By Anna Sise
My first encounter with Kaitlyn Suarez was her name on a list. She was one of five new teammates that would be joining the Union Cross Country team in the fall; our coach emailed the upperclassmen with the list of students we should reach out to on Facebook.
When I looked up Kaitlyn’s Facebook page, I was first struck by how beautiful she was. She had short hair, gorgeous eyes, and the type of smile that made you want to figure out what had made her so happy and make sure it never stopped.
Then I looked a little further. On her front page was a picture of her completely bald, wearing a bandana and smiling. Another picture captured her standing with someone who looked like her sister, wearing shirts that said “Fight For Kait.” Another simply showed a picture of a pin that said “Stupid Cancer.”
Kait remembers leaning against her hand on that Sunday morning four years ago and feeling a large lump in her lymph node. She met with a few specialists, and eventually with an oncologist. The doctor called her at home and gave her the news over the phone. Kaitlyn was diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was 15.
“This is happening. What do I need to do?”
Kait beat her first diagnosis into remission, was diagnosed a second time, beat the cancer once again, was then diagnosed a third time and is now almost a year cancer-free. Each year roughly 9,000 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with roughly 1,300 deaths. Kait survived, not once, but three times.
Through donations and support from her friends, family and hometown, Kait was able to raise enough money to reopen the teen center in Stonybrook Hospital, a recreation room for teens undergoing cancer treatment.
More recently, on her 19th birthday, Kait ran the Disney Half Marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. She was able to complete the half marathon nine months cancer-free and raised $4,620 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Something that instantly struck me about Kait when getting to know her was her extreme empathy. I would hear myself rambling on about my “bad” day—an unfair test, not enough sleep or an argument with a friend. Midway through a Kait pep talk (the best kind of pep talk), I would realize that my bad day didn’t even begin to compare to her bad days. Yet when I mentioned this, Kait would shush me and tell me everyone’s bad days were important and what I was going through was tough, but I could do it, because I am awesome! Even after all she has been through, Kait can listen to my troubles and make me feel better about everything.
Kait looks forward to her future. She is planning on majoring in Geology and is already looking for research opportunities in the field. She would like to end up in a field where she is improving the quality of life of others. Kait also believes that no matter what profession she ends up in, she will make the situation the very best it could be both for herself and for others.
At home, people will point to her in the grocery store and whisper; she is known as the cancer girl. But at Union she is known as a standout student, inspiring everyone she meets to be a happier person and to live a better life, one kind act at a time.