Fighting Ovarian Cancer, A Noble Tribute

Life was picture perfect for charlotte power couple Catherine Zanga - a Charlotte based attorney - and her husband,  Hyong Yi - the Assistant City Manager, City of Charlotte:  two adorable children -  and  a pocket full of dreams.   One of those dreams: an epic road trip out West.

Hyong describes it.  "We drove from Charlotte to  Albuquerque, New Mexico for a meeting.  Then we did the Grand Canyon.  We did Utah. We did Colorado - all that stuff.  It was a wonderful trip.  Along the way, she was gasping for air, especially as we made our way through the Rocky Mountains National Park. "

At first, the symptoms were subtle.  "We thought she had a cold, and a cold became Bronchitis, and by January 2013, she could barely make it up the steps without having to stop.

Catherine spoke about her condition back in 2013.  "I had trouble breathing - increasingly had trouble breathing.  They sent me home with some steroids and antibiotics.  They thought I had some sort of infection."

After 6 months without relief, a doctor visit.  Then, Hyong says,  there was the diagnosis:

"Stage IV ovarian cancer.  What it was doing was - cancer cells cause  fluid.  The fluid was building up in her chest, it had nowhere else to go.  It was crushing the lung... To make room for itself. "

At the time, the situation was grueling for Catherine.  "I have two very young children.  It obviously makes for a very difficult situation and something I was completely blind sided with.  People in my family die of heart disease.  They don't die of cancer."

The family sought the top medical care in the Carolinas.  Hyong and Catherine were hopeful.  They launched an adventure, fitly called "The Best Year Ever."

Hyong remembers the journey.  "All the things she wanted to do with the kids over a lifetime, we tried to squeeze in over that summer.  We went to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.  We went to Atlanta.  We went to the beach. We went to Space Camp in Alabama."

It was the best of times.  It was also the worst of times.  The cancer cells were growing. 

Hyong says the support was overwhelming.  "The entire world was praying for her.  We had gotten messages from all over the world saying 'I'm praying for you.  I'm having my church pray for you.'  We had Buddhists and Catholics and Christians and Muslims.  She had every possible religion praying for her.  Is anybody listening.  It tests your faith."

Catherine fought.  "There is enough cancer in my chest to fill my chest with fluid.  There needs to be more awareness.  More importantly, there needs to be a lot more funds and awareness pumped into this cancer."

Three weeks ago – in November -  Catherine had one more check-up.   Hyong describes the solemn moment.   Doctors gave it to them straight.  "It wasn't working.  The treatment wasn't working.  There was nothing else they could do."

Medic transported Catherine to hospice for end of life care.  Hyong thought there would be more time.  But that night, Catherine  fell into a long slumber, her husband, Hyong,  resting by her side -  the two held hands until the end.  Between 5:30 and 6:00 the next morning, it was a peaceful final good-bye.

With tears in his eyes, Hyong Yi paints the picture: "On one level you are just relieved for her, that she's not suffering anymore.  But you still are sad and you grieve.  The interesting thing about having a long drawn out death, is you get to plan your own funeral.  She picked the readings from the bible, the music that she would use."

The funeral was held at St. Peter's Catholic Church and arranged by Hankins & Whittington  funeral service in Dilworth, ,a company that tailors services to meet the needs of each client.  Brian Van Heck is the Location Leader at Hankins & Whittington.  "It's about walking with people at the time of loss and really listening to their needs - where they are.  Some people have no idea where to begin the process - what questions to ask…. It's listening to them, honoring that life and celebrating memories. "

During Catherine's service, Hyong and the kids found moments of relief.  "We use incense to lift our prayers to Heaven so they might be heard. It's just lovely ritual."

Healing takes time.  The kids have returned to school, and the dad has returned to his job at the Government Center.  Hyong returns to work with a heavy heart and a new spiritual perspective.     "I pray more now than I did before.  I pray for her.  I pray for the kids.

The nine and the six [year olds]are doing okay. They're back to their daily routine.  They know it's different. "

Catherine leaves a beautiful legacy in the couple's two children.  Hyong says she also wanted to continue the fight to find a cure for Ovarian Cancer.   Hyong has started the Catherine A. Zanga Fund.  Here is how you can offer support:

Teal Divas & The Catherine A. Zanga Fund:

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