Living Hope

Cathy Poulsen

"Living Hope"

Cathy Poulsen remembers it clearly. The crowded operating room, where a multidisciplinary team assembled on that August morning in 2020. The anesthesiologist, whose voice was so soothing that she thought she might not even need the anesthesia. And the little joke that she made, just before they put her under: “I’ve memorized your eyes. If you take off your masks, I’ll never know who you are.” Behind the surgical masks, there was laughter. “OK,” she said. “Let’s do this.” Five years earlier, back home in Virginia, Poulsen was diagnosed with clear cell renal cell carcinoma. After her right kidney was removed, all was well for a while, until a tumor was found in her inferior vena cava. The cancer was back. For the highly specialized care that would be needed, Poulsen turned to Cleveland Clinic, where her son, Kyle, was a postdoctoral fellow. Oncologist Moshe Ornstein, MD, MA, cleared his schedule to meet with Poulsen. “I didn’t realize how seriously ill I was,” she says. Every three weeks, she and her husband, Kevin, made the drive to Cleveland and back, nearly 1,000 miles round trip. “We’re going to do this as long as it takes,” he told her. Poulsen appreciated the attention to empathetic detail at Taussig Cancer Center, one of the high-profile additions to Cleveland Clinic’s main campus built during The Power of Every One Centennial Campaign. She loved the warm and welcoming architecture. She enjoyed the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. And she took advantage of support resources, including art therapy and meditation. “Cancer is a tough diagnosis,” Poulsen says. “You go to a dark place. Anything you can do to help you forget why you’re there is part of the healing process.” After 10 months of immunotherapy to shrink the tumor, it was successfully removed via the aforementioned surgery, which took nine hours. The following year, the Poulsens rode in Bike to Cure to raise funds for VeloSano, supporting cancer research at Cleveland Clinic. They’re looking forward to riding again this year. “This is where I need to be,” says Poulsen, who continues to come to Taussig Cancer Center for treatment. “Cleveland Clinic sets the bar very high.”