Kate Giles is your average American girl. She loves to travel and go to concerts. She is frequently listening to music on her iPod. Shopping is a cherished pastime. But she fought a war that no child should have to endure.
“Although I was very young when I went through my surgery and radiation, I do remember trying to stay as positive as possible for the sake of my family, and did my best to persevere throughout the entire endeavor. I think these are both important things to try to do when one in struggling with cancer,” said Giles, 21, a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in international affairs.
Her positivity clearly paid off. After being diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 5, Giles is a 16-year cancer survivor. Her journey began when her family noticed that she was experiencing curious, subtle seizures. A weekend spent with her family and aunt turned into a nightmare. Giles and her family drove over 100 miles from Auburn, Al., to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Al., only to be greeted with tests that confirmed she had a malignant brain tumor.
“The diagnosis was definitely shocking for my immediate and extended family and close family friends since I was an otherwise healthy 5-year-old child at the time,” said Giles.
Following an operation in May 1994, Giles endured a subsequent three months of radiation treatment. She and her parents travelled to and from Birmingham multiple times each week. While the cancer itself was a burden, this took an added toll on Giles’ family. In order to care for her younger sister, her grandparents moved into her house. And while the surgery and radiation therapy were extremely effective, the enter process truly tested Giles’ family, especially her parents. They warmly welcomed a return to normalcy after months of coping with the cancer and all that came with it.
“I was very lucky to have the support of my family and friends, which can make even an experience as dreadful as cancer much easier than it could be without the help from loved ones,” Giles said.
Growing up as a cancer survivor, Giles found strength and exhilaration attending Relay for Life events. She attended her first Relay as a 10-year-old and was the youngest survivor at the event, which she playfully described as a “really cool feeling.” She has since attended five more Relays. She describes the Survivor Lap as her favorite part of the event, a truly special moment especially because she is able to share the experience with other survivors.
Attending the University of Georgia opened up all new opportunities for Giles. “I have never experienced anything quite like my first Relay at UGA. I would definitely encourage any who is thinking about participating in the event to do so because whether you are a survivor or not, it’s a night that few others will be able to surpass,” she said.
While Giles donates time and raises money for UGA Relay, she is also involved with the UGA chapter of Colleges Against Cancer.
In fact, she and I met at a survivor banquet hosted by CAC, one of three such banquets that she has attended. These organizations have provided Giles with invaluable connections to other cancer survivors. Giles believes that these connections are vital for cancer survivors because survival stories provide a common ground and basis for meaningful, long-lasting relationships.
Participation in UGA Relay and CAC have illustrated for Giles just how special it is to be a cancer survivor. “Not only have these organizations provided me with outlets to connect with other survivors, but they have also allowed me to realize how important it is to share my message with others and do my best to offer support and hope to anyone who is in the situation that I was in at one point in my life,” she said.