Katie Rutherford faces cancer like a superhero


Katie Rutherford flashing her signature smile. (Photo courtesy of Karen Rutherford)

Marie Stanford, News Editor & Business Manager

Walking into her second hospital visit, Katie Rutherford had a bad feeling. After multiple visits to acne doctors and a previous misdiagnosis, all she could do was think the worst, she was right. A bump on her face that she initially ignored was cancer and it would change her life forever.

In January of 2017, Katie noticed a lump growing on her chin. She assumed it was caused by her braces. When it started growing bigger with each passing day and affecting her smile, she finally told her parents. Something was wrong. With it being a growth on her face, the most logical cause at the time would be acne. She and her parents visited multiple dermatologists, but none could figure out what it was.

When her bottom lip started to swell, Katie’s family took her to the ER. After many tests, the doctors finally thought they had a diagnosis. It was cellulitis, a common bacterial infection under the skin. They prescribed Katie medicine, which she took everyday for a week. The medication did not help, and the lump continued to grow. The family journeyed back to the ER and had a biopsy done at Emory. After two weeks of waiting, the Rutherfords finally got the results back. Katie had a malignant tumor in her chin, and was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma. “I just remember looking at my mom crying when we found out,” Katie said. “It was an earth shattering moment.”

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a form of cancer caused by malignant cells forming on muscle tissue in the body. Katie has to undergo 48 treatments of chemotherapy, which are expected to end in January. Over the summer, she also had to go through 28 radiation treatments. The chemo treatments can differ. “Sometimes it’s just one day, and lasts about five minutes,” she said, “But sometimes it’s 3 hours a day for a whole week.” On certain occasions, Katie has to stay at the hospital overnight for a 24 hour round chemo. “It’s really hard having to walk into the hospital after all of this. Every smell and every sight can make me really nauseous,” explains Katie. “Even pulling in the parking garage makes me throw up sometimes.” The treatments are long and brutal with many side effects.

With the diagnosis, Katie became almost a new person, physically and mentally. Every day, her body is hurting and nausea causes constant discomfort. Being tired and sore is normal for Katie, along with mouth sores from radiation that cause her to not be able to eat or talk. Although the physical side effects are brutal, some of the mental changes from the diagnosis have been positive. “I feel like a new person, honestly. Before the diagnosis I was shy, sensitive, and I cared a lot about what people thought of me,” Katie said. “When I realized I would have to lose my hair, my eyebrows, and people might think I might not be capable enough, I had to totally change my mindset.” Katie started became more confident and didn’t care so much what people thought of her.  It was a change she says she needed.

Through all of this, Katie has never stopped believing. She says that the incredible support from her family and friends has helped her. When she was first diagnosed, all of her friends and family dedicated a day for her called “Gold For Katie,” where they all wore gold to raise awareness for her and childhood cancer. Katie still does everything she loves and has never given up. “Having cancer” said Katie’s best friend, Erin Graham, a junior at Parkview. “ does not stop Katie from being an amazing, goofy, and persevering person.”