We can still remember when the little girl with big glasses and permed hair walked into fifth grade. She was blonde, with blue eyes that could pierce your soul, yet they were kind and caring. Over time, we would get to know that little girl. Katie Stutzman would become one of our best friends. She had just moved to Berlin Elementary School from a neighboring district. She was extremely smart, eventually graduating as the valedictorian of our class, with a strong passion for music. She played piano, the clarinet and sang in the chorus. Many of us shared these passions, and more, as members of the local 4-H club. I remember going home from school that day and telling my mom about this new friend.; it turns out, her mother, Bernadette was good friends with my Mom growing up in 4-H as well. We spent our entire school years connected, the seven of us. Christmas was her absolute favorite holiday, and every year the seven of us would get together for a gift exchange. It was one of her favorite traditions, easily because she was such a thoughtful and creative gift giver. Katie gave you things you never knew you needed.
After high school graduation, we each went on our own paths and Katie graduated from Duquesne University with a Doctorate in Pharmacy. Surprisingly though, our friendships did not falter, we stayed in touch, visited at campuses and always had time together when we were back home for holidays and summers. And, we were there when we received the dreaded call our Sophomore year. Katie’s mother, Bernadette had passed away from breast cancer. We rallied together to support Katie, and her family then and, in the years to come. Katie became an avid walker in the Komen Race for the Cure each year in honor of her Mom and many years our friends walked by her side. She threw herself into her sorority Kappa Epsilon as the National Committee chair. She hosted the first annual Kappa Epsilon Breast Cancer luncheon at Duquesne to educate women about Breast Cancer. Twelve years later, this event has grown to be a Women’s Health Luncheon that sells out yearly. Last year, the first annual Katie Ansell Award was presented to a nominated sorority sister who exemplified the same characteristics that Katie possessed.
Just six weeks after her Mom passed away, Katie met the man of her dreams while working a summer job at Snyder’s of Berlin. That’s right, pretzels brought them together! Little did we know that five years later, on the anniversary of their first date, Katie would marry Jarrod Ansell. Together they would build a life as Katie became a Pharmacist at Walmart in Somerset, PA. Katie and Jarrod loved to travel, and she loved to craft. Both loved their dog, Bruno, and they always wanted more. After years of praying, their miracle finally arrived, their son, Josiah Ansell, was born October 17th, 2014. Katie had everything she ever prayed for. The summer of 2016 they started to talk about expanding their family.
And then she found it. The lump. This was what Katie had always feared. We were all optimistic as she went through the initial testing, praying that it was benign. But we were with her when the call came, August 1, 2016. It was triple negative breast cancer, stage 2. Katie was also positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Her doctors were aggressive with her treatment plan; 6 months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and radiation. It shook her to the core, as she had witnessed and lived first-hand what her mother, and entire family, had experienced. But Katie pushed through with determination, focus and smiles. Despite the exhaustion, the nausea, and the pain, she made the most of every moment she could. Her husband, Jarrod, was her rock, but Katie provided much more strength to us then she ever knew. We were there too, doing everything we could to not only help her, but to process the pain of watching your best friend go through something like this. We held fundraisers to help with medical expenses, put together care packages every month, brought meals (for both Katie and her extended family), cuddled with fuzzy socks when she felt sick and just sat in hospitals to be with her. It’s hard to imagine how she managed such a positive outlook knowing how hard it was for us just to watch her. There were a lot of ups and downs but somehow a year later she was done with her treatments. She felt great! She had a new job as a Pharmacist at Giant Eagle and was rocking the cutest pixie cut. Friend Christmas that year was the best ever…and as always, Katie won the gift exchange with her thoughtful and personal gifts.
In January 2018, Katie thought she had a sinus infection. Jarrod insisted and took her to the Shady Side ER. On January 11, 2018 they found 30 brain tumors. The next day they started whole brain radiation. They did a CT scan which showed spots on her lymph nodes, lower back and adrenal glands. She took a break from her radiation to go on the celebratory trip she had planned to take Josiah to Walt Disney World. They made every magical moment possible, all while losing her hair across the parks from her treatments. When she returned she went back to radiation but had to take a break as she was hospitalized for a severe flu and difficulty breathing. Eventually she finished her radiation treatments and started three months of the oral chemo, Lymparza. In early June our prayers were answered, Katie had a clean brain scan! Even the doctors were in shock. Katie went back to work and we all truly believed she was on the mend.
But in late July, Katie started to get severe back pain. Her scans showed that she had developed bone mets and cancer in her spinal cord. Again, she went through radiation to reduce the spots on her back and on August 13th she went to an appointment to start intrathecal chemotherapy which would drip chemo directly into her spinal cord. At her appointment, her specialist insisted she go to the emergency room to get her breathing under control before they could start her on the additional chemo. The next morning, her doctors informed her they were terminating all treatments. She had 2 – 3 weeks to live. I still remember the text message, “call me, it’s urgent”. Again, we were there with her and her family. Walking through the steps to move to hospice. That night she asked that I spend the night. We spent our time writing up her will, planning her funeral and all the things she wanted us to tell Josiah. 24 hours later, she was gone. August 15th, 2018, 2 years and 2 weeks from those first dreaded words, Katie joined her mother in heaven, both taken far too soon from this disease.
Katie was so many things to so many people. A wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend and, to us, one of the seven. She was so many things to just us, a friend, a sister, a companion, a secret keeper, a cake baker, a craft maker, and shopping partner. . There are so many things that you expect to do with your childhood best friends; graduate from school together, get engaged, pick out your wedding dress, plan baby showers, spoil their children, retire together and travel. Never did we expect to hold her hand through her last night, plan her funeral service, pick out the outfit she would wear for the final time, and go through her closet.
These are the things that far too many friends must do because of cancer. Jarrod, Josiah, her family and all her best friends will not allow Katie’s memory to fade. It’s important to us to continue to honor her in events, like this, and by helping to fight for a cure with organizations like Metavivor. For Katie and her Mom, we can’t allow other woman to have to live this path, for all the mothers, sisters and friends in the world. While this is incredibly hard to share, we chose to, so we could help other friends and family. We know cancer affects everyone and appreciate you joining with us to celebrate the wonderful life of Katie and help to find a cure"