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Embracing the commitment for a cure: Kathy Santiago, breast cancer survivor

Heads turn when the effervescent blonde walks into a room at the Island View Casino. She lights it up with her smile, her confidence, and her joie de vivre. Kathy Santiago is the Director of Player Relations and Business Development of the popular South Mississippi resort. She is also a breast cancer survivor. No one would ever suspect this consistently buoyant beauty has experienced any tragedy in her life, but as they say, no one’s life is perfect.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Kathy’s caring nature initially guided her to nursing school. Her outgoing personality, however, eventually led her to a sales and marketing career, working in both entertainment and motor sports. In 1992 the Mississippi Gulf Coast welcomed Kathy as she began her climb in the gaming industry.

After Katrina in 2005 she spent a year of her casino career in Tunica.  Kathy says, “I was coping with the aftermath of the storm and the news of my long time friend’s diagnosis with breast cancer.” Long overdue herself for a check-up, Kathy went in for a routine exam. More devastating news: Kathy, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That day was very surreal for me. I felt as if I were having an out of body experience.”

Kathy’s cancer immediately became a family affair as she confided in her husband, Freddie, and daughter, Allison. Together they confronted the life and death situation. Never one to wait and see, Kathy chose surgery. On September 19, 2007, she underwent a double mastectomy to remove all cancer and to help eliminate the chances of a future recurrence.

“Be active in your treatment, and stay positive,” Kathy advises others in the midst of a cancer crisis. “Don’t ask, ‘Why me?’ Instead ask, ‘Why not me?’ Sometimes bad things have to happen in order to get us where we need to be in life.”

Still and all, keeping one’s spirits up through months of medical procedures was a challenge. “The thought of being around long enough to watch my child graduate from college, have her own career, and eventually become a grandmother is what kept me going,” Kathy says.

Though Kathy appears today to have lived a flawless existence, she is more than willing to tell her story.  The day she discovered she had cancer coupled with the long journey into the darkness of pain, surgery, and loss has given her a new outlook on life. “It has taught me about living and the things that really matter,” says Kathy.  “It’s important to give back in this life and pay it forward.”

Paying it forward is certainly her credo. Kathy has been instrumental in raising more than $1.6 million towards finding a cure. After a full recovery Kathy accepted the role of Executive Director for the American Cancer Society’s Gulf Coast Division. “I was able to dedicate myself to the full-time fight against cancer by sharing my story, and more importantly, my recovery.”

Nine years later Kathy remains cancer free, but her mission of inspiring others, providing hope, and urging early detection continues.  “A simple mammogram saved my life,” says Kathy.

On August 18, 2016, Kathy was honored by the American Cancer Society at their annual stellar fundraising Sweets and Champagne event for her abiding commitment to find a cure.