It was 1959. Bill Fahey had a sweet Chevy convertible, and Kay Domek was the pretty girl next door with eyes for him. They were destined to be together, their sisters all saw, but the high school juniors were slow to make a move on their own.
Bill and Kay’s sisters eventually hatched a plot, giving everyone — including Kay — a ride in Bill’s convertible to check out some storm damage from a recent tornado on the other side of town in Fairmont, Minn. The scheme worked. Within months, the school yearbook staff named Bill and Kay one the couples most likely to get married, and the Faheys soon proved them correct, marrying in 1961.
The marriage lasted 58 years, produced four sons and survived four separate bouts of cancer — all Kay’s. She died Feb. 3 at age 77 from complications from metastatic breast cancer, surviving nearly 30 years of oncology and an untold number of camping trips with her adult sisters.
“The first camping trip that we ever invited Kay on, she came in white pants and white sandals, and after probably 15 minutes she looked down and said, ‘Oh, my feet are dirty.’ … My dad looked at me and said, ‘She’s never going to make it,’ ” her sister Wendy Blum said, chuckling at the memory. “But she definitely, by the end of the weekend, was a true camper.”
Defying expectations was a running theme in Kay Fahey’s life.
In her late 40s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her youngest son, Tim Fahey, recounted the story of a medical tech who examined her images in 1991: “The tech looks at her chart and says to her — she told me this years later — he looked at her and said, ‘Why are you even bothering with this? You should go home and plan your funeral.’ ”
She did not go home and plan her funeral in 1991. She kept on living, until 2020.
“She passed this trait on to us,” Tim Fahey said. “Someone tells you one thing, you don’t agree with it, you’re going to do the opposite no matter what.”
After that first round of surgery and chemotherapy worked, she filled her time with parenting adult children and hobbies like Jazzercise, reading, hiking, gardening — activities that didn’t necessarily show off the strength, toughness and resolve that her family says carried her through the coming decades.
Her longtime Mayo Clinic oncologist, Dr. Edward Creagan, said Kay’s recoveries were all the more notable because her particular cancer was “very virulent” when viewed through a microscope: “If there were 100 patients like her, most would not have lived quality years for 30 years. Most would have succumbed within a year or two or three.”
By 1996, the cancer had mutated and metastasized in her liver. The subsequent surgery removed most of her liver and gallbladder, causing the surgeon to privately tell Creagan that he didn’t expect Fahey to make it to her six-month checkup. She did. Four years later, the cancer metastasized again, in her cervical spine. Instead of funeral planning, she spent more time outdoors.
“We did a lot of camping in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin,” sister Blum said. “We did a lot of hiking. Kay and I hiked in the Tetons. And Harney Peak in the Black Hills. That’s kind of a brutal hike, and at the time she was probably 50 or 55, with cancer. But you never heard her complain.”
Asked how his mom would want to be remembered, Tim Fahey nodded to her humility: “She’d say we’re making too big a deal out of this.”
A mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at The Church of St. Dominic in Northfield, with a visitation one hour prior.
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779