Meet our gorgeous muse Katie. Katie lives in Brooklyn, works in the music industry and is currently battling cancer. Diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer, Katie has been sharing her story: the good, the bad, the shitty (sorry couldn’t resist). Her story is INCREDIBLE and we are so honoured to have her be part of our series this month. A beaming advocate of self-love, Katie is someone we (me!) can all aspire to be more like.
Katie! We are thrilled to have you as our muse this month. We are beyond inspired by you. I have been following your honest/often hilarious Tumblr chronicling your cancer journey thus far. For our MARY YOUNG community can you back up and tell us how this all began?
Well, I did sober January. Don't do that. This is what happens, never quit drinking ever — never quit drinking. Also, clearly I love drinking and I would never, ever do a sober January; but I gained weight in quarantine and for pure vanity purposes I went ahead and did it. By the middle second half of January, my stomach started to bother me a little bit. When I ate a full meal, my stomach would hurt in a unique way that I hadn't felt before. And like I mentioned, I was on this health kick so it definitely felt different. I was visiting with my dad and my step-mom in Northeast, Pennsylvania, in the middle of nowhere. My step-mom's an ER nurse and I mentioned my stomach and said I’d get an appointment with a GI doc.
There's only one GI doctor anywhere in the vicinity and it’s an hour plus drive and I couldn't get an appointment for a while. My step-mom suggested I go to her shift with her and get checked out there instead. I should mention I’m not a complainer. I'm like the opposite of a hypochondriac. I've actually been hospitalized a couple times as an adult because I don't really tell anybody that I don't feel well. So I think my step-mom told the ER doc that and to please take this seriously because it wasn't much to go on. I just had a minor stomach ache, and then I saw blood in my stool. And I had seen blood in my stool here and there throughout the year, maybe a couple of times. And also it would always be on a Sunday and I would think, well, it was Saturday last night. And I chalked it up to the four tequila shots. But now… I haven't drank in a month. And when I did the CT scan, I just knew something serious was up. When they were rolling me back in the wheelchair and past the nurses station, and like I mentioned, my step-mom's the head supervisor on the night shift, so everyone knows my mom. And I looked up, and every person at the nurses station was just looking at me. I think at that point, the whole night shift just was told that Kim brought her daughter in and they just found out that she had stage four cancer — and all their faces had just completely fallen. I didn't know what I had yet, but I just immediately thought, okay. I just kind of accepted it and was like, it is what it is. Let's try to listen and stay calm and figure out what to do next.
That sounds incredibly brave of you.
I don't know how really. There was just something about seeing all these nurses' faces, looking at me, it was just like, okay, get ready. A lot of people say they black out when they get that news. And that didn't happen for me. The ER doc walked me through what he thought my diagnosis was and I just said, do you think that I'm dying? And he was like, no, I would never tell someone that — you'll talk to oncologists and they'll figure it out. And I said, okay. But realistically, is this a situation where I have like a short amount of time to live? And they were like, we really have no clue. But you’re young and healthy. And they then walked me through a couple more things. And then they left and I started to cry and shake. It’s hard. Just that initial thought: you think you're going to die.
Yeah. It's not like any other diagnosis. Cancer is its own separate category.
And in the cancer world too, being told that you have cancer is like a bomb. And then being told that you have stage four cancer is dropping a second one. My official diagnosis is stage four colon cancer. And it’s stage four because it is spread to my lymph nodes and my liver.
Getting this news is one thing, what was navigating the system like?
Well one of the biggest shocks I will definitely say is that after they biopsied my tumour, gave me my diagnosis, they released me and I went home. Never in my life have I felt that way, just here, best of luck! I’m sure there are resources available but I’d have to also find those myself. And I’ve talked to a lot of people who have cancer at this point and that part of the experience is wild
Also outrageous to think that if I had gone to a GI doctor, there's a really good chance that I wouldn't have been diagnosed for six months or something, because there's no way that they're going to expect a 32 year old healthy woman to have colon cancer. And then pretty much from the first very minor stomach ache to my first round of chemo was about a month. And I've heard that that is outrageously fast.
Also outrageous that something like that is considered fast, especially for something where clearly time is of the essence.
Absolutely. And it would have delayed treatment a lot if I decided to freeze my eggs. This was one of the hardest pills to swallow because I had the option to freeze my eggs. But of course my doctor is like, you should take it if you want it, but I'm going to always push for you to just start treatment immediately. And once you start treatment, that window is closed.
