Stories: Sheila and Kayla

Sheila and Kayla Preston

A mother’s love

Sheila Preston Comerford was devastated when she learned that her 22-year-old daughter, Kayla Preston, had an extremely rare form of cancer. She knew that Kayla had been short of breath and had gone to see her primary care doctor. She also knew that Kayla’s doctor had discovered fluid in one of her lungs and that he had referred her to an oncologist to have it drained. What she didn’t expect—and no mother wants to hear—was that an X-ray discovered a tumor. Kayla’s oncologist decided that it would be best for her to see an oncologist and surgeon at the Swedish Cancer Institute.

Kayla’s tumor was in the pleura (the space between the lungs and the chest wall). She was facing a grueling treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, a very long and complex surgery requiring three surgeons, and many years of follow-up care, additional procedures and monitoring.

Sheila wanted and needed her daughter to be well. Like all mothers, she couldn’t stand the thought of her young, vibrant daughter being so ill. Sheila spent her lunch breaks with Kayla at Swedish. It was during those visits that Sheila began to realize that Swedish not only provides exceptional care, but the people who work there have a remarkable depth of compassion.

She couldn’t help but be concerned, though, about the mounting cost of the extraordinary care her daughter was receiving. Kayla hadn’t seen a bill yet, but Sheila knew that her daughter only had basic health insurance. She worried that it would take years for Kayla to pay off her medical bills.

But, then, a social worker at Swedish encouraged Kayla to apply for financial assistance. She told Kayla that Swedish might be able to help with her bills. For the first time, Sheila allowed hope to filter through her fears. She could begin to believe that not only would Kayla get better, but that life itself would work out. In the end, Swedish covered 100 percent of Kayla’s medical expenses.

While Kayla focused on getting well, Sheila began looking for ways to show her gratitude to Swedish. After retiring, she began volunteering at the Breast Imaging Center and at the hospital’s front desk. Now Sheila volunteers weekly at the Foundation. She is inspired by the work the Foundation does and by the generosity of donors who want to support Swedish.

“I love volunteering,” says Sheila. “Everyone at Swedish treats volunteers so well. They make me feel like I am making a difference and that they appreciate my contribution.”

Sheila is also an annual donor—contributing what she can to help where the need is greatest. She knows what it means to be the recipient of someone’s generosity. She understands that contributions from members of the community support research, education and extraordinary health care at Swedish. And, she also knows that through philanthropy, generous supporters help ensure patients with cancer aren’t forced to choose between paying for their lifesaving cancer treatment and paying for life’s essentials, like groceries and rent.

Sheila proudly reports that her daughter is enjoying a very active life. Kayla recently celebrated her 31st birthday; is happily living in Seattle with her dog, Riley; and embarking on a new phase in her flourishing real estate career. Without the philanthropic support of our community, Kayla’s life might be different today.

When you give to Swedish, you make innovative health care – and stories like Sheila and Kayla’s – possible.