By Susan Carroll
“My entire life has been a journey,” says Catie Maurer, who is a smiling, full of life 16- year-old junior attending Lake Orion High School.
“I’d like to be an elementary school music teacher. I love kids, I love music and I love helping people. It seems to be the perfect combination.”
Helping people seems to be an understatement as Catie has raised thousands of dollars and awareness for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).
Why would a 16-year-old girl be driven to spend her free time fundraising?
Catie was diagnosed in 2002 at the age of 17 months with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia of the pre-B cell, with a rare presentation of the cancer.
Catie’s mother, Julie Barnes-Maurer, turned to her daughter when asked how does a parent digest a medical diagnosis of that magnitude — they say in unison, “Lucky zip of the DNA!”
Then they smile at each other and giggle. Lucky?
Lucky because of the attention she, her mother and others like her have brought to the fight against blood cancers. Lucky are the people whose lives Catie has touched.
Catie’s treatment was a two-year protocol of chemotherapy. Starting with a one-month stay at the hospital, followed by spinal, oral, and intravenous chemotherapy treatments over a two year span.
On April 25, 2004, two years after that first treatment, Catie was the guest of honor at the “Chemo Party” her mom threw her. This little girl was not quite four years old.
Catie’s earliest memory of the treatment was at a very early age and it is one of happiness and positivity. This girl doesn’t seem to have an ounce of negative in her life.
“I was around 2 ½ (years old) and I remember being in a chemotherapy room with older patients and we were all getting our treatments. I was dancing around making them laugh and they turned ‘Barney’ on the television for me,” Catie says.
So how does a parent begin to digest, to comprehend, to handle, a diagnosis such as this?
“I asked the doctor how could this happen? I did everything right while I was pregnant, and then I breast fed and I made organic food,” Julie said.
His powerful statement to her was: “Thank God you did that because she is the healthiest cancer patient I’ve ever seen.”
“So we had to dig our heels in, I got tunnel vision and focused on what needed to be done,” Julie said.
What needed to be done was to beat the disease — and they did just that.
For the next five years, Catie underwent blood draws, imaging tests and countless medical appointments.
Every finger poke, every scan, brought anxiety and worry to her family. Yet every test came back cancer free. At the 5-year mark, Catie was deemed “cancer free.”
Catie has been an “Honor Hero’” of the LLS Foundation since she was a toddler. An Honor Hero is a survivor of the disease that provides inspiration for patients.
Catie has provided that support for many years, and she remembers being preschool age and “writing and coloring on hospital ID bracelets” to be given to patients.
Lucky…changing lives…putting a smile on faces in a non-smiling situation.
Earlier this year, Catie was named both Girl of the Year and Student of the Year by LLS-Michigan Chapter.
Catie, with the continued support of her mom, raised $18,253 for LLS over a seven-week period, and because she collected the most money she earned the Student of the Year designation as well as a $3,500 college scholarship. A total of nine students were nominated for the designation and combined they collected over $50,000.
Over the years, Catie and her mother have had many fundraisers.
They have incorporated bowling, poker, gymnastics and home parties. They have done singing and cartwheel challenges and they “just asked for donations.”
Most recently, Julie ran 43 miles on her 43 birthday at Stoney Creek Metropark, adding cartwheels along the way.
“Someone pledged me more money for every cartwheel I did, so of course I am going to go for it,” said Julie. And she did them, with a smile on her face, like mother like daughter.
The mission of Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is to cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.
For more information, visit www.lls.org/mi.