A journalist at the core

A journalist at the core »Play Video
If you didn't know better, you'd say she was the luckiest person you ever met.

She was born into a wonderful family. She was so pretty, so talented, so proud to be a mother to Alexa and Andrea, so in love with her husband Rick.

She had so many friends, had so much to live for. What a life this woman led!

Just days before her third brain surgery, she sat in her living room with Dan Lewis, Steve Pool and me and she counted her blessings.

No one who was there will ever forget it. She was still so beautiful.

I wanted to know how she prepared for brain surgery, how she dealt with it both personally and spiritually.

She answered this way: "I think I have a strong faith, and I have a wonderful family, and friends like all of you. And that's what makes it so... I feel so blessed. And lucky. I'm not the type of person that will hide from this. I've been up front about it. I'm not afraid to talk about it."

Maybe she got angry at the tumors. Certainly she cried and wished it wasn't so.

But we never saw that.

What we saw was a proud woman, a journalist at the core, showing up for work even when she knew her beloved anchor desk would never be hers again.

We saw her swallow hard and walk into the newsroom every day, head high, eyes smiling. Like Kathi Goertzen. Like a queen.

Around the time of her fifth brain surgery, she talked about her work, and what had been lost.

"I love my business," she said. "And I love the news. And I love journalism. And whenever I see a breaking news story I always go into my journalism mode. I always will. It's in my blood. And if I didn't have this, or something, to look forward to, you kind of lose a little bit of purpose in your life. You just keep going."

And she did just that.

We saw a woman who played a trick on the brain tumor. She didn't let the damned thing use her -- she used it!

She let it reveal things about her that we never would have seen otherwise - the layers of who she was, the strength, the will and, at the heart of it, underneath, a very special kind of grace.

She let us into her home with a camera because she wanted to let the world know how she was facing yet another surgery.

By then she had lost hearing in one ear. She had a hard time swallowing. One eye didn't blink. Her balance was off, her voice was weak, and she had lost control of one side of her face, so that she couldn't even smile.

I wanted to get a shot of Kathi looking into a mirror, seeing what we now saw, and facing her new reality. I was scared to ask, but I did anyway.

She turned to me, and I'll never forget the way she looked at me. She knew what I wanted, and she trusted me. She said, "yer killin' me! Sure, let's do it."

Do you know the guts it took for her to let us show those images to you? After being who she was, after looking the way she did, you have no idea.

That day she said, "People at home are probably looking at their TV going, 'What in the heck happened to her face?' Well, a brain tumor happened.'"

She continued, "Of all the things that could go wrong in my body! My face, which is, you know, what I've made my living on. I mean, my face has been who I am. And this has caused me to really say, 'Is this who you are?' Not really."

The toll that the tumors exacted grew and grew. But an amazing thing happened to those who knew her.

The more her smile was taken away, the more her laugh came to mean. The tougher it became for her to talk, the more each word came to matter. The more her looks were stolen away, the more beautiful she became.

There was defiance in her voice when she told me this: "You can't let an illness define you, and I refuse to left this brain tumor define who I am."

She turned and her eyes flared. "I'm still me," she said. "I'm not an illness. I'm not sick. I don't want pity. I don't want people to go, 'Oh, poor Kathi, look at her isn't this awful?' I want them to say, 'Boy, she was handed a tough thing, but she's still going on. And she's still living her life. She doesn't look the same, but she's still Kathi.'"

In the final years, after luck had turned its back on her, she savored each day, each walk along the water, every hug, every smile.

"I don't take anything for granted," she said. "Last night I watched the moon set, and this morning I saw the mountains, clear with snow, and I don't ever take that for granted. Not for one moment."

She said the tumors had changed the way she looked at everything. I asked her if that wasn't a kind of strange blessing, and she agreed.

"Oddly enough, this whole catastrophe with this brain tumor business has been a wonderful experience in many ways," she said. "It's changed my life and a lot of people I love. And we've learned what's really important."

There was just so much to Kathi Goertzen.

She loved her Cougars.
Was so proud of her girls.
Had a soft spot for old dogs.
Didn't take crap off anybody.
Liked to be teased.
Had a wicked sense of humor.
Was endlessly curious.
And tough.
And sweet.
And fun.

She was on this earth for 54 years. Thirty-two of them were spent at KOMO.

We'll remember her the way she was before, with her smile intact, the knowing look, the sly glance, the head thrown back to laugh.

We'll think of her out in the field doing what she was born to do: out in the community, in our living rooms, in our hearts, on TV, on top of her game. On top of the world.

"Do you think about your own mortality?" I said one day not long ago.

"Oh! You absolutely think about it," she said evenly, "and, I'm not afraid of it. I'm not afraid to die. I have a great belief and faith that there's more to me. There's more to this life. There's a sprit that goes beyond this shell, and I have not lost that spirit."

"I don't think you have," I said.

And she just said, "I don't plan on it."

I flash back to that night in her living room with Dan and Steve, before her third surgery. She was only going to be gone for a few weeks, but the words take on a different meaning now.

She said, "You guys, you guys will be in so much trouble without me!"

Dan said, "Lost would be more like it."

Kathi said, "I can't keep you under control! And you, and you!"

She pointed at me and Steve, and I said, "Who am I going to bother now?"

Kathi laughed, "That's right! Who keeps you in line?"

Just Kathi.