Cancer survivor finds a business in improving others’ lives

Woman with artificial leg exercising (© Sebastián Rodriguez)
Kathy Pico exercises at the gym. (© Sebastián Rodriguez)

While Kathy Pico was going through chemotherapy for a rare soft-tissue cancer in her ankle 10 years ago, she dreamed about opening a business that checks on the well-being of survivors of this particular cancer.

But Pico, 48, of Quito, Ecuador, couldn’t find anyone else enthusiastic about the idea. That didn’t hold her back. She studied Ecuador’s disabilities law and told herself that if she beat cancer, she’d help people with disabilities and share her own story with others.

“I also decided in that moment that if I did survive, I had to give testimony, so that whoever needs encouragement to continue fighting has hope and manages to dream of something better.”

Pico beat her cancer in 2010, but was left fragile. Her left leg was amputated, and she had to learn to walk with a prosthesis. It took years, but in 2016, she launched her business, called Proyecto Kathy Pico.

Proyecto Kathy Pico exists to ensure that people with disabilities in Ecuador know their rights and that companies understand what their legal responsibilities are in terms of providing for employees with disabilities. The business also creates job opportunities by matching job seekers with disabilities to employers.

Pico has continued to climb mountains and hike. She gives motivational talks to others, inspiring them to pursue their own activities and dreams.

Woman walking on hillside with walking sticks (© Sebastián Rodriguez)
Kathy Pico hikes in Ecuador. (© Sebastián Rodriguez)

A boost from the U.S.

Shortly after starting her project, Pico got into the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, a U.S. State Department program that mentors women entrepreneurs through in-person and online classes. Since 2017, the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador has trained nearly 500 women in 10 cities as part of the program.

Graduates of the program learn to raise money, build networks and create business plans. They are offered support as they develop their businesses.

Ivanka Trump, an adviser to President Trump, recently helped launch an Academy for Women Entrepreneurs in Colombia — and the State Department is implementing versions of it in more than 65 countries.

The program helped Pico affirm to herself that her business idea is viable. She said it also inspired her to keep pushing herself — in more ways than one. She is driven by a belief that people with disabilities in Ecuador too often are seen, or even see themselves, as victims, rather than as the talented achievers they can be.

She recently climbed volcano Rucu Pichincha with U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Michael J. Fitzpatrick. And in November 2019, Pico completed the New York City Marathon, fulfilling an important promise she’d made to herself nearly a decade ago.

Pico says her senses were alive while she ran. She smelled simmering roast beef and onions cooked by outdoor food vendors and saw the faces of many of the hundreds of thousands of people cheering her on. At the finish line, she heard Frank Sinatra’s famous song “New York, New York.”

“In the end, I knew everything was worth it, and I was grateful for every breath, and every day of life,” Pico says.

This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.