Cancer journey isn’t over, but it’s time to celebrate

Fort Collins teenager rings in new tradition at cancer center in warrior fashion
April 18th, 2018
A photo of Kate Prewett banging a gong after radiation treatment.
Kate Prewett, left, smiles sweetly after striking a metal gong to celebrate her last day of radiation at UCHealth Cancer Center in Fort Collins. Radiation oncology nurse Rebecca May, right, applauds the 16-year-old high school student who has been battling glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer, since last summer. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

Kate Prewett isn’t done with doctor appointments. She still has plenty of pain to battle through every day. And her fight against the nasty cancer that interrupted her best summer ever certainly isn’t over.

But, this is a time to celebrate.

Fresh out of her 47th day of radiation treatment, the 16-year-old surrounded by family and supporters, picks up a rubber mallet and prepares to go out with a bang. With one good, crisp strike of a metal gong, a deep, strong sound fills the room and echoes through the hallways. Kate smiles sweetly and marks another step in her journey.

A photo of Kate Prewett talking to care providers.
Kate Prewett chats with some of her care providers after treatment.

And that, she said, is so worth celebrating.

“It doesn’t mean you are done,” said Kate’s mother, Megan Prewett. “But it is one step, and you have to celebrate each of the little steps. Without that, you could go a little bit crazy.”

Kate’s strike of the gong is also the beginning of a new tradition that Kate and her family hope will help other patients to celebrate completion of their radiation treatments at UCHealth Radiation Oncology – Harmony Campus in Fort Collins.

Best summer ever – disrupted

Kate’s journey started during the best summer ever.

She celebrated her Sweet 16 birthday, got her driver’s license, went on an awesome trip to Seattle, jammed out at her first real concert and got her belly button pierced. What more could a girl ask for?

But then, as she was getting ready for her junior year at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, the crushing headaches came on. No matter what she did, they wouldn’t go away. She went to her primary care provider for help – hoping a different medicine might do the trick.

Her nurse practitioner picked up on a slight discrepancy in Kate’s neurological responses and sent her for an MRI at the emergency department at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

“I thought for sure we would be sent home from the MRI with a scan of Kate’s perfect brain, some stronger headache meds and a large bill,” said Megan. But, they found a mass and sent the family to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora that night. The next day, Kate underwent a seven-hour brain surgery.

Doctors discovered Kate had Grade IV Glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that is relentless. Doctors often use radiation and chemotherapy to slow the growth of glioblastoma tumors that can’t be removed with surgery.

Kate’s Warrior Walk

  • WHAT: A 4K walk to support Kate Prewett has been organized by Megan Prewett’s colleagues at McGraw Elementary School.
  • WHEN: 9 a.m. May 5 (registration begins at 8:15 a.m.).
  • WHERE: Ridgeview Park, 4700 Hinsdale Drive (north of McGraw Elementary School) in Fort Collins.
  • DETAILS: Recommended donations – $25 for an individual and $50 for a family.

 

Today, she struggles to remember much of the details of what happened in the weeks and couple months that followed that whirlwind diagnosis. But her mother and her father, John Prewett, can recall every detail and development of the journey.

In the fall, Kate started radiation at the UCHealth University of Colorado Cancer Center – Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, undergoing 33 sessions while they searched for a clinical trial that could offer additional treatment options. In the meantime, new growth areas surfaced on her spine. The obvious next step, Megan said, was to radiate the new areas.

A photo of Kate Prewett with family members after completion of radiation treatment.
Several family members help Kate Prewett, left, celebrate her last day of radiation. From left, Kate is joined by grandfather Bob “Papa” Vangermeersch, grandmother Tracy Vangermeersch, mother Megan Prewett and father John Prewett. Papa Vangermeersch recently donated a metal gong to the UCHealth Cancer Center’s radiation oncology suite so patients will have a way to celebrate the completion of their radiation treatments. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

This time, though, Kate was able to undergo the daily radiation treatments close to home – at the UCHealth Cancer Center in Fort Collins, where her radiation oncologist, Dr. Arthur Liu, has been caring for patients.

A gong?

As Kate was nearing the completion of 10 spine and three brain sessions at the clinic in Fort Collins, her mom asked the nurse if there was a bell that Kate could ring to celebrate her last treatment day.

Ironically, the clinical team had been looking for some way for patients to mark these milestones. The team used to celebrate with a cake for each patient, but they had been looking into other options. Through some research and feedback from patients, they had narrowed it down to one idea. They were hoping to get a gong that patients could strike after their final radiation day, the nurse told Megan.

A gong? That struck really close to home for Kate and her family.

“We just happen to know somebody with a gong,” Megan said.

One of Kate’s grandfathers – Bob “Papa” Vangermeersch – is a retired businessman and owned a gong that his company would strike when they made a big sale. When he heard the clinic was looking for one, he immediately offered to donate his gong and started plans to have it include a plaque with a message that especially resonated with Kate:

Fate whispers to the warrior: “You cannot withstand the storm.”

And the warrior whispers back, “I am the storm.”

    – Donated in honor of Kate Prewett, February 2018.

On the day Kate struck the gong after her 47th radiation day, her parents, Papa Vangermeersch and grandmother Tracy Vangermeersch were by her side along with several of her supporters on staff.

“This is a day of celebration as you continue on your life’s journey. Reflect on the accomplishment of meeting the challenges that have come your way,” said UCHealth radiation oncology nurse Rebecca May. “Striking this gong signifies letting go of the past, living in the present and embracing your future. We honor you,” May continued, explaining that a similar message will often be read for other patients before they strike the gong.

Charge nurse Lisa Falsetto said roughly 18 patients complete their radiation course at the center every week. For some, the day marks the completion of their treatment for cancer. But for many people who will strike the gong on their way out, their treatment and journey will move on to the next step. Celebrating the milestone, she said, is important for the patients and their families as well as other patients and staff.

“I love that it’ll be there for years to come and bring a smile to the faces of people who have finished radiation,” Megan said.

Kate Prewett shows a certificate she received after completing radiation treatment.
Kate Prewett underwent 47 radiation treatments, which she finished up at UCHealth Cancer Center’s radiation oncology suite in Fort Collins. After striking the celebratory gong, she poses for a photo and holds up a congratulatory certificate she received. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

The next steps

After she finished radiation, Kate got to take a brief break from treatments while doctors monitored her progress, John said. In the meantime, she got to take a Make A Wish cruise with her parents and her closest cousin.

She is now enrolled in a clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta involving a new medication that is being researched. At the end of April, she will return to the hospital to undergo tests to see if the trial medication has helped.

The Prewetts are grateful for all of the support they’ve received from family, employers, co-workers, neighbors, church friends and Rocky Mountain High School. “Our community has shown us unparalleled support, and we feel so blessed to have such an extensive ‘bull pen’ to draw from,” Megan said.

And Kate’s attitude continues to be remarkable regardless of the turmoil.

“She keeps us laughing and thinking positive,” Megan said. “It’s been amazing to watch her strength blossom and her fighter spirit take flight.”

About the author

Kelly Tracer is a media relations specialist at UCHealth, based in northern Colorado. For nearly 20 years, she worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and designer before diving into the world of health care communications.

She believes there is an amazing story inside everyone and considers it an honor to get to meet and work with so many extraordinary people – patients, families, providers, volunteers and staff – every day. She is also fascinated by health care innovation and programs that empower and inspire people and families to live healthier lives.

A native of Nebraska, Kelly received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She and her husband have two children and enjoy paddle boarding all summer and skiing all winter.