So I went to a fertility doctor, and I'm at the age where I could be getting treatment for a long time, and I can come out of it and be 39 after five years of chemo. I'd be lucky to be in that situation. I decided ultimately not to do it because, at the end of the day, I thought there's no babies if there's no mom. I think it was the right choice. I was in a lot of pain, my pain had escalated at that point. But it’s still so hard. A week ago, I went from being a healthy young woman, to being a stage four cancer patient. And you’re so, so heartbroken and completely unqualified to make this decision. I had my first real breakdown after that, because I still think I made the right decision but…
I mean, you can still make the right decision and still feel terrible.
Totally. I think that's the only time in this whole thing that I've just thought, this is so unfair. Because it's not even like they're just telling you, you have stage four colon cancer, where your life is going to be a lot harder and all that kind of stuff; but also one by one you realize it’s going to take all this stuff away from you in the process — while you try to heal and stay alive. I feel like cancer’s slogan should be, “If you didn't think cancer sucks enough, don't worry. We're going to take a lot of other things you want in your life away too!”
Terrible ad campaign.
Yeah. Terrible, terrible. Do not recommend. But anyway, I started chemo, I got four rounds, every other Wednesday. It’s this really tough chemo called FOLFOX. And I’ve had to deal with some weird side effects like first bite syndrome and extreme sensitivity to cold.
And have you lived in your place in Brooklyn during this?
Yea, I've still lived on my own this whole time. I’m definitely an independent person and if I'm going through this, I want to do it on my terms.
And I imagine not having to support someone else through it too.
Absolutely. There is no doubt that this is really tough on my parents. And I know my parents would have welcomed me into either household. But I wanted to be on my own, and I want to be sad on my own terms and and on my own time. And if I just need to cry in the shower… which is my favourite place to cry — it's just so cleansing when you're done, you just turn the water off, and be like, okay, now I'm done. And you know, they're so understanding. I think they want to be there sometimes when I break down so they can feel that connection. And of course it happens sometimes, but yeah, it's just easier to do it on your own.
Well I imagine if you've lived on your own for over 10 years it would not only be like a brand new living situation, it would be totally disruptive because you'd be changing everything, not just your diagnosis.
That’s exactly it. And the other thing too, is one thing I'm kind of grateful about is being single. I mean, I hate being single right now. I'll get to that later. But the one nice thing about being on my own is that I'm the only one who has to deal with this all the time. And I'm very grateful that my parents have mostly cancer free days. I don't get any cancer free days, but I want everyone in my life to have cancer free days and I don't want them to have to worry about it 24/7.
That’s amazingly considerate of you.
I stayed with my mom for a week after I had surgery and that was great. I needed it. I'm not afraid to ask for help when I need it, but if I think I can do it on my own, I prefer to try it that way.
That's so admirable. Do you think pre-diagnosis Katie is different from post-diagnosis Katie?
No, I think I’m totally the same person. Maybe some things are more magnified. I've always been an open book and an oversharer. And that could sometimes mean you can really put your foot in your mouth. But in this situation, I think oversharing is my superpower and I'm happy to use that.
That’s right. You have shared this journey so far on tumblr. What was the biggest reason you decided to do that?
I have a big family and group of friends. So it was a way to let everybody know what's going on. You just get inundated with messages and texts and I'm so lucky that that happened to me. I'm so lucky that people reached out, but on the other hand it becomes really overwhelming. And you don't want to talk about it all the time. And it feels sometimes like you're responding to somebody and giving them a moment that they want. Maybe you're not really close with that person. So you don't really feel like sharing with them or, you had a tough day and you just want to sit on the couch and watch Keeping up with the Kardashians or something. And in the end it's so nice of them, but then you're opening yourself up every single time. And I just thought it would be a great way to communicate with people about what's going on. I'm also a creative person and having this outlet to write and get my feelings across would be really beneficial to me. And then thirdly, I've talked to a lot of people on Instagram and other places that have said, I don't want to put myself out there, but I really appreciate that you are so that I can read what you're going through and feel like I'm doing this with somebody else. So I'm using my oversharing for good.
Yeah. That's so true. At the end of the day everyone just wants to feel seen or validated; you doing that is going to make countless other people feel that way. What about in terms of trusting your gut or advocating for yourself? Has that changed?
Well, I think one of my big coping mechanisms is focusing on the fascination of human bodies and Western medicine and other types of medicine. I like to learn and it's a huge learning process, and a huge learning curve and it is absolutely fascinating. Like what chemo does; you're poisoning your body in the hopes that it poisons the cancer faster than it does damage to you. So I focus on that and not think about the ticking time bombs in my body.
I also never Google things. I really just try to talk to my doctors and also knowing when to push and when to just let go and trust in their expertise has been huge. It’s a constant balance.
