South Whidbey Record


100 and still inspiring | Survivor reflects on two mastectomies and living an extraordinary life

By RON NEWBERRY South Whidbey Record Reporter
October 26, 2013 · Updated 2:26 PM

Kate Rosenthal shares a memory with her daughter Katy Reissner. The Oak Harbor resident is a 42-year survivor of breast cancer and is an inspiration to her two daughters. Reissner went through cancer as well and chose the same path as her mother, to have a mastectomy. / Ron Newberry / The Record

Kate Rosenthal greets her guest with an offering.

“Do you want one of these? They’re good,” she says, grinning as she reaches into a small glass bowl of peanut M&M’s.

“I keep eating them and I’m 100 years old.”

Rosenthal visited the dish often during a recent afternoon at her Oak Harbor home near West Beach. She relaxed on a love seat, warmly sharing chocolates, jokes and a quick wit while also revealing a few secrets to her longevity despite a mid-life scare.

Forty-two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I’m still here,” said Rosenthal, who had a mastectomy at the age of 58 then underwent another one when the cancer came back 10 years later.

She was cancer-free until this past year, received radiation treatment for the first time and now has a relatively clean bill of health considering her age.

“She’s amazing,” her daughter Katy Reissner said. “She’s never had chemotherapy.”

“She’s unbelievable.”

Rosenthal enjoys a good laugh, good company, Friday night dice games of Farkle and even a cold beer from time to time.

“I just get along with everybody,” she said. “I do. Even my daughters. I get along with them.”

It’s Rosenthal’s positive outlook on life that has proven to be both contagious and inspiring.

Her daughters Rita Lambert and Reissner, with whom she lives, are quick to smile about her stories and a short-term memory that isn’t quite what it once was.

Even Rosenthal will laugh at her own memory slights. Mostly, she just beams when she sees others smiling. She likes seeing others happy.

“It’s OK,” Lambert said to her mom. “You’re 100. You can do anything you want.”

Reissner couldn’t be more inspired by her mother.

She had her own bout with breast cancer four years ago and chose the same path as her mother, not hesitating to have a mastectomy.

“There was no waiting,” she said.

Their family is close, leaning on each other and their faith.

Reissner said she believes her mom’s positive outlook, as far back as she can remember, has played heavily in her longevity. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer for women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Rosenthal was born May 25, 1913 in Fergus Falls, Minn. “That’s where the tough ones come from,” Reissner joked.

She lived in the family’s 100-year-old home in St. Paul until moving to Oak Harbor five years ago to be with her daughters. She has spent most of her life eating home-cooked meals and subscribes to the philosophy of having “everything in moderation.”

Chocolate has been a guilty pleasure. And there was a long period when she’d enjoy a beer most nights, but not so much anymore.

“I’m not a big coffee drinker. I like booze better,” Rosenthal joked.

Such comments cause their daughters to shake their heads and smile. They know their mom is extraordinary. The second youngest of 12 in her family, Rosenthal is the only one still living.

She wore a pink pin brooch on a pink sweatshirt that read, “This is what the most loved grandmother looks like.”

She’s been a 42-year survivor since breast cancer first crept into her life. It came back a year ago when it was detected in her chest wall and in the summer when a spot was found in her back. But a change in medication and radiation treatment led to encouraging results after further tests.

It was only in recent years that Rosenthal took any medication at all. Just vitamins.

“Oh, I’m good,” Rosenthal said. “I’m just cockeyed old. But here I am.”


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