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A Success Story - Katrina Koenig

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Katrina Koenig 

Katrina is a freshman at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, majoring in Forensic Science.  Katrina's battle with cancer has allowed her to assist other cancer patients going through craniofacial reconstructive surgeries to know what to expect and how to deal with recovery from the surgeries.  She has survived Ewing's Sarcoma.  In her own words:

I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of two, had cranial radiation and two protocols of chemotherapy.  I was too young to know how cancer affected my life then, but I can speak to how the late effects of cancer treatment have affected my life growing up.

I am severely/profoundly deaf in both ears, blind in my right eye, can smell very little, and receive growth hormone daily.  As a result of my hearing impairment, it was extremely difficult to keep up with other children in everyday conversation, and in the classroom.  Most children were too impatient to include me in play.  In classes, I had to really concentrate on what the teachers were saying.  I would be taken out of class for hearing support and speech services.  I had an FM unit in the classroom so that I could hear the teacher and block out the surrounding noise.  Looking back, I think receiving out of class services from school was probably seen as gaining special attention that others did not, thus not making me too popular with other kids.

My most noticeable late effect was the result of radiation to my head and receiving growth hormone; one side of my face grew, the other side did not.  As I got older, the distortion of my face increased.  I had no functional upper teeth, and my upper and lower jaws didn't match.  My parents researched surgeries and surgeons for several years and found one surgeon who had experience with irradiated tissue and could correct my face, but not until I was done growing.  My surgeries began in Dallas when I was 15, and finished after four total surgeries in 2005.  Even among experts, my case was complicated.  The surgeons had to break out calcified (irradiated) tissue and move vascularized tissue from my wrist for me to be able to open my mouth enough to fit teeth.  They noted that removing this tissue was like breaking bones.  My face is now more symmetrical, and my jaws match.  For the last year, I have had a full set of upper teeth, and I can now chew just about anything.  I had to re-learn how to eat and speak when I got upper teeth.

During my surgeries, I have had the opportunity to talk to a couple of other cancer survivors with similar late effects, and those going through craniofacial reconstructive surgeries to let them know what happens and how to deal with recovery from the surgeries.  I guess being in and out of hospitals so many times, I have a curious late effect; I don't mind going to the hospital!  I have no 'fear' of hospitals and doctors like other people.  Because of my experiences with the late effects of cancer, I take less for granted than other teenagers; it takes quite a bit more than a broken nail or a bad hair day to shake me up. 

I have been a dancer with my high school Marching Band for four years, and I have been dancing in jazz, tap, ballet and en pointe for about 11 years.  I have a black belt in Tang Soo Do, but I had to stop due to numerous craniofacial surgeries because of the late effects of radiation. 

I have always gotten along well with teachers.  I am willing to ask questions and find teachers patient and very easy to talk to.  I had an itinerant teacher during grade school who helped me with study and organizational skills.  These skills were key for me to be able to manage my class work.  The skills I learned from this teacher I continue to use today, and perhaps led me to be interested in Forensic Science.

Something that I have learned from cancer and the late effects of cancer is not to take things and people in life for granted.  Thank you so much Cancer Survivors' Fund for making it possible for me to continue my education and reaching my goals.

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