"I think that every survivor can change the world by just being an inspiration for others by getting out and really living life and finding hope after cancer."
While MHH Founder, Danny Heinsohn, was training to compete in Ironman Canada to celebrate his 10th year of brain cancer remission in 2010, he met a gentleman named Chris Dugan who had just completed his first half Ironman in Boise, Idaho. On the drive home to Reno, Danny asked Chris if he knew anyone that My Hometown Heroes could award it's first scholarship. The answer was Kristin Katich, a young lady who recently finished treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and was attending college at Brigham Young in Provo, Utah.
What type of cancer were you diagnosed with and when?
How did the diagnosis of cancer rock your world?
With just three simple words, “You have cancer,” your life changes forever. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, you are never the same. During my nearly three years of treatment, and for some years post-chemo, I felt as though I lived in a fog. I felt alienated from all of my peers; how could they possibly know what I was going through? My sluggish brain couldn’t keep up with school work. The constant pricks, prodding, and poisonous injections made me feel as though I didn’t’ even own my body. Everybody kept telling me this was good for me, it was what I had to do to survive. I was stumbling through my days in a painful fog, yet above the haze I knew that life was more than this. I knew that I could find happiness and truth beyond than the superficial life I had lead before. Cancer did crack my previous perspective on life. It brought me to the edge of death so that I could see the grand view of what my life could be; who I could become. Yes I had to go through 828 days of chemotherapy, but I also needed hope survive.
Describe the process of getting back into life after treatment.
How has over coming cancer made you stronger?
Many people don’t understand the financial, physical, and emotional toll when treatment is over. Describe your process of recovery after treatment spiritually, emotionally, and financially.
I am always on a spiritual journey of recovery. A cancer is a never ending pilgrimage for peace. In fact, I am studying spiritual methods of healing and art for my graduate studies this fall.
Emotional healing is another story. Over the years I have battled with isolation, depression, and anxiety. I keep them at bay with focusing on the positive aspects of my life. My husband, family, friends, and other supporters have always helped me keep and strengthen a positive perspective. Hope and time can heal all wounds.
I consider myself lucky in terms of long lasting effects after chemotherapy and radiation. My protocol for treatment was some of the most intensive chemo you can have and I had 828 days of it. My immune system is still a little bit dodgy and I get sick often, but sniffles and coughs for a few days longer than the average person is nothing to mope about. Circulation and nerve damage in my hands and feet have been my biggest challenge. In my most intensive chemo phases, my wrists ached when I tried to draw and I could hardly walk because the nerves in my ankles wouldn’t comply. Running has always been a passion for mine, and it sounded like a duck walking on wet pavement when I walked. However, I have learned to find liberation in my limitations. With training, physical therapy, and slow progress, I’ve learned to adapt my drawing style and even change my stride.
I really put my physical strength to the test when I trekked through the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal back in October of 2012. We climbed three peaks that trip with the highest elevation of over 22,000 ft. One particularly difficult day I found myself half way to the summit of our second peak. I was being plagued by an awful cough with the thin dusty mountain wind playing the protagonist. I was exhausted after nearly a week trekking through the hills and desperately wanted to turn back. However, t was a pointless internal fight; my courage, will to survive, and persevere overpowered my exhaustion. I wasn’t a quitter. One more step a million times more and soon enough I reached the summit for that day. Sometimes our physical limits are all the reminder we need for the much added strength we need along any difficult journey.
Most people don’t realize how expensive treatment can be. Paying a college tuition on top of that is even more of a daunting burden, especially at a young age. As an artist I am always buying new supplies to create artwork. This financial challenge in my life makes me beyond grateful for the financial assistance I have received throughout my academic career from organizations like My Hometown Heroes. With their help, I have been able to focus more on achieving my goals and not on the pile of bills and claims on my kitchen table.
What does it mean to have a support community during cancer treatment?
Having an sincere and loving support community during cancer treatment is an essential part of the healing process. Cancer is a burned that nobody should have to carry alone. A support community helps you with all aspects of a trial, whether it be just picking you up from the hospital, generous scholarships, anonymous donations, or even just holding you when you need to have a good cry. Hardships bring others together and evoke true compassion. I can’t imagine getting through my own cancer journey without all the love and support I received from those around me.
What does it mean to receive scholarship money to help you achieve your academic goals?
Scholarships have helped me achieve my academic goals to the fullest extent. I have been able to buy quality art supplies, travel to conferences, and even participate in special studies groups that require additional fees. For example I had the opportunity to travel around Utah to study it’s different landscapes through artistic means. I then had a few artworks at the Escalante Art Festival. Without financial assistance I don’t think I could have afforded wonderful and enriching experiences throughout my academic career.
How has the MHH scholarship helped you?
Along with the financial reassurance mentioned in my previous answer, MHH’s assistance has taught me to always remember the importance of inspiration and helping others achieve their goals. There is immense value and true joy that comes from compassion. MHH does more than just give money to young adults with cancer. MHH teaches that survivorship is about more than just living; it is about inspiring too.
Where do you see yourself 5 years after graduation?
Teaching at a public school or working for a non-profit that focuses on cancer and visual art. I also hope to be a mother by them.
Top 3 personal achievements since remission?
1. Graduating with my undergraduate degree in Art Education this past December.
Top 3 life goals (places you’d like to visit, things you want to do, etc).
1. Start a family of my own.
Biggest Take-away(s) from your cancer experience.
You aren’t really living if the only thing you make better in this world is yourself. Hope and happiness are real.
How do you want to change the world?
That is a big task. I think that every survivor can change the world by just being an inspiration for others by getting out and really living life and finding hope after cancer.
Words to live by.
Same answers from previous. And as always, live happy.
Survivorship is a blessing and never a burden. It gives you the strength, courage, and resilience to navigate through the hard times in life. They are invaluable tools to shape and create your own paths. It is only when we regain control of our lives do we truly appreciate the things that really matter. Love, gratitude, hope, and courage are real. I think we are all students of happiness and hope, searching for essential life truths. A positive and endearing perspective on life can make all the difference on any difficult journey. I research these topics with my artwork to help and inspire others.