Kathy Popham remains strong, faithful while overcoming a lifetime of medical challenges.
By Brian Dirks
If God is the master professor, He has tested Kathy Popham in just about every way. And through it all she keeps a faith that others may have cast aside some time ago--all while maintaining boundless energy and a strong desire to help others.
These days the 63-year-old Dash Point area resident is busily packing and organizing for a major move—her four-story house that she lived in for 24 years sold within days after it was listed. Kathy is preparing to migrate over to an active retirement community near Bonney Lake in April. She will join two sisters who are building homes there.
Kathy, a lifelong Tacoma resident, retired from Tacoma Public Schools after a 30-year stint as a teacher. Her 25 years at Marine View have placed her in many roles at the church. She served as a Sunday school teacher for seven years until she entered a battle with cancer. Kathy also was assistant director of the Children’s Ministry.
This summer she will conclude 14 years of service as a deacon, at least two of which were as the head deacon. In this role, Kathy trains deacons to prepare and serve communion and coordinates the communion schedule. She also serves in the coffee ministry.
For several years, Kathy and her second husband, Art, led an evening small group until he passed in 2002. She continued leading that group until 2 years ago, when she joined a daytime group. She remains active in that group, and also takes part in the church prayer chain.
Throughout her life of service to others, Kathy faced some of life’s toughest challenges. Her first husband struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, which eventually led to divorce. Since her 20s, Kathy has suffered from fibromyalgia, a widespread chronic pain condition; hyperthyroidism; chronic hives; an ectopic pregnancy; back issues that required fusion surgery; two bouts of third stage cancer requiring chemo, radiation and surgeries, and arthritis. To address these conditions, Kathy has undergone 17 surgeries.
She was married to Art for 12 years before his death from a massive stroke, after a lifetime of suffering from diabetes since age 6. Art Popham was known locally as the longtime play-by-play voice of the Tacoma Tigers baseball team (now the Rainiers), had shows on two Tacoma radio stations, was a local television [broadcaster] talk-show host, and a business columnist for the Tacoma News Tribune.
“I called him my multimedia man,” Kathy says with more than a hint of pride. His loss was the most challenging of all of her ordeals, she said.
The past couple of years have been especially challenging. First she found out the hip she’d been walking on for three weeks with pain was actually broken. She had surgery to screw it back together. Six weeks later, on the clearance of her doctors, she left for a dream trip to Europe she’d been planning with family. But by the end of 2013 the screws had worked their way out and the bone never fused so she had to have the hip replaced.
Last March, less than three months after the hip-replacement surgery, she was driving on I-5 and suddenly braked for stopped traffic. Unfortunately, the cement truck behind her didn’t stop and plowed into her at 60 mph, crashing into two other cars too. For Kathy, that meant a huge gash in her forehead that had to be closed with 36 stitches, along with multiple bruises and torn rib muscles, but miraculously no broken bones. Weeks later she suffered a hip dislocation, then another, and finally had a “remodel” on her earlier hip replacement last November. To top it off her only daughter, Tiffany, was recently diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that can impact the joints, skin, and organs.
So what has helped her make it through? First and foremost, God has shined His light on her life, she said.
“When I realize that He is in control and let myself surrender to Him, things work out. It is important for Him to do the leading. Once you start doing that, everything falls into place. This has been a very eventful time for me but, in spite of that, God kept me going.”
The sixth of seven children in her family—five sisters and one brother—Kathy said she has drawn heavily on her church family at Marine View, in addition to her own family. “My church family is huge to me. I am just as close to them as my own biological family,” she said.
Kathy feels blessed now with a loving daughter, two awesome step-sons, two amazing grandsons, and a beautiful granddaughter.
Kathy said she commits everything to prayer. “Just this week something happened and I was starting to feel anxious about it. So I gave it to the Lord. The very next day He solved the problem, and I was laughing because He took care of it for me so quickly!”
She also relies on Scripture, looking to Romans 8:28 in her life: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and who have been called according to His purpose.” Proverbs 3:5 has also been helpful: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
Kathy said despite her upcoming move to Bonney Lake, a 50-minute drive away from Marine View, her intention is to continue attending and stay active—unless God calls her in another direction.
“Art and I had a saying, which is: ‘Keep your eyes on Jesus, not the storm,’” she said. “He had that taped on his desk at home. And when you do that, things are a lot easier.”