It was August — that heady back-to-school feeling in the air — and Katie DeMasi had it all planned: She'd just finished her nursing degree and already had a job lined up at NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York City. DeMasi had her scrubs picked out, and she spent a long and exciting day apartment hunting. Then, the next day, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymphatic system.
"I was ready to start my life and then this kind of put everything on hold," DeMasi says.
A lot changed, and quickly; with so much treatment ahead of her (at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital), she had to delay starting her new job and focus on her health. It was a tough pill to swallow for someone so ready for action. So, fed up with being stuck at home, she decided to turn her sometimes-frustrating, sometimes-hilarious treatment process into a blog, Tuesdays With Katie. It started as a place for her to share with her friends all the strange things she now had to deal with, but it has also become a way to demystify the process for others going through the same experience. Today, her readers number in the thousands.
Through her definitely-not-sugar-coated blog, Katie's friends and family have connected her to their friends and family who have also been recently diagnosed with cancer. "I have this nursing degree so even before this, [my friends all] came to me with their problems, like, 'I have this weird snot coming out of my nose, what is this?'" she says. Being open about her experience with cancer — the good, bad, and every weird thing in between — seemed only natural.
We talked to 22-year-old DeMasi (who is cancer-free as of February 28th) about what it was like to be diagnosed with cancer at this point in her life — and how blogging helped her through the treatment process.
Tell me a little bit about your initial diagnosis. What was that like?
"At the beginning of last summer I had symptoms of strep throat. I went to the doctor and they gave me antibiotics. The strep test came back negative, but I started feeling better, so they were like, 'Oh okay, it was probably a virus.' After that I noticed that I had swollen lymph nodes and one of them just wasn’t going down even weeks after the antibiotics.
"So in August I went to the doctor to get a physical and told her about this. She did another round of antibiotics but the swelling didn’t go down. Then I got an ultrasound, and the week before I was supposed to start my job at NYU Langone Medical Centre in NYC, I got a biopsy. And right when I woke up from the anaesthesia the doctor said they could tell from the biopsy that it was Hodgkin's lymphoma."
Why did you decide to start blogging about your cancer treatment?
"I started the blog at the beginning of October. It started because during this time I had my eggs frozen, I had all these doctors' appointments, and funny things just kept happening — I was making jokes about it. I can be serious when I need to be, but in this matter I just felt like, 'I’m gonna have a good attitude about this.' I’ve always been the funny girl.
"Plus, I was so bored — I wasn’t working, I wasn't doing anything. So my mom was like, 'You should start a blog. Your attitude about this is so good, you have so many stories to tell.' So I was like, 'Sure, why not?' I literally didn’t know anything about blogging. I had to Google 'how to blog.'"
What was the initial reaction like?
"I wrote my first post in October and my friends loved it. I was so nervous because I’ve never done anything like that before or put my writing out there. I wasn’t really sure how people were going to react, but they loved it.
"It was a good outlet, not only for me to just write about stuff, but it was also good because I didn’t have to get 500 texts every week about, 'How was treatment? How are you doing?' That's overwhelming. This is a away to just let everyone know at one time that, like, 'I’m doing fine. I might be nauseous, but I'm getting through it.' People were happy to know that I was doing okay."
What do you think people have learned from your blog?
"When you’re 22, we think we’re invincible, we’re starting our lives, we're either in college or just graduating, and I don’t think a lot of people realise that this can happen to them. I sure as hell did not think this was going to happen to me.
"I do think it’s important for people to be aware of their bodies and getting check-ups. And a lot of people have reached out to me asking a lot of questions like, 'How did you find it? Was it an early-stage?'
"And I don't want to scare people, but sometimes you have to know that this, unfortunately, can happen. I think [the blog] made people more aware of [the possibility of cancer] because, when you think of cancer, you think of grandpa or your mom with breast cancer or paediatric cancer. This age group is kind of forgotten about sometimes."
Now that you're done with treatment, what is it like to look back on the blog? What stands out to you?
"Blogging on Tuesdays, that was a day where I was able to collect my thoughts and think about what happened that past week and how I was going to move forward with it and just appreciate this whole process.
''A big thing was when I talked about shaving my hair because it was falling out. I posted about how I had been doing yoga, but because I was losing my hair I started feeling a little self-conscious about it. I knew I would have looked at a bald woman and thought, 'Oh, she’s sick.' But then I was like, 'I can do what everyone else does — just because I don’t have hair or because I’m going through chemo doesn’t mean that I should feel embarrassed.' I should be proud of the fact that my body is still letting me go to these yoga classes and I think being able to write that down was a huge thing."