By Yadira Betances
---- — SALEM, N.H. — Kathy Francisco believes every day is a gift that should never be taken for granted.
She knows that well, as she battles Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, 10 years after being cancer free.
Two recent events have lifted her spirits. One was spending time with 29 family members in North Carolina.
“This was absolutely quality time to get to know each other, which we will cherish forever,” said Francisco, 57. “It’s the simple things in life that makes forever.”
The second was being the recipient of the 2013 Project Makeover, after being recommended by her oncologist, Dr. Han-Ting Lin, chief of medical oncology at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.
“She lives every day with grace and courage, and fearlessly faces any obstacle. I feel very privileged to know her and to care for her,” Lin said.
Project Makeover was co-founded by local business women Susan Kanoff, a fashion coach, and Grace Moschetto, a make-up artist and owner of Grace Professional Cosmetics to recognize women for their contributions to the community and serving as role models in the face of life’s challenges.
The makeover included makeup, hair stylist, a new wardrobe, a meeting with a nutritionist and getting her home kitchen painted.
“It was an inside-out makeover. It’s a lift for someone who’s going through cancer treatment and wants to get their life back up,” Kanoff said. Project Makeover recently partnered with Holy Family Hospital and Francisco is the first patient to participate.
“Kathy is someone who is a very giving type of person,” Kanoff said. “She was the perfect example for our program because she has given of herself so much, it was time to give back to her.”
Francisco worked at the Internal Revenue Service in Andover for more than 30 years. At the IRS, she and her coworkers raised thousands of dollars for the Blue Ribbon Campaign as well as items for Toys for Tots program. She is a former recipient of the YWCA’s Annual Tribute to Women and Industry and Business (TWIN) Awards. Even through her illness, she is giving of herself as a hospice volunteer.
At the reveal party in May at Holy Family Hospital, she showed off her new look and $5,500 for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Saint Monica parish in Methuen. The organization provides food and money for emergency partial payments of utility, rent and medical expenses for individuals and families.
“No act of kindness is ever too small, so I urge you to always give of yourself,” she wrote in a speech she could not deliver at her reveal party — Francisco finds it difficult to talk as a side effect of her medicine.
She admits it was a shock when doctors discovered her cancer was back and metastasized at age 54.
“I do recall feeling grateful that in the 13 years since my original diagnosis, there were new, approved drug alternatives; whereas, if that had been my original diagnosis, I would have been told to go home and put my life in order,” she said. “I was also prepared this time, since I had been through chemo, radiation, hair loss, etc. and knew the drill.”
Francisco said two things keep her strong.
“I get strength from my family and friends who gather around me with laughter and support, and my faith, always knowing that He’s always been there for me,” she said. “That’s what gets me through these tough times. I can’t say enough how blessed I am.”
Francisco said the makeover was a welcome distraction.
“Project Makeover has reminded me of all the good people in the world. It has motivated me to continue giving back,” she said.
“When you feel good about yourself, you stand a little taller and smile from the inside out. I want to show the world that one never gives up on herself or her surroundings.”
Francisco was born and raised in Methuen. She graduated from Tenney High School and attended Castle Junior College. She has one brother and two sisters, and is the youngest of her siblings.
She is not the only one in her family who has had cancer. Her mother passed away from kidney cancer in 1992, her uncle died from throat cancer in 1996 and an aunt died in 2002 from esophageal cancer.
The team collaborating with Francisco’s makeover were fashion coach and wardrobe stylist Susan Kanoff; makeup artist Grace Moschetto, entertaining and event planner Monique Johnson and photographer Linda Jennings. Cheryl Plunkett, owner of Fresh of Nashua, N.H., provided the outfits.