Honestly, I don’t think I was always able to advocate for myself. I didn't want to bother anybody, I think I just would've gone with the flow; but I'm much better now with my doctor. Like earlier this summer there was a chance we were going to change my chemo to something much harsher. And I just straight up looked at her and said, “Can we do it next time? Because there's two more weeks left of summer and I just want to get one more round of this gentler chemo so I can enjoy these next two weeks”. And my step-mom was like, you don't get to decide. And I'm like, I do get to decide. If my doctor tells me I'm going to die if I make this decision, then absolutely I'll get the harsher stuff. But if it's not a big deal for me to make requests here and there, or like push back chemo one week because I had plans or something like that, in very rare circumstances, would I ever do this, and I've never asked them to push it back ever, because I've never felt strongly enough for doing that. But you should be able to ask, it should be a conversation about your health.
And in even other areas of my life — without giving cancer any credit, because I don't want to give it any credit — but there have been some positive changes. One is boundaries, like if I don't feel well, I will cancel plans. Which I always felt so bad about. Another is imposter syndrome. I've worked in the music industry for 11 years and I'm good at my job. And for whatever reason, I continue to have an insane level of imposter syndrome. But lately I have been able to advocate for myself a lot more at work and push for taking on more. I’m comfortable showing my value now. I definitely think that this experience has shifted things.
That’s fair and doesn’t give cancer credit, all credit is completely to you. Tell me about being single, you alluded to it earlier.
It's funny because being single was my biggest complaint before cancer and it's now an even bigger complaint with cancer. It's so important to me to find my life partner. I had so much fun in my twenties, being in a relationship for a year, being single for a year, dating around, I did it all. And I really enjoyed that. And I think I expected at 30 I’d find the right person and I haven't. And the pandemic hit and I thought, oh, this is going to be so tough — and now this. I still put myself out there, but I don't know how it's going to go. I'm just bummed. I feel like these big steps in my life are now on hold. And I have those moments when it feels like friends around me are hitting all these milestones, babies, moving away; and I’m going to be stuck here and alone. And then I remind myself that I’m valid in my feelings, but also, none of this is real yet. Or it might never be real. It is all fine, you don't know what five months is going to look like. You don't know what five years is going to look like. And maybe I can accomplish those things. But those things are all now 10 times harder for me than they are for other people. I'm not religious or spiritual or anything, but I do think everything happens for a reason and there's a reason that I'm dealing with this part of this on my own.
And at the end of the day, now that I have this, my life could be quite short, I just really want to enjoy as much as I can. And there was a period where I thought that I was going to die, or die young or something. And I would look at my future and it would be very cloudy, but I now absolutely feel like I'm going to beat this, and this is just going to be a blip in my life that I will look back on like, holy shit, remember that time that I had cancer?
I still get deeply sad about it. I'm not sad because I think I'm going to die. I'm sad because my quality of life is just not that of a regular 32 year old right now. And I just have to deal with so much stuff and this massive scar right down my abdomen from the surgery. I also have a port in my chest and this pump in my abdomen that’s pumping chemo directly to my liver. So I wear a lot of crop tops in order to just embrace it — it’s a huge change. I feel like you deal with some serious body dysmorphia from that stuff. It's a lot of mental gymnastics.
Basically I feel lucky that I'm a positive person and that this didn't strip me of that. And instead just kind of amplified it; and I don't know why that happened, but I feel really lucky that I did.
Katie, I think oversharing is definitely your superpower. Thank you for sharing so much of your life with us. You are incredible.
Of course! I think it's so easy to look at somebody who's going through this and think, I don't know how that person does it. I would never be able to do that. I wouldn't be able to take that on, but it is unbelievable how much the human body and the human spirit can handle. You just make it work. You turn this into your new normal and you just take it on every day
Photos taken by the incredible Angelica Jardiel.
Katie, as always you are an inspiration. I remain in awe of your strength and look forward to the next time we play Mexican train.. ❤️
Katie is my beautiful daughter and I am honored and privileged to be her mother. After this horrible diagnosis, she found her feet, and began reaching out through her honest/witty bog. She has touched many lives and this how she does things. I am so proud of the “woman” she is. I have an awesome daughter.
What an inspiration!! You got this girl!!
Katie, You amaze me. I look forward to when we meet……I can’t believe we haven’t met yet since I know everyone else in the family it seems. Your story is powerful. I believe in the power of positive thought so I have shared this with my friends and family. I hope you can feel the love!
Wow- Katie. I have ‘known’ you for probably nearly 30 years . I knew you were going through some stuff , I’m on FB with your Mum.
All I can say is – stick with it , you’ve gone this far and I feel nothing is going to stop you now – be well 👍
Katie is a dear friend and an amazing force. This is a fantastic interview, featuring a beautiful spirit looking awesome in some of your gorgeous products!