Cancer is the “c” word that we all dread to hear. We associate it with negative thoughts and outcomes. For some, though, it ignites a light and a flame that motivates happiness within our lives. Kate Stark recently finished her radiation therapy for breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with a little over a year ago, and has been inspired to motivate other individuals to not give up their fight, because there’s always more life to live.
Kate discovered a lump in her breast early last year. At the time, she was 34 years old and 34 weeks pregnant and had an almost three year old, Valentina, at home. “A lot of the doctors figured it was a hormonal lump because of the pregnancy, but I had a feeling it was something more than that,” Kate explained.
Just to confirm there wasn’t anything to worry about, Kate decided to get a lumpectomy, which removes a tumor and sent it for biopsy. Shortly after the lumpectomy, Kate went into labor with her daughter Yvette on St. Patrick’s Day, about five weeks earlier than her due date.
After spending a few days in the hospital, Kate and her family came home to the call. “We finally left on a Monday and I got the call from my doctor saying the lump was cancer,” she recalls. “I was glad to have had a healthy baby, though!”
Kate was diagnosed with invasive ductile carcinoma. It’s a common type of breast cancer and is considered an easier one to be treated for. Having her daughter at the time that she did ultimately saved her life since that type of cancer is hormonal. For Kate, having breast cancer was very strange since there is no history of cancer within her family, or the BRCA gene, which she tested negative for. The diagnosis was not something she ever expected to receive, but during this time, and her treatment, she looked towards her Catholic faith for guidance.
“I related to Mother Mary during this struggle, because knowing she could see her son, Jesus, go through what he did and still survive herself, that I could get through having breast cancer,” Kate said. She relied heavily on her faith, praying every day during her treatment, which kept her strong and positive throughout the process.
About 500 women under the age of 35 get diagnosed with breast cancer every day, and Kate wants to bring awareness to women about having exams to prevent breast cancer. No matter the age, you could be at risk for being diagnosed with it, so it’s important to take preventative measures.
During her treatment, she began to lose her hair, which is often very unnerving for female cancer patients. “I kind of always wanted to wear wigs, so I felt like I could do this! I had a big wig collection,” Kate said. “While losing my hair, it was hard for my mind to adjust to how I looked since I had been used to my hair for so long. It was an adjustment.”
Kate ultimately decided to shave her head, letting Valentina and one of her nephews help her shave it off. “We went into the bathroom and I just got them to shave the hair off my head,” explains Kate. “For me, taking the hair off myself, versus the medicine, was empowering. I realized my hair doesn’t define me.”
Throughout the process of fighting her battles, not only has her husband Joe and her parents stood strong by her, Kate also has three strong sisters: Kelly, Renee, and Rebecca. Each of them played a role, as only big sisters can.
Kelly was Kate’s motivator. “Kelly was very reassuring and let me know that I’d be able to conquer the cancer,” reflects Kate.
“Kate has been amazing and is truly an inspiration to all women who face breast cancer,” Kelly says of Kate. “As hard as this last year has been, Kate has allowed her faith to guide her through this entire journey with strength and courage. I am so proud of my little sister.”
To Kate, Renee was, “my spiritual guidance and could tell if I was having a bad day, given, she lives across the street from me”
Renee said to Kate, “I don’t know why, but God wants you to walk through the fire. Not go around it. So you’re going to have to grab the hand of Jesus and start walking. Look to the side and I will be there cheering you on. You can do this and aren’t alone.” Renee also added, “Kate has walked through the flames with dignity and grace and is not looking back.”
Rebecca helped Kate with her cancer visits, as she lives in New Orleans where Kate was receiving her treatments. “Rebecca took me to the treatment center and always made sure we had more than one opinion on the route I was taking for treatments.”
Rebecca shared, “While at MD Anderson, Kate was told she didn’t have to be superwoman, but Kate looked at me and said that her cape wasn’t coming off because it’s made of steel. It was in that moment I realized just how strong Kate was. Within the last year, Kate has shown me that faith can get you through anything, and she has taught me how to strengthen my own spiritual life. I never thought in this experience that she would be the one lifting us up, but in true Kate fashion, she has.”