Visit any swim club on a weekend, and you’re bound to see the girls lined up on diving blocks to begin their competition, readjusting swimsuit straps and goggles. On the side of the pool, the coach gesticulates and urges them on. Perseverance is important because they’re participating in the 1,000-yard women’s freestyle event — a race that lasts 20 Olympic pool laps.
This is Katherine’s first competition at 1,000 yards after previously racing at shorter distances. Her goal isn’t just to finish — she wants to post a time that qualifies her for the state meet.
But she’s faced bigger challenges — life and death challenges — and prevailed. At 16 years old, Katherine is a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient and a cancer survivor.
It started in early 2018 with a lump that stayed put while other things in Katherine’s life changed. She had switched schools for the second half of her freshman year of high school. She had recently left her old swim club for a new one. Summer was about to start, and she had family trips and camps lined up.
In May 2018, Katherine’s mom took her to have the growth looked at by a pediatrician-on-call, but bloodwork came back normal. The next week, Katherine and her mom visited her regular pediatrician, who tried to reassure them.
“It’s just lymph nodes doing what they do,” he said. “If it’s not better next week, let me know.” The family was ultimately referred to a surgeon, who ordered an ultrasound, which revealed not just one lump, but three. “It needs to come out,” the surgeon told them.
Katherine’s lump was identified as Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Within 24 hours, Katherine became a patient at St. Jude and underwent surgery to put a port in her chest, allowing blood to be drawn and chemotherapy to be administered.
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Katherine took her first round of chemotherapy at St. Jude and took the other seven rounds at the St. Jude Baton Rouge affiliate clinic.
Her treatment took eight weeks — her entire summer. “Because literally my last day of school, I was diagnosed. And the first day of school, I had my last treatment,” said Katherine. In September 2018, Katherine, who had always loved the water, was on the verge of quitting swimming.
“I would tell my mom and dad every day, ‘I want to quit, I want to quit.’ And I was crying every day. It was just not a good time.”
At Katherine’s No More Chemo party in August 2018, her St. Jude Baton Rouge affiliate clinic care team gave her a card. One of the nurses had signed his name with a quote from the Bible: “For I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Something about that verse moved Katherine, so she copied it onto a light box and posted it to the bulletin board in her bedroom, so it will glow. So she can see it all the time.
In the swimming pool, she’s replaced her fear with hope. “I used to get so nervous before a swim meet, but now I’m just like, ‘Katherine, you’ve gone through something worse than this. It’s just a swim meet. You swim every day.’ So I relax now.”
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