The first thing you noticed about Katie was her smile. Motivated by some inexhaustible inner energy, she found joy in every moment. Her sense of humor was irresistible and disarming. After a few minutes of conversation, she could have a table of total strangers laughing and sharing jokes as if they had all known one another for years. It was this talent for connecting with others that drew people to Katie.
Katie’s unbridled enthusiasm for others made her a common sight in the community. She was a Girl Scout and an altar server at the church. She played soccer and basketball, and although athletics was not her strong suit, she enjoyed being part of the team. Even after a loss, Katie could make her teammates feel like they were champions. But the most important thing in the world to Katie was her family. She adored her brothers and her parents. She loved having girls' night with Mom, which usually meant a mani-pedi, baking cookies, and watching a movie, or having her cousins and some friends come for a sleepover. From rooms away, you could hear them singing and dancing and laughing until way past bedtime. Katie fashioned herself as the welcoming committee for anyone new to the neighborhood with a plate of those homemade cookies and a friendly greeting. Katie was an amazing spirit, full of energy, imagination, and life.
On Memorial Day weekend of 2007, Katie became sick. Seemingly overnight, one tonsil grew to the size of a golf ball. After many tests, and on her 11th birthday, Katie was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer. By the time it was found, the cancer had already spread throughout her body. Katie was admitted to Schneider Children's Hospital, and over the next four months she endured surgeries, chemotherapy, endless tests, and a host of side effects from all the medications she was given. Her body was swollen and riddled with puncture wounds from lumbar tests and central lines. Katie so bravely endured this ordeal with the help of the many visitors who came to see her. Not just family and friends, but members of the church and the community – those who came to give back some of the joy and support she had given them. You would never have known how sick she was when she was singing songs to cheer up the other patients and joking with the doctors and nurses. Every now and then, her grin would erupt into that familiar smile, and her dimples – the same ones as Dad’s – would become pronounced in her cheeks. Ignoring her own pain, she tried to make others forget theirs for a while. We were never more proud of her.
By mid-September we had a glimmer of hope. Katie was in remission. With jubilation, she returned home and joined her friends at the Middle School, excited to begin this new experience. After just three short weeks, she relapsed. The cancer had spread and was now in her bone marrow, escalating her diagnosis to leukemia. The only treatment option left was a bone marrow transplant. Katie's older brother Michael was a match. Desperate to help his sister, he unhesitatingly volunteered. Katie had always lived to help others. Her brother hoped to repay her in this selfless way.
By this time, Katie, now in so much pain, the girl who loved to sing and dance couldn't walk, barely talked, and was on so much medication that she slept most of the day. Again, she faced chemo and underwent full body radiation and bone marrow transplant from Christmas Eve to January 2nd. But even that didn't work. Surrounded by those she loved, she passed into the hands of God on March 1, 2008.
Katie was a blessing. She brightened our lives and showed us what it means to live with an inner spirit that refuses to be diminished. We miss her every day, but we hope that her life and her legacy will inspire others who are enduring similar ordeals. The Katie McBride Foundation celebrates Katie’s life by carrying on her commitment to live for others and to strengthen the bonds that unify all of us – the bonds that help give our lives meaning and purpose. Although we only had her with us for eleven short years, her spirit, her love, and her memory will be with us forever.