What cancer gave us

Psychotherapist and St. Jude mom writes about how cancer has changed her family and the way she sees the world.

  •  3 min

In summer 2017, Hannah went from top-rated karate competitor to childhood cancer patient. On the heels of a few mild symptoms came a shocking diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma, inoperable due to its location in her head. Her parents immediately began researching the illness and realized Hannah needed proton therapy. They sought a referral to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and, in a turn of events her mom, Hayley Katz, describes as “miraculous for us,” they were instructed to board an 18-hour flight from their home country of South Africa bound for St. Jude, which had the world’s first proton beam dedicated solely to children. This family’s transformation was beginning…

Haley Katz

When you are faced with something like a childhood cancer, it makes you really re-examine your life, and I think your way of being cannot help but be changed. It changes the way you live and the way you interact, and the way you want to pay it forward. I think the overall impact of St. Jude is probably much, much greater than is apparent.

On the importance of making slime.

During treatment in 2017 and 2018, Hannah was this little girl of 11 and 12 who was speaking to her friends back in South Africa. They had no idea what she was really going through and what she was balancing. Everybody else was going to parties, and she was at St. Jude fighting for her life. Plus, she lived in a different time zone from her friends. Not just that, but a different zone of being altogether.

I didn’t want her to lose her friends because she was in a different space in her mind and in her being. She needed to be able to sit and giggle about things that you’re supposed to be able to sit and giggle about.

So there were times that she played with slime, and she just loved making slime. We spent all day buying slime, making slime, doing slime.

We didn’t talk about the dark stuff because it was just about light and laughter and fun and gratitude, and that’s where we kept the space.

A world-changing space

I do believe, with the grace of God, that St. Jude has been a miracle for us. And I don’t believe it’s just the medication. It is the way of being in the hospital. From the doctors to the people cleaning the floors to the nurses to everything about this place — I think all of it has facilitated a healing response.

This is how the world should run — with care and compassion and love and generosity and kindness of spirit. The energy here is so profoundly different from the world out there. This is not a place you want to leave. You want to leave because you want to be better, but you don’t really want to leave.

For me, energetically and spiritually, this is a world-changing space.

St. Jude is a microcosm of the world and how it should be, a model for society. I mean that from the depths of my heart. Completely.

What cancer gave us

This whole experience, as odd as it sounds, has been our biggest gift.

Haley Katz

Before Hannah was diagnosed in 2017, my husband and I led very busy lives. We were both professionals, both working. We had busy children and their schooling.

Cancer allowed us a space to stop, to pause, to think and to reflect. We asked ourselves the big questions:

Who are we?

What is life?

What, really, is the meaning of being here?

And what is our purpose?

The experience changed us forever, and we’ll never be the same. In fact, we don’t want to be the same as before. We’ve evolved, and we’ve found what it means to be alive and to love and to be in connection. That’s what we’ve found.

Back home now, Hannah recently celebrated clear scans. She attends school and spends time with her friends, virtually because of COVID-19. We know we're fortunate to have our home, our health and each other.

Because of cancer, I have gratitude to the divine and gratitude to the divine in each of us.

That’s what cancer gave us.