Honored Kid

Catherine Cazzari

Age 25
Catherine Cazzari Kid Photo

Location

Mahopac, NY, US

Diagnosis

Thyroid Cancer

Date of Diagnosis

August 2011

Status

In treatment

Treated At

Beth Israel Medical Center Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

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My Story

If you were to meet me today, you would think that I was just another high school senior. It turns out that I am someone who’s personality, character, and outlook on life has been shaped by cancer. I have been a serious basketball player for as long as I can remember. I have been playing on AAU teams since I was in seventh grade and varsity basketball since I was a freshman in high school. I have always loved the sport and have spent most of my free time playing it. It would make sense, then, that a life-changing moment would occur during a basketball game. I was a 15 year old sophomore just doing what I loved when I got hit in the neck. This wasn’t a big deal that night; it hurt when it happened of course, but I got back up and continued playing the game. I figured that it was just a bruise and not anything serious. A few days later, I turned 16. Not only was my neck still hurting me, but it was also pretty swollen. Instead of having birthday cake, I spent the night at the doctor’s office trying to figure out what was wrong. I eventually found out that I had a goiter and was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease. During the spring and summer, I played AAU basketball as usual. The swelling in my neck had gone down a lot, but not completely. There was also a lump on the left side of my neck, but I was told that it was only a lymph node and that it would go away on its own. It took until the end of the summer, and seven months after I first went to the hospital for my neck, for the real problem to be uncovered. At the end of August 2011, I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. I’m sure that it is extremely hard for anyone to hear that they have cancer. For a 16 year old otherwise completely healthy teenager, it felt like my world had come crashing down. A lot of things started happening at once. I spent two weeks rushing from doctor’s appointments to tests until I finally had surgery on September 8th. I found myself grasping onto the only thing that I knew would still be the same despite how much my life had changed: basketball. I was desperate to get back to playing it. It quickly became a goal of mine to be able to tryout for the team in November. I went to physical therapy as soon as I could and worked hard to regain mobility in my neck. As the weeks went by, I became able to do more and more and eventually I was running. All of my effort paid off when I went to the tryouts with my friends. It felt great to be out there and to be able to think about something other than my disease and all that I had been through. That season was very special to me because I learned that basketball is more than a game to me; it was a way of healing. It took a year and a half, but I have finally been able to mentally deal with my disease and everything that has happened because of it. I have been through surgery, radiation treatment, CT scans, blood tests, and ultrasounds, but I haven’t let any of it stop me from excelling in school and at basketball throughout high school. Since you can’t tell that I have cancer by looking at me, most people didn’t know for a while. I felt uncomfortable telling people, and I thought it would be better to keep it on a “need-to-know basis”. I didn’t realize how great it would be to have people supporting me. This year on my varsity team, everyone wore a red shoelace for me, since it’s my favorite color. It was a great feeling to go into a game and see every one of my teammates honoring me and what I have been through. Really being able to open up started with a Coaches vs. Cancer basketball tournament at my school. It isn’t often that you have an actual cancer survivor participating in an event like this, so it was a very personal cause for me. I ended up getting interviewed by a few reporters and had articles written about my journey in the local newspapers. Even though I was really nervous at first about my story being made public, it ended up being an amazing thing. I am preparing for my next surgery on March 14, but it’s a lot different this time with so many people rooting for me. After all that I have been through, my experiences have given me a stronger voice. I have become an example of determination and perseverance as well as a face of hope for others who are going through similar things. I feel like I am at a place where I can focus on others and help them feel supported and strong. I have been invited to speak at the 10th Anniversary Gala for the THANC Foundation in May. At this event, I am going to tell my story in front of hundreds of people to help raise money for Thyroid, Head, and Neck Cancer research. I am excited to do this because I feel like it is a chance for me to give back to the doctors that have saved my life. I am also speaking at a movie night that the THANC Youth Foundation is hosting to raise money to purchase whiteboards for kids that are temporarily unable to speak after surgery. At another event, the Annual St. Baldrick’s Fundraiser in my town, I am going to speaking as well to try and raise money for Pediatric Cancer research. . My family and I are going to be featured in a short film clip to raise money for Friends of Karen, a group that has helped us with both financial and emotional support. I am also raising money with a Relay for Life team that I have created for this June’s event at my high school. I have really gotten more comfortable talking about my illness and know that my story is a powerful tool that I can use to help others. I believe that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t understand it at that moment. I am on my way to becoming a special person that will help and touch many lives, and I can’t wait.

The Childhood Cancer Ripple Effect

Who's Honoring Me

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Children who are fighting or have fought cancer inspire others to be part of the Foundation's mission — to support the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives.

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