Advice & Features Articles

From Adversity to Advocate

BY KARYN BRODSKY 

Kaitlyn Wade is a force to be reckoned with. Twice during her childhood, the Arlington native suffered near-death experiences – leukemia and a serious car wreck – and twice, she bounced back. Today, at 24, she volunteers her time to help others afflicted by childhood leukemia as well as speaks out against drunk driving.

Her mother, Kay Wade, says Kaitlyn was diagnosed with leukemia on December 10, 1997 – she was only 3 ½ years old. “That type of date you never forget,” she explains. “It was also the day before our second daughter turned two years old.” 

Kay remembers that all the members of the family had flu symptoms around Thanksgiving that year, and all but Kaitlyn seemed to recover. When Kaitlyn said it hurt her to walk, Kay almost immediately suspected leukemia. She and her husband Jim were involved with Leukemia Society, as his grandmother died of leukemia in August 1996. Jim ran a marathon in Alaska for the Leukemia Society soon after and was “paired” with a child who had leukemia. Because Kay had spoken with the mother of that child, she was familiar with the symptoms. 

Kaitlyn was tested by her pediatrician, and when she was diagnosed, she was referred to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Though the standard protocol is 2½ years, there were times that treatment had to be delayed, so it lasted about three years. Kay explains that the first month included very intensive chemotherapy, and it was successful. Kaitlyn was officially in remission after two months, and chemotherapy continued periodically to prevent recurrence. 

“Kaitlyn was so resilient. It’s not like she wasn’t in pain, but she bounced back pretty quickly,” says Kay. Kaitlyn was in-patient at Children’s for the first six months; later, whenever she got a fever, she had to be admitted. “As kids, they’re so susceptible to things, since their immune system is compromised,” Kay adds. “Leukemia is treatable, but it’s infections that can kill. Chicken pox was a big one; that’s bad when you have cancer.”

When Kaitlyn was five, she was selected to be a calendar artist and a model for the Children’s Cancer Fund (CCF) style show at their annual fundraising event. CCF was founded 35 years ago by parents whose children were receiving cancer therapy at Children’s Medical Center. The organization raises funds to support local research toward the treatment and prevention of childhood cancers.

Since then, Kaitlyn and her family have never looked back. Kaitlyn has been a style show model for the last 19 years and has forged a strong bond with former Cowboys Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman – who have been honorary co-chairs of the event for 21 years – as well as Daryl Johnston. Kay says during Kaitlyn’s first style show, she was in a photo between Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman and somehow fell in their laps. The rest is history. 

Kaitlyn sees Staubach, Aikman and Johnston every year at the event and they exchange hugs. “To us [cancer survivors], they’re not big stars; they’re people who care. I’ve grown up knowing them. They do a lot of good for the organization,” she says. “I have Roger’s and Daryl’s (nicknamed ‘The Moose’) cell phone numbers and we text.” 

“Kaitlyn Wade is a very special young lady and friend who represents the exact reason Troy and I continue to support the Children’s Cancer Fund year after year,” said Staubach. It has been wonderful to keep in touch with her, watch her grow up into the fine young lady she is today, and see her every year supporting Children’s Cancer Fund and encouraging the other children.

Kay joined the style show committee after Kaitlyn’s first appearance, served on the style show board for five years and has been on the CCF advisory board since 2013. 

CCF Executive Director, Jennifer Arthur, says Kaitlyn is a shining light for the organization. “She’s an ambassador for CCF and has taken on a leadership role, taking younger kids under her wing and shepherding them. Last year, Kaitlyn designed our alumni t-shirt and made certain the word ‘survivor’ was on the back. This came from her heart; she is a survivor and wants to help other kids on their journey to becoming a survivor. It’s been great to get to know her family and to see Kaitlyn thrive.”

While Kaitlyn survived her early experience with leukemia, she had a catastrophic setback at age 12. On May 18, 2007, she was a passenger in the back seat of a car that was hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light and had three previous DWI convictions. Kaitlyn suffered traumatic brain injury, in addition to a fractured pelvic bone, lacerated liver, damaged spleen, fractured ribs and a fractured sternum and neck. After the accident, Kay says Kaitlyn was in a coma for about six weeks and didn’t utter her first words until mid-July. She had several surgeries, was in the hospital for six months and then had to go through therapy. 

Kaitlyn still suffers from short-term memory loss and her processing speed is slow. However, she drives, finished a year of college and lives on her own. She sings and is working on making an album. 

At 24 years old, Kaitlyn has never had a sip of alcohol. “I hate it because it almost killed me,” she says. She is a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact (VIP) Speaker, speaking about the consequences of drinking and driving throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area to groups of people who have been convicted of DUI/DWI. 

Through childhood leukemia and a devastating car wreck, Kaitlyn Wade has been through a lot in her relatively short life, but she’s not only overcome adversity; she’s also paying it forward and making an impact in the lives of others.

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