Walking off the softball field at the end of the 2011 season, Katielee Kaner had one thought: “I’m hungry, can we go now?” Looking back, the then-sophomore at South Forsyth High School wishes she had paused a little bit longer in the outfield grass. Katielee didn’t know she had just played the last game of her career.
As she began preparing for her junior season in January 2012, Katielee had a nagging ankle injury. In April the pain and swelling got so bad it warranted a trip to the Emergency Department. The immediate diagnosis was a fractured ankle, but she was sent to an orthopaedic doctor for an MRI and then to a specialist. The then-16-year-old was ultimately diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor that generally affects children. The tumor in Katielee’s left leg was 10 inches long, requiring her to undergo surgery and begin chemotherapy treatments at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“I will always remember getting in the truck after my second appointment,” she said. “I looked at my dad and said, ‘What’s with the long face?’ He said, ‘Katielee, you have cancer,’ and he burst into tears."
"I didn’t think the doctor had said cancer. I only heard tumor. Somehow I blocked out the word cancer when we met with the doctor.”
Michael, Katielee’s father, had heard the word loud and clear.
“No parent should ever have to tell their child they have cancer,” he said. “There’s no prep. One word earlier you’re not in the cancer world and then as soon as that word comes, you’re in.”
The Kaner family knows all too well the damaging effect cancer can have on a family. Michael’s mother died of cancer after a three-year battle.
Through her own tears, Katielee asked her dad if it could kill her. “Yes,” he told her. “But we’re not going to let it.”
The Kaner family received good news when they learned the cancer had not spread to any of her organs or bone marrow. Katielee began chemo in April, and after spending about 60 total nights at Children’s, Katielee walked out of her final chemo treatment Jan. 27.
She will need another surgery to remove her chemotherapy port and long-term follow-up care, including twice a week visits for the near future, but Katielee says she is already counting down the days until she is officially cancer-free.
“As long as I’m done with chemo, that’s fine. I’m good now,” Katielee said.
During her treatments, Katielee has been taking her classes online and from a math teacher who comes to her house. With chemo out of the way, Katielee is planning to return to school in March.
Although her softball playing days are over—doctors had to remove about 8 inches of the fibula in her left leg—Katielee has big plans for the future, hoping for a career in photojournalism.
“My dream is to be a photographer for National Geographic,” she said. “I would like to go to Africa to take pictures of lions or go underwater and take pictures of the fish and sharks. That type of stuff is what I’d really like to do.”
It’s no surprise Katielee wouldn’t be scared getting up close to some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, after all this 17-year-old didn’t back down when she was faced with cancer.