The Thriver: Kate Haleblian
Meet issue 10's cancer thriver, Kate Haleblian, who survived cancer right when her young adult life was about to begin.

As told to Britt Julious

I was just your normal high school student.

I was gearing up, getting ready to apply for colleges, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Around the first week of February 2010, I [got] really sick. I had shortness of breath, I was lacking energy, I was retaining a bunch of water and I had high fevers. Nobody could quite figure out what was going on. Right around that same time, my best friend had just gotten diagnosed with mono so we [thought], “Oh, thank goodness. This has to be it. No way could it be anything else.” [But] sure enough, it was not mono.

I had a lot of pain under my right arm and near my right elbow. When I was 16, I found out I was BRCA positive. I knew down the road, I would probably get preventative surgery and [testing]. A surgeon said, “Well, it’s either infected lymph nodes, lymphoma or breast cancer.” At that point, I had never heard the word lymphoma before. I didn’t even know what lymph nodes were. I thought, “Well, I hope it’s either an infected lymph node or lymphoma,” without even knowing lymphoma was cancer.

Finally, I got a full biopsy of the lymph node under my arm. I also had pneumonia, so while I was undergoing surgery, I went into respiratory failure because my lungs were more than 70 percent full of fluid. They intubated me and put me into a medically induced coma. They knew then I had cancer. I was in the coma for about two weeks. I started chemo while I was under the coma.

As a young person, I [associated] cancer with death and so I worried, am I going to die? [But] I decided I wasn’t going to die. I decided that wasn’t an option, and that I was going to fight it and beat it and come out completely resilient and get my life going.

I luckily have and had the most incredible support system who helped keep me lifted up. I’m kind of headstrong and when I have my mind set on something, there’s no going back. I knew I had so much more to do in this world and ending it that short was absolutely not an option.

When they say nothing lit up, that’s the best thing on the planet. I knew that that was going to happen, but to actually accomplish it is still my most major accomplishment in my whole life. That being said, it was a challenge that while people act like it’s a heroic or honorable thing to beat cancer, that was the option. There was no other way out of it. It’s not really something to be idolized. The intent of doing chemo is to beat cancer and nobody that beats cancer asked for it. It’s kind of a weird thing. Sure, I set my mind to it and beat it, but it wasn’t a challenge I was going to choose to overcome. It was a strange thing to wrap my brain around.


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