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  • Auburn freshman fights cancer, infections with positivity

  • Kate Foster, a Auburn High School freshman, can be called many things: a gymnast and a cancer survivor; a CrossFitter and an amputee.

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  • ROCKFORD — Fourteen-year-old Kate Foster is an athlete and an optimist. Her dedication to working out and eating right to get the best out of her body literally saved her life.
    But when that same body began to betray her three years ago, it was her strength of spirit that kept her motivated and gave her the determination to make each new day better than the last.
    The Auburn freshman can be called many things. A gymnast and a cancer survivor. A CrossFitter and an amputee. In her short life, Kate has countered serious setbacks with infectious smiles, negative news with positive attitude.
    “I don’t really think of being negative. Being positive just kind of comes naturally to me,” said Kate, a Gymnastics Academy of Rockford gymnast. “Having a positive mindset and being able to think I’m going to get through this definitely helps. I think, ‘What am I going to do when I get through this?’ rather than ‘What if I don’t get through this?’ It just keeps you happy. When you’re sad it’s harder to keep going than when you’re happy and focusing on the good things.”
    In late 2010, the setbacks started. Kate began to feel fatigued. Barb and her husband, Lynn, began to see bruises on their daughter. She developed infections on her leg, eye and foot.
    A blood test on May 20, 2011, revealed Kate had acute myeloid leukemia. Three days later Kate was undergoing chemotherapy.
    A few weeks after treatment wrapped up, Kate received another setback. With her immune system depleted from the chemotherapy and her body susceptible to infections, she contracted necrotizing fasciitis – an infection that can destroy skin, fat, and the tissue covering the muscles within a very short time – in her left leg.
    Surgery removed that infection, but while prepping for a bone marrow transplant in October 2011, doctors discovered an aspergillis infection in her knee joint. Doctors told Kate they would have to amputate her left leg.
    “I wanted to tell them, ‘No, you’re not going to do that. You can’t do that,’” Kate recalled.
    But the family agreed it was the only choice.
    “She realized at that time it was her leg or her life,” said Lynn. “It was the only thing to do.”
    Her mom agreed.
    “It was not a fun decision, but it was an easy decision,” Barb said.
    Doctors performed both the bone transplant and amputation on the same day. It didn’t take Kate long to get moving again.
    “The day I got my leg amputated, I was up on my crutches moving around,” she said.
    Kate’s father attributed the surgical success to her lifestyle.
    “We’ve had a number of doctors who have told us if she was not as fit as she was she would not be with us,” said Lynn.
    Page 2 of 2 - After six housebound months of recovery, Kate was back at the gym.
    “CrossFit and gymnastics are two things that have kept me going throughout this because I knew I absolutely wanted to go back to those two things,” said Kate. “I’m a competitive gymnast. I wanted to do a bar routine again. And I wanted to go and do my favorite workout again at CrossFit. Those goals definitely kept me going.”
    But the cancer returned in September 2012. As it turned out, her love of athletics had provided a link that saved her life again.
    Earlier that year, Kate had been asked by CrossFit to tell her cancer survival story for a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital fundraiser. They traveled to Memphis, Tenn., where they took tours of the St. Jude facilities, shot fundraising videos and got to meet Kate’s favorite CrossFit athlete, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. The St. Jude connection gave a ray of hope to the family when they received the news of Kate’s relapse.
    “Our other options were not very good at all and we wanted a second opinion,” Lynn said. “We came home that night and contacted some of our CrossFit contacts and explained Kate’s situation and said we’d like to take a look at St. Jude. Two hours later, I had an email from an oncologist at St. Jude who had already reviewed her record and said she was eligible for a study within their program. We were down there within days.”
    On Dec, 12, 2012, Kate had her second bone marrow transplant and remains cancer free.
    Through it all, she said it was her strength of both body and spirit that kept her going.
    “I just keep moving on,” she said. “I don’t dwell on what’s happening. My friends and family motivate me. I wouldn’t want to live without them and I can’t imagine they’d want to live without me.”
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