Katie Smith was enjoying all the facets of being a new mother to her boys, ages 2 and 5. In fact, she and her husband were trying for a third. Six months prior, given extensive family history of breast cancer, Katie received her first mammogram, at an earlier than typical age, and was all clear. She carried on with family life and being a science teacher to her middle schoolers. Her seemingly blissful family existence was soon shattered, first by a miscarriage and then a devastating diagnosis of stage four metastatic breast cancer. Katie has been fighting the disease for three years now.
Katie’s treatment journey has evolved into three chapters. Of the first, she notes that “I was just jumping in, trying to survive and put a brave face on for my children, friends and family.” Her second year, however proved to be more turbulent. Multiple treatment failures meant a steady switch of medications and planning and it also meant that what was intended to be a small amount of leave from her job as a teacher, turned into full disability: “I identified so much as a mother, a teacher and a woman and now all of a sudden I had cancer and I lost so much of my identity.” Katie started noticing her weeks were filled with only caring about her next appointment and scan, hoping for good news. She found herself living little for anything in between visits to Dana Farber. The mentality not only drained her, but she started to notice its affect on her husband. As a result, she sought out regular therapy and started to join support groups through Dana Farber. Of the groups she is now regularly apart of, Katie says “they’re my lifeline.” Indeed, she expresses that while physical tolls of cancer are obvious, it has been incredible to connect with others who understand the intricacies a stage four diagnosis brings, both mentally and physically.
Now in her third year battling the cancer, Katie acknowledges the myriad of challenges to remain positive. Chiefly, her children, now ages 5 and 8, have begun to ask more questions about her diagnosis: “how and what to share with them is difficult.” As her battle continues, Katie finds her outward appearance challenging because she appears to “look ok,” while simultaneously fighting a massive disease. She is passionate about reframing metastatic stage four: “people think you either beat breast cancer and are good or you’re in hospice, but that’s a misconception. You can still have hair and still function day to day and that is so important for people to know.” While she notes the daily mental, physical and emotional toll is heavy, she also wants people to know “you can live with it and you can still appreciate life and do things that you love, but you have to go a little slower and adjust. I am constantly adjusting.” Indeed, some days she can go for a long walk, but others, her symptoms prevent her from doing the same. She’s learned to be patient with herself and really embrace living for the present. It’s a constant challenge for her and her husband: “when he starts to get sad about if I will be here in the future, we focus on the fact that I am here, today, right now in the present.”
Katie’s astonishingly motivated to find happiness in her present. She recently went back to mentoring teachers at her former school. The decision, especially as her children have gotten older, has given her a lot of purpose. Her determination to stay in the present is why she explains that how people check in with her matters. When people ask her ‘how are you feeling?’ she notes how overwhelming that can feel. Instead, when friends readdress her with ‘how are you feeling today?’ it feels more manageable: “it helps me feel seen. Every day is hard and true friends know that, but that question allows me to stay in the present, the right now.” Feeling seen, for more than just her physical appearance, is greatly important to Katie. Given the intensity of her various treatments, her appearance has changed. Ironically, her physical appearance is why people are sometimes shocked to hear she is battling stage four cancer. For all of these reasons, Katie is clear when she says, “I want to be seen as more than my physical appearance.”
When asked what Katie does when she struggles most throughout these three years, she says she grabs her kids and “I will just put on music and dance. Dancing can change your entire mood.” Here at Runway, we absolutely agree and we can’t wait to cheer Katie on as she continues to #keepdancing down the runway in October.