Catherine Gerstner, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

17 Years Old at Diagnosis

Catherine Gerstner“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

In my life I have always thought of cancer as something you could see or feel growing inside you. Turns out it’s as simple as finding a bruise on your body. Shortly after beginning my senior year in high school I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). I was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City over Labor Day weekend 2011 and was told I would be spending the next four to six weeks going through chemotherapy treatment. This would be the first of four scheduled rounds.

After a two-week stay in the intensive care unit recovering from respiratory failure, I woke up with a new outlook. Cancer was not going to stop me from living my life and enjoying the time I have. When I returned back to the oncology floor, I began mentoring other young patients. We spend time in the child life room doing schoolwork, making crafts, reading and playing games. I have met many patients and their parents and siblings and have formed friendships with several of them. I seldom spend time in my own room. I enjoy visiting with other patients, nurses, and the child life and education staff. I have been told that my disposition and attitude encourages the younger patients to look for hope.

During my first round of chemotherapy and recovery, my school nominated me for homecoming queen. Luckily I was able to attend the homecoming activities including the parade, school assembly, football game and dance. People told me I was an inspiration to them because of my outlook on life and not being afraid to show up bald. But I believe the people around me give me the inspiration to keep smiling. I am a manager for the football team and was able to attend two more games on their way to becoming state champions.

My acrobatic gymnastics coach and teammates have helped me cope with my diagnosis and have provided a lot of encouragement and hope throughout my treatment. They have visited often and kept me laughing. I still am part of the team. In fact, at the end of my treatment I had the opportunity to re-join the team and am traveling to Michigan at the end of July for the USA Acrobatic Gymnastics National Championships.

With help from my family and school, I was able to finish my second semester and graduate with my class. I was also chosen to receive the Phoenix Award, an award given to students by the teachers at Blue Springs South High School for overcoming great obstacles. In August, 2012, I will begin my freshman year at the University of Missouri on the road to becoming a child life specialist.

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