Today is National Cancer Survivors Day.
In celebration, we are honored to share the story of one of Cincinnati Children’s own staff members, Katie Keeler, who was inspired to become a nurse after she battled acute promyelocytic leukemia as a teenager. Now Katie works with some of the very same people who helped care for her during her own treatments at Cincinnati Children’s Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute.
Katie Keeler began experiencing flu-like symptoms and a high fever in October 2003. Her pediatrician diagnosed her illness as a viral infection and sent her home.
But as the weeks went on, Katie felt worse; she had swollen lymph nodes, got light-headed, and was finding unexplained bruises on her body.
After revisiting her pediatrician, Katie was sent to get a blood test for mononucleosis. Her doctor called soon after the test and asked Katie and her mom to meet him at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“I knew something was really wrong,” Katie recalls, “but nobody ever expects to hear cancer.”
Just one month after her 16th birthday, Katie was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a rare form of leukemia that affects blood and bone marrow, Katie received her first treatment as an inpatient at Cincinnati Children’s and was discharged three weeks later. The rest of her treatments were given on an outpatient basis.
Between October 2003 and March 2004, she underwent the first two phases of treatment, which were very aggressive, and resulted in side effects including hair loss and extreme nausea. Fortunately, the third, and final phase of treatment, was a much milder, oral medication that had fewer side effects. Katie’s hair began to grow back, she felt better, and she was able to return to school full-time for her junior year in late 2004.
Finding Her Purpose
Katie developed a close bond with the doctors and nurses caring for her. “Everyone treated me so well,” says Katie. “It was almost never about the cancer; they just connected with me on a personal level. The people who treated me at Cincinnati Children’s were amazing. I knew instantly that I wanted to be like them. I wanted to help kids like me when I grew up.”
Katie’s experience at Cincinnati Children’s ignited her passion to become a nurse.
While attending nursing school, Katie worked as a patient care assistant in the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute at Cincinnati Children’s — the very same place she underwent treatment for her cancer.
She graduated from Northern Kentucky University in December 2010 and began working as a nurse. “It’s the coolest thing ever to work with same nurses and doctors who took care of me,” Katie explains. “I just want to inspire my patients and their parents by showing them that cancer is not a death sentence. They can beat it, they can move on, and they can become something great.”
Celebrating Being Cancer-Free
On March 6, 2010, Katie reached her five-year cancer-free milestone. To celebrate, her co-workers — some of whom had cared for Katie during her illness — threw a party and gave her a pin that said ‘SURVIVOR.’
Today, Katie is a vibrant, active, 24-year- old woman. She just celebrated her marriage to David Wilson in May 2012.
The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a “survivor” as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.
We invite you to honor a cancer survivor today by sharing a story or comment on Cincinnati Children’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/cincinnatichildrensfans.