December 1, 2021

Get screened for cancer

Katelyn Stramba calls on everyone to do their part

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Katelyn Stramba has been writing her memories of her mother, Robin Stramba, to ease her grief.

Katelyn Stramba is in the thick of it, grieving the loss of her mom, Robin Stramba.

The Cortland woman was floored when she found out in August her mom had stage four cancer. It was only a matter of weeks before she died.

“We found out too late that she had lymphoma. We thought she still had time. We didn’t get enough time with her!” said Katelyn Stramba, 37.

Katelyn has a message: If you have a family history of cancer, be on top of regular cancer screenings and let the doctor know.

“Be more mindful of these things. When they come up, if you experience something unusual, (get it looked at),” Stramba said. “Mom had so much going on. I never thought cancer.”

Robin Stramba was a tough nut. The Cortland woman had been dealing with a host of illnesses for years. She did not want to go to the hospital or consider a MRI or CT scan — afraid of what it might reveal.

“It was an uphill battle to get her looked at,” Katelyn Stramba said.

Robin Ladd Stramba, 63, died Aug. 26. The stay-at-home mom, Corset Factory, Brewer Tichnor and Greek Peak worker had been ill for years with thyroid problems, asthma, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, fibromyalgia, anxiety and kidney disease, her daughter said.

“We never knew what was going on: thyroid? Kidney?” Stramba said. “She always denied the gravity of the situation.”

Katelyn Stramba, who buried her mom in September at Virgil Cemetery, wants people to quit smoking and get exercise. Her mom was a smoker who quit in her 40s. Katelyn’s grandmother, Carol Ladd, who smoked, had a mass on her lung and died of cancer.

Robin did not exercise regularly because of thyroid issues.

Prior to her hospital visit, Robin was in pain and wasn’t eating much, but didn’t want to go to the hospital. She was having trouble walking and was losing weight.

Stephaney Powell, a volunteer at the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes, suggested that when people do not want to go to the doctor, find a doctor for them.

“The key thing is to have a provider that you can trust,” Powell said. “That means different things to different people.”

Powell has worked five years at the center, at 612 W. State St., Ithaca, helping people with cancer get resources, information and support. The center serves people in Cortland County, too.

“Everyone is human. Some people get along with certain doctors. Some do not,” she said. “Encourage people to make contact with a provider they can trust.”

And for those who abhor doctor visits, Powell says what can help is having the patient go with a friend or family member who can take notes, ask questions and take down information from the doctor. That can take the stress down a notch.

A relationship with a doctor can get the conversation started about when to test for cancer. Those with a history of cancer in their family may get tested earlier, according to the American Cancer Society.

The kicker that got Robin Stramba to the hospital was not being able to get up and walk. She was taken by ambulance to Guthrie Cortland Medical Center.

“I had a feeling something bad is going on,” Katelyn said to her brother, Timothy John Robert. “Kidney failure, sepsis? Heart attack? Stroke? Covid? Pneumonia?”

Those were the illnesses that would stem from her health issues through the years. The family found out one of Robin’s kidney’s had no function and the other was at 19%.

Katelyn said her brother suspected cancer, due to weight loss. She didn’t want to eat.

He was right.

“They think I have stage four cancer,” Robin told her daughter. She was moved into the intensive care unit.
“I felt like I didn’t have much time,” Katelyn Stramba said. “The doctor had somber eyes and was grim. It would raise my alarm bells. ‘I am going to talk to him.’ I found out it wouldn’t be much longer.”

Staff and doctors at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center made Stramba’s mom comfortable.

“They were wonderful,” Katelyn Stramba said. “If you had questions, they would sit you down and explain. It was appreciated.”

Stramba’s dad was Robin’s health care proxy and carried out her mom’s last wishes. “We had everything set up,” she said. “In my grief, if something good can come out of this and someone else can be helped, that would bring us comfort.”

Provided by Katelyn Stramba

Timothy and Robin Stramba and their two children, Timothy John Robert and Katelyn, 28 years ago.


The American Cancer Society suggests

  • Colon cancer testing from 40 to 49.
  • Breast cancer tests are possible for women 40 to 44 and mammograms for women annually starting at 45.
  • Cervical cancer tests every five years for people with a cervix, age 25 to 65.
  • Prostate cancer testing for men at 45 with high risk. Talk about testing at 40 if a close relative had prostate cancer before 65.