Lemont woman fights rare cancer with beautiful artwork

LEMONT, Ill. (WLS) -- Carol Koch sees an opportunity to make something beautiful out of old dishes many people would readily throw away.

These are her Forever Flowers, recycled plates piled together to create vibrant outdoor decorations.

At first these crafts were Koch's hobby. But in February, that changed.

"They said we saw things that we don't like, we took some biopsies," recalls Koch.

Two days later doctors diagnosed Koch with appendix cancer. They told her she had developed the disease two years earlier, but only discovered it because she finally felt ill.

"We get normal CT scans or MRIs or any kinds of tests and we're not able to see this," explains Dr. Kiran Turaga, who treats Koch at the University of Chicago.

The surgeon says appendix cancer is rare, with fewer than 2,000 new diagnoses in the U.S. each year.

"We haven't run into one person who when I told them I had appendix cancer that they had heard of it before," said Koch.

Turaga says the disease is hard to detect.

"This is like specs of dust on the paint on the walls," he explained, adding that the cancer "has the propensity to burst out of the appendix."

By the time Koch's doctors diagnosed her, the cancer had spread throughout her abdomen.

"My chances aren't as great as I would've hoped they would've been," Koch bluntly shares.

After the diagnosis, she "went home and had a good cry."

Then she made an unimaginable phone call to her three children.

"It totally came out of left field," said one of her daughters, April Schlau.

But the Koch family quickly wiped away their tears.

"We got busy doing research," said Koch.

While looking for answers, Carol Koch returned to what made her smile: these shining Forever Flowers, twinkling in the sun.

Her husband Robert knew the craft project would take her mind off of the vicious disease.

"I found her out here sitting in the garage sometimes just putting them together," he recalled.

But the flowers have become so much more than a distraction.

"Mom would say 'we have all these, I don't think I can sell them,' and we're like 'what? Everybody wants them,'" says Schlau with a smile.

So the whole family got involved, churning flowers out by the dozens.

They sell for $35 and you can buy one Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 1264 Eagle Crest Drive in Lemont.

All proceeds go toward the Appendix Cancer Research Foundation to help find a cure bring awareness to this disease.

"Whether how long I have, if I leave this earth with people knowing a little bit more about appendix cancer, and someone can think about it, then it's a good thing," said Koch.

The project has brought her family closer together.

"We sit and we talk and we laugh," she notes.

They all pick out color schemes and designs--but mom has the final say.

"I'm the CEO on this one," says Koch with a smile.

"A lot of people say 'why me why me,' but she hasn't really said that," said her other daughter, Liz Reinhardt.

The grandmother of seven just keeps smiling instead.

"I'm very blessed because I have a support system that just goes on and on and on," said Koch.

Her calm demeanor and focus is admirable.

"She says you know I spent my life teaching my children how to live, now I gotta teach them how to die," said her husband Robert, his eyes filled with tears.

She fights with grace and perseverance.

To date, the Kochs have raised near $10,000.

Each piece of art is unique, except for one element: the phrase "Forever 2017" etched into the Forever Flowers. It's a small, lasting reminder of Carol Koch, whose legacy cannot be measured.
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