Katie Campbell is a petite 33-year-old with a strict vegan diet and a love for rock climbing. Her body beams with light, whether it’s from her glowing skin or crystal clear blue eyes. Campbell’s passion for wellness inspired her upcoming e-book, but by her 2017 bookstore launch thanks to a New York publisher, there is a chance she might not be alive.
“I probably look particularly healthy on the outside, but my body is kind of falling apart on the inside,” Campbell said. In September 2013, when Campbell and her husband were hoping to start a family, the Frederick woman was diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer. This disease is not fed by three typical breast cancer receptors. “The survival rates are lower. The cancer is more aggressive. It doesn’t respond well to treatment and all these things. It took me a while to figure out. Triple negative. It sounds triply bad.”
“The Courage Club: A Radical Guide to Living Beyond Cancer,” available as an e-book on July 7, was inspired by Campbell’s blog, Katie Crushes Cancer. The blog was created a day after her diagnosis. “I just had this overwhelming urge to write down what I was going through,” she said. “And it was so cathartic. It helped keep everyone up to date. I didn’t have to individually tell everyone what was going on. It became this really helpful tool for me to get through my diagnosis and all the treatments.”
Campbell soon became a resource for other young adult cancer patients. She posted details about her treatment and diet, and even helped women understand their fertility options.
“This is the paradox of living with cancer, at least as a young adult. On the one hand, cancer takes all of this stuff away from you like for me, it took away my ability to be a mother, which is like, all I ever wanted to do,” Campbell said. “On the other hand, cancer also shortens your life. So, it’s like, ‘How do I find meaning in the time I have left?’”
Campbell had a moment of remission before her cancer came back in January 2015. The cancer spread to her lymph nodes and progressed to stage 4, the last and final stage where cancer travels far throughout the body. Campbell was told by 16 doctors that her cancer was inoperable, and she was given 13 months to live.
With integrated treatment from a more optimistic doctor, Campbell is still living courageously. Campbell’s book of life lessons is aimed at young adult cancer patients, a demographic people often bypass in favor of cute children or more established adults. Her book includes 13 chapters of personal stories where Campbell learned how to nourish herself, even as cancer treatment ravaged her body.
She developed affirming meditation techniques in her Frederick home, crafted a low-carb and low-sugar diet to “starve the cancer,” and found healthy ways to interact with the world.
“I even have an entire chapter on the importance of being vulnerable,” she said. “You know, I spent a lot of my life, I think, feeling vulnerability is weakness. Don’t show what’s happening in here. But the truth is you get so much love and support. People relate to you so much better.”
Her hope is that readers see possibility even in the face of crisis.
“The first thought I want them to have is, ‘What awesome, amazing thing can I do with my life tomorrow? What trip can I plan? What adventure can I go on?’”
Campbell has lived a life of adventure. She has helped East African women as a food rights policy manager for ActionAid. She’s even gone rock climbing after a double mastectomy with the young adult cancer organization, First Descents. But now for Campbell, adventure looks quite different. It’s things like dealing with a dry cough, or with shortness of breath likely triggered by a tumor pressing on her nerve or trachea.
In between treatments, Campbell speaks about her book, made possible by a wildly successful Kickstarter, which raised over $36,000.
“It was 100 percent funded in 24 hours,” Campbell said. “We added a bunch of new rewards that for me, is more about leaving a legacy.”
Those rewards includes receiving early copies for cancer center purchases and the chance to give a bucket list adventure to a young adult living with cancer. “My hope and the thing I like about the Kickstarter is that I can finally give back to people,” said Campbell, who received thousands of dollars from supporters to pay for out-of-network treatment.
As a winner of First Descents’ #OutLivingIt Award, Campbell leaves a legacy by championing the cause of advanced cancer patients. Her transparent writing highlights the fact that jovial breast cancer awareness efforts can pool attention and money toward less aggressive cancers while leaving stage 4 patients behind.
“I think that there are stories that are left out. Because it’s much more like, ‘We beat it, we won!’ What about the people who never beat it? It’s not like they’re a loser or they lost.” Campbell said. “I did not lose a battle.”