Sun guard discusses her mother's fight against breast cancer

Cancer Takes Its Toll

By Katie Douglas

Life was pretty good for me during my sophomore year of college at Purdue University. I was 20 years old and had just come off winning a national championship. I traveled with USA Basketball during the summer with the World University Games Team, which was an awesome experience. But soon after I got back home, my mom, Karen, called everyone in my family and said she needed to talk to us. At first I wasn't too concerned about it, but after my brother said he couldn't make it at the scheduled time, my mom was insistent about him coming over to the house when the rest of us would be there. As soon as I got that word I knew something was going to shake up my life. I never could have imagined, though, the devastating news my mom was about to deliver.

Says Douglas: "As the season progressed, I always had my mind on my mom. She didn't miss many games that season, and when she was there I played that much harder for her." (Fernando Medina/WNBA Photos)

The news my mom told us was that she had breast cancer. As I heard those words, tears started rolling down my face. She had been diagnosed about two years before, without the rest of the family knowing except my sister. As soon as she initially found out, she underwent radiation treatment. They thought they got everything, but after she went for her check-up the doctors realized that the cancer had come back. They wanted to start chemotherapy immediately, and that was the news that my mom had to tell us. She could no longer hide it from us because she was about to begin fighting for her life.

The news broke my heart, and I thought that I needed to stay home with her during my junior year in order to care for her. But being the mom that she was, she drove me up to school the next day and made sure I was going to stay in West Lafayette. Shortly after arriving on campus, my mom started chemotherapy. I was a nervous wreck thinking about her in Indianapolis. I wanted to be with her while she was going through this. Upon her wishes I remained at school and started the basketball season. I usually would call my mom about three to four times a day just to check in or say hello and see how she was feeling. Most of the time she was upbeat, but when she had treatments she used to feel pretty exhausted.

As the season progressed, I always had my mind on my mom. She didn't miss many games that season, and when she was there I played that much harder for her. I knew what she was going through, and for her to put her body through an entire basketball game for me meant a lot. However, towards the end of the season my mom wasn't doing as well as she was at the beginning. She missed the first two games of the Big Ten Tournament, which was in Indianapolis, and I had a feeling that something was wrong. She willed herself to the championship game, but still knew that her health was in question. She admitted that the treatments took a toll on her, but told us that she would be back on her feet in no time. As we prepared for the NCAA Tournament, her condition had not improved. I couldn't keep my mind off her and was praying that I was just imagining that my mom's condition was worsening. After a disappointing exit in the tournament, I took some time off and went home to be with my family.

blue rule  
"I have learned a great deal about breast cancer and how it affects millions of people each year. I realize that I am one person, but I want to make a difference."

-- Katie Douglas blue rule

In the near future I was scheduled to have reconstructive ankle surgery in Indy. While I was at home recovering, my mom was also in the hospital complaining of stomach problems. She gave us her explanation of the cause and problem and we had no reason to doubt her. Unfortunately, shortly after returning to school, my brother called and said he was coming to get me. I knew something was wrong, and the first thing that came to my mind was my mom.

After he picked me up, he informed me that while visiting my mom at the hospital he spoke with the doctors. My mom's wishes were to keep the family uninformed of her condition, but the doctor knew that time was running out. My family was shocked because we thought her condition was something minor when in reality it was terminal. My mom was a person that looked after others and didn't want to burden anyone with her illness. I spent 10 days in Indianapolis at the hospital with my mom before she died of breast cancer on April 28, 2000.

Three years earlier, I lost my father, Ken, to pancreatic cancer. I never thought that I would lose both of my parents before the age of 21, but I have to take the situation and make the best of it.

After grieving, I now have found that I can make something positive out of my experience. I have learned a great deal about breast cancer and how it affects millions of people each year. I realize that I am one person, but I want to make a difference. I want to help spread awareness of breast cancer and how it can be prevented or stopped before it starts.

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