Sharing her stories
When Katie Strumpf was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 10, her parents were wise enough to look at the different protocols of the clinical trial she had joined. After examining their options, they insisted Katie be placed into a group where the treatment wouldn't affect her fine motor skills. Now she is healthy and 31 years old and grateful for all the research they did. She remembers the experience clearly.
"I followed my parents' lead, in that I tried to be positive and understand my treatment," she says. "One of my coping strategies was to remind myself that, although cancer was forcing me to grow up a lot faster than I wanted to, going through the treatment would give me the opportunity to grow up and at some point, just get to be a kid."
Members of Katie's family came from near and far to support her. They brought her favorite foods and games to help her feel normal.
The hardest part was missing a lot of school, she recalls, and not getting the opportunity to feel like a regular kid. Spending so much time in the hospital took a toll on her, too. And getting sick from chemotherapy was exhausting, especially at such a young age.
During treatment, Katie told her parents that someday she would write a book for children with cancer. Sure enough, after graduating from college, she wrote I Never Signed Up For This! An Upfront Guide to Dealing with Cancer at a Young Age,an easy-to-read book for kids with cancer.
Today, Katie's life is still very much focused on cancer issues, particularly the fight against pediatric cancer. She gives public readings of her book and for a while worked at a nonprofit organization that helps seriously ill children and their families. Unfortunately, she lost her husband, Adam, to a brain tumor last summer, so she is sharing her thoughts about surviving as a young widow on her blog, Sleepless in the South. She plans to write a book about their experience and the impact of losing a spouse to cancer at such a young age.
On the last page of her first book, Katie summed up her current view of life in this way:
I know you probably think I am crazy, but having cancer made me fully appreciate life. I go after what I want in life and believe I am a stronger and better person. Of course there are times when my life is uncertain and I am unsure of my path. When I'm hesitant to take that next step, I look over my shoulder and she's always there. That young bald girl with cancer dares me to give up, to not take that next step . So I put on some red lipstick, toss my hair over my shoulder, and take that next step. I owe it to myself, and the cancer survivor that I am."
The story on this page was first featured in the book Cancer Adventures, by Marlys Johnson (Copyright © 2008 by Marlys Johnson). Both the story and the photograph are owned by the author and the survivor and are used with permission.