Miracle Kid: Katie Foster
Girl Inspires Others through Courageous Cancer Battle
Less than 24-hours after Katie Foster learned her cousin was diagnosed with cancer, Katie and her family learned she, too, had cancer. As a freshman at the School of the Arts (SOTA), Katie had to put her normal life on hold, causing her to miss out on making memories in dance, spending time with friends, and, overall, just being a regular teenager.
In mid-September 2011, Katie had been experiencing extreme back pain. She noticed her ribs were starting to pop out and her spine was beginning to curve. An avid dancer, Katie assumed it was a dance-related injury. Following her pediatrician’s advice, she began physical therapy. As therapy went on, however, Katie’s back flexibility decreased and the pain increased. X-rays showed a large mass in her spine and excess fluid on her left lung. On Nov. 11, 2011, Katie was diagnosed at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer.
Katie and her cousin Mareesa Boyatzies, also a freshman at the time, shared a lot of things, but they never expected they would share an oncology team. Mareesa was diagnosed with Stage 2A, non-symptomatic, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Nov. 10, 2011.
The girls’ oncology team had never seen anything like it before.
“At what was supposed to be an exciting part of their lives, the two girls were faced with decisions like if they would want a broviac catheter or an implanted port catheter,” said Razia Akhtar, M.D., Katie’s pediatric oncologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital. “As much as they were defying the odds, it was heartbreaking to see a family going through so much.”
Katie’s cancer was stronger, making her fight with the disease more intense, with 13 rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. “I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be – how much pain I was going to be in or how many side effects I would have,” Katie said.
After undergoing chemotherapy treatments, Katie’s white blood cell count would plummet, making her susceptible to serious infections which would keep her in the hospital for days, even weeks, longer.
“Our doctors were always there for us,” Katie said. “And not just to talk about ‘doctor’ stuff, they would talk about anything and answer any kind of questions we had.”
“In addition to the care we received from the oncology team, we wouldn’t have been able to get through it without the constant support from the nurses, social workers, child life crew, and everyone on 4-3600,” said Lisa Foster, Katie’s mother. “They were our lifeline.”
Because Katie spent so much time in the hospital she was often isolated from her friends at school, causing her to become very close with her nurse team. “The nurses became like my best friends,” Katie said.
Although Katie was determined to get better, her body was losing nutrients and was very weak. To help, Katie had a gastrostomy tube (g-tube) inserted through her abdomen to deliver nutrients directly to her stomach. It helped, but then an abscess formed that threatened to not only undo the benefits of the g-tube, but threaten her very life. Katie’s surgeon, Yi-Horng Lee, M. D., then replaced the g-tube with a jejunostomy tube (j-tube), allowing food to travel directly to the small intestine and help Katie maintain good nutrition and stay hydrated, while also saving her life.
“It was a very trying time,” said Jeff Foster, Katie’s father. “You never imagine having to have a conversation about death with your daughter like that, but there were some very tough moments.”
Although she was expected to undergo a total of 20 rounds of chemotherapy, doctors stopped Katie’s treatment plan in November 2012. After the abscess, they decided the treatment was doing more harm than good. The cancer was gone and the remaining treatments were causing her stomach to deteriorate.
A month later, just before her sixteenth birthday, Katie underwent another stomach surgery with Lee and, in order to allow her stomach to fully heal, a nasogastric tube (NG tube) was inserted through Katie’s nose, past her throat and down into her stomach. “Most patients, when they need this sort of tube, have it in for a few days because it is so uncomfortable,” said David Korones, M.D., pediatric oncologist. “Katie’s tube remained in for five months. Despite this discomfort, she didn’t let it slow her down and even went to Hawaii with the tube.” The NG tube was removed in May 2013.
Katie was able to slowly get back into dancing in September 2013 and has pushed herself more and more ever since.
“We are very proud of her,” Lisa said. “In January, we were able to go to the parent observation for her spring SOTA recital and I burst into tears just watching her do warm ups. Our doctors were always realistic with Katie’s prognosis and there were a few times we just weren’t sure how it was going to go.”
Katie’s j-tube, the final piece of her treatment, was removed in February, allowing her to dance even more fluidly.
In March, Katie performed three numbers in the recital, including a piece focused on overcoming obstacles. Her solo was based on her experience with cancer – her surgeries, scars, and fight as a whole. “Dancing was a huge part of who I was before I was diagnosed and I am so happy to be able to continue to do it after – it’s still a part of me now,” Katie said.
Katie recently hit a bump in the road and will require more treatment, but she continues to be an inspiration to the community. Katie has been active in Golisano Children’s Hospital events, including the first children’s hospital prom and our annual Telethon and Radiothon fundraisers. Katie also enjoys spending time throughout the year with her friends at Camp Good Days and Special Times, Inc. and CURE Childhood Cancer Association.
After high school Katie hopes to go to college to become a nurse. “My nurses inspired me,” Katie said. “I want to be there for patients like they were there for me, not just as nurses, but more as friends.”