In Her Own Words: Class of 2020 Katy Gunter’s Story of Perseverance
My name is Katy Gunter. I am from Hernando, Mississippi and I am an elementary education major with a minor in music. I started my time at Northwest in August of 2015 while participating in marching band. I played tuba and flute as a music education major. I took twenty plus hours a semester, as well as participated in the Ranger Marching Band. I loved every minute of it!
My second year at Northwest, I became severely ill. I did not let it stop me from participating in band, or completing my school work, but it was becoming harder to function as the days went on. During Thanksgiving break that semester, I ended up at the doctor and they performed a CT scan. The CT scan showed that I had a massive tumor pressing against my left kidney, spleen, splenic vein and pancreas.
Things happened quickly after I was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor. The tumor was so rare that there was no solution for treatment. My team of doctors decided that major surgery was the only option. February, I started my days of hospital stays in which I did my school work while lying in the hospital bed. I could not play my tuba anymore, which was discouraging. They performed some invasive tests which concluded that the tumor was benign. I was able to go back to school for a couple weeks, live in my dorm, play my instruments, be a part of the band, go to class, and be a normal student for just a little while.
March 13th was the big surgery day. I was determined to complete the surgery over spring break and be back in class the next week. However, what was supposed to be a six-hour surgery turned into twice the time. I was not released from the hospital until eight days after surgery. I was advised to stay at home and rest before going back to school. I did just that, but I ended up back in the hospital two days later with complications. They had to do a second procedure to have a drain placed because of my pancreas not closing all of the way. I was released from the hospital several days later. I was determined to get back to class and finish strong.
I went to class in April with a drain connected to my side and it was one of the hardest things I had ever been through. Sitting at a desk for classes all day, I cried silently, yet I stayed attentive because I wanted to be successful. Sadly, I was not able to play my tuba anymore, and therefore was unable to persue my dream of becoming a music educator.
I graduated with an associate of arts degree. I definitely wanted to be some type of educator, so the elementary education program at UM-DeSoto was a good fit. Elementary education was my new goal. Fall of 2018 came and I started at UM-DeSoto being fourteen weeks pregnant. I made it through the first semester not missing a single class, as well as making the Dean’s Honor Roll.
As the Spring of 2019 approached, I was due on March 24th. I took on the challenge to complete my spring semester. My classmates who are in the education program with me were very supportive. One day, they put together a baby shower for me and it was such an encouraging moment! As my due date got closer, I raced to make sure I could get all of my school work done, as well as my student teaching observation hours. I was student teaching in a kindergarten classroom. I was 41 weeks pregnant, still attending my classes at UM-DeSoto, but it was then determined I would be induced April 2nd.
April 2nd, I had my baby boy, Malachi. All of my classmates kept up with me that day because they would always say, “We are all in this together,” and sure enough we were. My baby and I were released from the hospital five days later and I took a week off from school. I still completed all of my assignments because I did not want to get behind.
In the midst of being a new mom, I was inducted into the Kappa Delta Pi honor society. My classmates and I survived the spring semester and I made straight As ending up on the Chancellor's List. The Fall of 2019 came and I made it to my senior year! I had a normal fall semester going to school full time, student teaching, and raising a baby, except for when my baby boy ended up in Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital for nine days during finals week due to being severely ill.
Once again, I was conducting my classes from the hospital, only this time I was caring for my child. The spring semester hit and I started student teaching on January 6th. I wanted to accumulate enough hours just in case my baby boy ended up in the hospital again. Little did I know, I would be the one who ended up in the hospital. In January, I began to feel sick. I tried to ignore it because I was in my final semester of my undergrad; I could not stop here. I was rushed to the emergency room on January 13th and eventually diagnosed with cancer, as well as kidney disease.
I spent several days in the hospital, missing my first class of the spring semester, as well as some student teaching days. I ended my hospital stay on a Saturday with a biopsy on my left kidney and anxiously returned to my student teaching placement the following Monday. I was in a lot of pain, but I was eager to learn. I was fully determined to finish as I showed up to my student teaching placement every day, went to doctors’ appointments, then on to my night class. I did not let this cancer slow me down.
A few weeks later, I was admitted into the West Cancer Clinic. My cancer case was reviewed as well as my history and I was put through a PET scan. After the oncologists reviewed and compared the scans, there is no medical explanation as to how or why everything disappeared. God worked a miracle. The oncologists were speechless because they had no way of explaining how it disappeared. I was beyond excited! I am still a patient at the West Cancer Center and due for a checkup in May.
Here I am, a few days from graduation, standing strong, cancer free, and becoming an elementary teacher! I am graduating with a 3.81 GPA. I am receiving two chords, one for Kappa Delta Pi honor society and the other for Teachers of Tomorrow. I am certainly not going to sugarcoat this experience because it has been one of the most difficult times in my life. College life is hard in itself. I was able to push through these past few years with the support and love from those around me, including my professors and classmates.
I will never forget the big hugs I was greeted with from a lot of people, including professors, upon returning to school after both times of my illness. It made me feel like I was somebody who was worth something. My Northwest, as well as Ole Miss family were so excited to see me make it through such a difficult time. UM-DeSoto offered grace, patience and support, as I walked through this experience.
I have big plans moving forward after graduation. I plan to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in counseling. Although I have a heart for teaching, being a therapist is my calling. As Zig Ziglar once said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”