn some basic motor functions. Thankfully, she also has her voice back.
Today, Rebecca can look back on the experience, and she thanks her sisters, her support group and her faith for helping her move through a difficult time.
“In this time of thankfulness and giving, I hope for people who are going through a journey like this. … I hope for them that they can find joy with other people and just enjoy being where they are and what they have,” Rebecca said. “There’s a lot of gratitude I have to people. I don’t even know how to say thank you to the people all around that were supportive. … Being young, knowing this process I’ve gone through, my heart goes out to other people. My heart goes out to people who have yet to discover what kind of a journey they could also be on.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.