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Caroline - Brain Cancer

Caroline - Brain Cancer

University of Washington student Caroline Catlin was focused on her master’s in social work – one of the top-ranked programs in the nation – when she had a feeling that the symptoms she was experiencing were a sign of a more significant issue. She was experiencing cognitive problems, such as not remembering words, and her concerns were heightened by persistent body aches she’d noticed had worsened over the years. After extensive research, Caroline thought she might have a neurological issue and requested an MRI. While her doctors initially recommended against the scan, Caroline advocated for herself, and her doctors finally agreed to do an MRI on October 8, 2018—one day after her 27th birthday.

The scan revealed a brain tumor, which her doctors believed to be benign. However, a follow-up MRI in December revealed that it was a malignant tumor that was growing and needed to be operated on immediately. In January 2019, Caroline had a craniotomy – the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain— to remove the tumor. Following the surgery, she began proton therapy treatment at SCCA Proton Therapy Center as part of a randomized clinical trial which placed patients in either proton or photon treatment.

Caroline is grateful that she was selected to receive proton therapy treatment, a highly targeted form of radiation with the goal of protecting surrounding healthy tissue. Faced with the shocking diagnosis at a young age, she wasn’t sure what to expect with proton therapy. Still, she found the staff and community made the experience more positive than she could have imagined. She especially enjoyed the patient graduations held each week to celebrate individuals who recently completed treatment.

In addition to the support of the Center, Caroline credits her family, her fiancée, Kirstie, and her mini golden doodle, Baloo, for getting her through treatment. When she first started receiving treatment, Caroline wanted to get a support animal and thought caring for a puppy would give her something to look forward to post-treatment. Since she needed her friends and family to help care for the new pup during her treatment, she pitched the benefits of a support animal to them via PowerPoint and won them over. Every day after treatment, Caroline looked forward to being greeted by Kirstie and Baloo.

Kirstie, Baloo and Caroline at their home.

Once Caroline wrapped up proton therapy, she began chemotherapy in early fall and resumed taking some classes as part of a virtual-based program. Optimistic about life, she proposed to Kirstie—almost a year after she’d turned down Kirstie’s initial proposal because of her cancer diagnosis—Kirstie said, yes!

Since completing treatment, Caroline is happy to share that she is embracing life with her fiancée and Baloo. She is back in school full-time and planning a wedding for September 2020. While Caroline’s type of brain cancer is something that will continue to follow her, she’s determined to lead a positive life despite her illness. She’s also continuing to stay involved with the SCCA Proton Therapy Center. As a trained photographer, she will use her skills to capture her favorite SCCA Proton Therapy Center event, patient graduations.

Caroline would like to share the following words with others facing a similar battle with cancer: “Although it may not always seem like it, joy will come back into your life, and you will be able to live the life you want. It may look different, but you will still have joy.”