Katie Hollingsworth, a senior at National Trail High School in New Paris, is one of the top students in her class and survived multiple organ failure due to cancer. A child life specialist at Dayton Children’s helped Katie set up an online blog to stay in touch with her friends during the 264 days she spent at Dayton Children’s. These excerpts are her story of courage, hope and survival.
School is going AMAZING. I’m taking two math classes, algebra and calculus, and I absolutely love it, the nerd that I am. I like being different now. I used to hate it. I used to tell my mom every day how much I wanted everything to just go back to normal again before I had cancer. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am not “ordinary.” I spent 264 days living at Dayton Children’s with cancer. I feel as if I’ve been cheated out of my teenage years because I was staring death in the face. My mom calls me stubborn, which I guess is a good thing because it helped me live, even though the odds of survival were only 40 percent. It never crossed my mind that I would die when I heard the word “cancer.” I was worried that I would lose my hair – and how I was going to stay in touch with my friends. Rita, my child life specialist at Dayton Children’s, told me about CaringBridge, a website that’s an online journal so my friends and family could stay in touch with me since I was at the hospital so long. I posted every day, sometimes three or four times a day, everything from my white blood counts to if I could have visitors.
Sometimes my best friend Chelsea would come and visit me after school. Visiting hours were supposed to end at 8:00 pm. But since I was at Dayton Children’s so long and we lived an hour away, the nurses would let Chelsea stay until after 10:00 pm sometimes. The nurses would take Chelsea’s temperature and ask a million questions to make sure she wasn’t around the measles or something. Sometimes my counts were too low and I was just too sick for visitors. My friends and family told me how much they looked forward to my posts everyday.
But when I got really sick my mom would post on my website for me so my friends would know what was going on with me. I was 14 when I got sick, so I was a little boy crazy at the time. My nurse Rachelle would talk to me about boys. When I met Rachelle I knew I wanted to be a pediatric oncology nurse someday. She would bring me blue slushies that made my tongue turn Smurf blue. She was like my sister in the hospital. Pam in social work helped me a lot at the hospital, too. She gave me a necklace and all of my cancer beads. After 264 days at Dayton Children’s, I have five necklaces total with cancer beads. Each one symbolizes something I’ve gone through.
Here’s what a couple mean:
• Hair loss: one yellow feather-head bead
• Extended hospital stay (every five days): three blue-striped square glass beads
Pam didn’t just help me; she helped my mom a lot. She gave us things like gas cards so my family could get to the hospital to visit me. She even arranged for our rent to be paid one month when I was going through chemo and the bills got to be too much.Pam would also hold “end of chemo” parties. But I went from the oncology floor straight to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) after my fifth round of chemo. I got a really bad infection and my organs started to fail. My kidneys failed and my circulatory system failed. The doctors told my mom there was a 97 percent chance I wouldn’t make it. I was in a coma for seven weeks. When I finally woke up, my mom said I threw something at her. That’s how she knew that I was going to make it.
It took awhile to start walking again. I started with the walker, only short distances, but it was something. When I went back to school, I went an hour a day at first. I was number one in my class before cancer, now I’m number five. I guess that’s pretty good considering I wasn’t there for half of my freshman year of high school. Now, I’m an ambassador for Dayton Children’s. That means I have cool opportunities to speak on behalf of the kids out there like me with cancer. I get the chance to share my story to inspire others to give money to Dayton Children’s so there will be more people like Rita, Rachelle and Pam for other cancer patients like me. Oddly enough, I am thankful to have gone through cancer. It has made me a much stronger person. I’ve learned so much and met so many people that would not have crossed my path if I didn’t live through cancer. So for that, I am grateful.
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