Survivor

Amy Kiesewetter serves a community that supported her during a childhood battle with cancer

Published in 2020 Southern California Rising Stars Magazine

The city of Santa Paula is a cozy community located in the heart of Ventura County. It is home to just over 30,000 people and surrounded by scenic citrus fields and avocado groves.

It’s also the place where Amy Kiesewetter, 40, grew up, won her battle against childhood cancer, and later returned to give back to the community that gave her so much. 

“It’s literally a place where I can’t go to the grocery store without seeing five people I know,” she says. 

Her great-grandparents settled in the town to work on a local lemon farm, her parents were both teachers, and her aunt and uncle owned a ranch where she picked apples and pumpkins. Kiesewetter spent afternoons eating the avocados that grew on the trees in her backyard.

Then, at the age of 15, Kiesewetter, an active member of the swim and cheerleading teams, began to experience pain in her knee. Assuming it was an athletic injury, she tried to play through it. But on her third doctor’s visit, her GP took an X-ray and sent her to the children’s hospital, where she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She started chemotherapy almost immediately.

“It was just a completely world-changing week,” she says, “where you go from cheerleading and being at school, trying to hitchhike home with your friends and get money for lunch … to basically being deathly ill—with your life at risk and having to come to terms with a lot of the frailty of humanity.”

For the next nine months, Kiesewetter spent three out of every four weeks at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). It was her community back home, she says, that got her and her family through the difficult time. 

For Kiesewetter’s 16th birthday, the high school marching band played on her front lawn, and a local pilot flew a plane pulling a “Happy Birthday” banner. On Fridays, whenever possible, her mother drove her home from the hospital so she could cheer for the football team, sitting on a barstool her teammates set up. Kiesewetter’s aunt placed change jars around town to offset the cost of the gas.

“We were really blessed to be part of a small community that came together to support us,” she says. 

After graduating from Pepperdine University, Kiesewetter took a job at CureSearch, a fundraising arm of Children’s Oncology Group, and eventually moved east to work in its Washington, D.C., office. She soon realized two things: “The people who were in charge and made the rules were lawyers” and “I needed to be in charge.” 

In law school, she found herself drawn to classes on community property and real property. At the same time, she became reunited with a high school friend, Noel Kiesewetter, who still lived in Santa Paula, and who would eventually become her husband. “I started wrapping my head around what kind of life I wanted for myself,” she says. “I was deciding that I wanted to create a life where I live close to my family.”

Kiesewetter moved back to Santa Paula in 2009; she runs a solo practice. She often meets clients who have known her family for decades. One grew up down the street from her grandfather. “I said, ‘Did you know Buddy Colvard?’ and he said, ‘Well, of course I did.’ He went on to ask about my great-uncle, my great-aunt and my great-grandparents,” she says. 

She’s also on the board at the Health Care Foundation for Ventura County, which supports various county efforts, including a children’s center to treat kids with cancer and blood disorders. 

“The center was essentially created so kids with cancer and blood diseases don’t have to go down to CHLA for outpatient treatments,” she says. 

Her battle with childhood cancer has made her both more grounded and less afraid to confront sensitive topics. “Some other 40-year-old trying to plan with an elderly couple might not have the same kind of empathy, or even the boldness to be able to make certain comments,” she says. “We’re all terminal; some of us are just more aware of it.”

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