Featured MassKicker

Kate Villatuya

Take things in stride. If you are having a difficult day, tomorrow is a new one. It’s ok to not always be ok.

Kate Villatuya is a very driven brain tumor mAss Kicker! We met her and her husband shortly after the Hurricane Harvey flooding in Houston TX. She currently works as a bone marrow transplant coordinator at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. She got her start in healthcare as a medical technologist in Hematology/Oncology and Coagulation at MD Anderson before moving to Chicago to become a bone marrow transplant coordinator at the University of Chicago Medicine Biological Sciences Division.  We are very honored to interview her as a featured mAss Kicker and learn about her post-treatment thrivership journey.

mK: Thanks for doing this Kate! What was your official diagnosis? How did you find out about it?
KV: Meningioma Grade I and Chiari I malformation – I had seen a variety of doctors for headaches, but it wasn’t until a routine checkup with my optometrist when my eye doctor told me that my left optic nerve was swollen. He sent a report to my neurologist, and before I knew it I was in the ER and admitted to the ICU getting ready for surgery two days later on Sunday, May 18, 2014

mK: It all happens so fast! What were your symptoms?
KV: Severe headaches. I thought they were migranes and went from doctor to doctor being prescribed pain medication. It was interfering with my daily activities. I finally found pain relief with acupuncture. If I had not seen my optometrist for that routine checkup who knew what would have happened.

mK: How are you doing now? What are you up to?
KV: I’m feeling better than ever. As soon as my 10 hour surgery was over I woke up with no headache and felt like a new person! I had been living with constant pain for a long time, so it was liberating to feel great again even as I recovered from the surgery. I had the surgery in Chicago, but I have since moved to Houston and work at MD Anderson as a bone marrow transplant coordinator. My experience as a patient helps me to be empathetic working with my own patients knowing what it’s like to be on the other side.

mK: What motivates you?
KV: Being able to help people motivates me, even in the small, everyday gestures. I’ve learned that simple acts of kindness can mean the world to somebody especially when you least expect it.

mK: Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
KV: Too numerous to count but I will mention two – My neurosurgeon, Dr. Kenji Muro, is one of the best people I have ever met. Not only because he helped save my life, but he is also a genuinely caring person. I was somewhat frightened with the urgency of my situation once we figured out what was going on, and he helped calm my fears. The day after my surgery I thanked him for his dedication and performing the surgery on a weekend when he could be spending time with his family. He admitted to me that typically surgeries are done in the morning, but mine was scheduled for Sunday afternoon because he ran the Chicago Half Marathon before the surgery!!! I could not believe it – running the race and then performing a 10 hour surgery. I was so moved (and heavily medicated!) that I promised him that I would one day run a half marathon for him. It was daunting as I have never been a runner, but one year later to the day I ran the Chicago Half Marathon in 2015, and Dr. Muro came to cheer me on! I have since completed 7 half marathons 
My other hero is Lauren Swift, my high school classmate, who went through her own brain tumor surgery a month prior to mine. We cheered each other on, and I think the world of her and her courageous heart!

mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
KV: Movies make me do all of the above.
I like to be silly by nature, so I laugh all the time – it’s true that it’s the best medicine. I cry when I see people or animals hurt. I also cry when something makes me happy – those darn facebook videos with people proposing!
I get angry when people are rude or inconsiderate to one another not taking into account how damaging that can be to someone.

mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
KV: Traveled around the world in two weeks, ate insects, had brain surgery!

mK: What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
KV: The pressure we put on ourselves. We need to take things one day at a time

mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
KV: Entertainment Tonight

mK: OK, since you’re into the world of entertainment, we have to ask you … which fictional character from TV/Movies are you most similar to?
KV: The little girl who gets kidnapped in the movie “Rush Hour” who is singing Mariah Carey in the back seat.

mK: HAHAHA! What are is next on your agenda?
KV: Another half marathon in January!

mK: Wow! Not starting your signing career?  Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
KV: Take things in stride. If you are having a difficult day, tomorrow is a new one. It’s ok to not always be ok.

mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
KV: I once won an ice cream eating contest

mK: That is something to be proud of! Any parting words or shout outs to particular people ?
KV: My neurosurgeon who I am grateful for every day. My husband who was there for me in every sense, even to drive around town to find the right jello for me to eat after surgery! And to Chris, Doranne, and Therese who didn’t think twice about jumping on a plane last minute to be with me before I went into surgery and stayed a few days after to make sure I would be ok.

Kate Villatuya: Ice cream eating Champ, inspired runner, Mariah Carey impersonator, celebrity follower, movie fanatic, bone marrow transplant coordinator, and driven brain tumor mAss Kicker.  Thanks for doing the interview Kate.  We look forward to seeing what you do next in the brain tumor community!

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