This is the story of Katie Sennhenn:
Sit down with Katie Sennhenn for just a few minutes and you’ll find her zest for life is readily apparent. The plainspoken 36-year-old may at first appear unassuming but carries within an indomitable spirit. She’ll tell you one of her biggest pet peeves is to be called an inspiration, asking, “What’s so inspirational about going out to get groceries? I’m just living my life.” But, perhaps, what Katie doesn’t see is that others are drawn toward her positive light.
Katie has never known a life without cancer: first, as a patient, then as a volunteer and now, as a healthcare professional. Katie’s life has been spent fighting the disease, overcoming her cancer battle and helping others fight theirs. Today, she works at Cure 4 The Kids Foundation and is continuing to grow professionally in order to help others. Katie is a Public Health student at UNLV and hopes to use her education and experience to make a difference in healthcare in Las Vegas and to couch young cancer survivors through their journey.
It’s that positive light, passion for helping others and ability to tap into her own patient experience that make Katie the perfect fit for her role in healthcare. Diagnosed with Retinoblastoma at six months old, Katie knew from a young age that cancer would play a profound role in her life.
“I lost my eye at six months. I had chemo and radiation and then I went into remission,” Katie says. “But I grew up knowing what I had been through as a baby and that I would probably experience cancer again.
“Sure enough, at nine years old, I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. Because I had gone through it before and my family was open with me about cancer my whole life, when it came around the second time, we were devastated but it wasn’t a huge surprise. I was only nine, but I was a part of all the decisions. My family didn’t make any decisions for me and that made a huge difference with how I dealt with everything. At some point, the appointments became a routine and I just made up my mind that I was going to get through it all. I was just running the race. It was hard, uncomfortable and scary, but you just say to yourself, ‘I have to get through to the end.’”
Despite diligent efforts on the part of Katie’s mom to look for signs of cancer, which doctors suspected would return in her long bones, by the time Katie’s second diagnosis was discovered the cancer had already spread into her lungs.
“I had chemo for six months before they decided to take the leg. The doctor had said to my mom and grandma, these are your options: she can keep her leg, but it might mean a lot of dead weight and a lot of ‘what if’s’ or she can lose the leg and have a prosthetic. It was laid out for me, and I was scared facing such a serious illness. I had that history. I was raised to know about it. I knew that having one leg was going to be a struggle. But, looking back on it, I’m glad that I was in control and that it was my decision. I would have been resentful of my family if they had made that decision for me.”
Katie’s courageous choice helped her defeat the disease. “I went into remission and relapsed twice. I went into remission again in 1999 and made it 22 years cancer free”.
Katie recalls her time in the hospital making friends with other kids who were experiencing the same journey. “I remember having fun with my peers. They just weren’t in school; they were kids in the hospital. Candlelighters’ visits and activities, games and movies were the best support. We made the best of it.”
Katie says she can recall Candlelighters’ support even before those much-anticipated hospital visits. “I became a Candlelighters’ kid in 1991. I qualified for the services because I was a survivor of my Retinoblastoma as an infant. I have a unique perspective of Candlelighters having been a Candlelighters’ child, then in high school as a volunteer and later becoming employed by Candlelighters. I will forever be a part of the Candlelighters family. Over the years, Candlelighters has grown so much, and I have been a part of its growth. The work that is done to support families, in every possible way – financially, emotionally, quality of life – is just tremendous.
“But, more than anything, it’s that emotional support.” Katie was diagnosed with a third cancer, Leiomyosarcoma, a smooth muscle cancer. This time the disease was in her abdomen. When Katie first experienced symptoms and was waiting for test results, “I turned to Jacki at Candlelighters for support. I was far too old to receive any of the benefit of Candlelighters services, but I knew where to find a friend when I needed someone the most.”
“I can help replicate that support in what I do today. It’s important for someone who has been through it to tell these kids not to be afraid of what they’re facing. If you have questions, ask them. If you’re scared, tell someone. If you’re sad, tell someone. There are people that will support you in ways you didn’t know you could be supported. Mental health is just as important as your physical health and there is a team that will support you no matter what. That’s what Candlelighters does.”
And, like Candlelighters, Katie is also determined to make a difference. Others who have experienced a journey like Katie’s might prefer to put those past experiences behind them; but Katie willingly shares her story to help support others, giving them strength to pull from her experiences. And, that is truly inspirational.