By James Goller, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaely Kwitek started feeling ill during the excitement of Homecoming weekend last fall.
Doctors originally diagnosed the Orchard Park varsity cheerleader with infectious mononucleosis, but additional visits to the emergency room for stomach pain over the next few weeks suggested something more serious. She missed six weeks of cheerleading, and the pain continued into January.
“My stomach was burning,” said Kwitek.
She underwent surgery to remove her gallbladder, but it didn’t solve the problem. “Nothing was wrong with it,” she said.
In February, Kwitek had an appendectomy, which revealed a mass in her abdomen. Three days later, on Feb. 10, she was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the body’s lymphatic system.
“I really didn’t know how to take the news,” said the high school junior. “I had an idea it could have been cancer.”
Kwitek continues to endure pain. Weekly visits to Roswell Park Cancer Institute for chemotherapy leave her exhausted for several days. She struggles to sleep and joint pain forces her to scoot down the stairs of her home.
“I’m sore in the morning and it’s tough to sleep,” she said.
Kwitek is meeting these challenges with the support of a team of friends and family who help keep her mind off the pain and focus on the positive.
“Everyone is so supportive,” she said. “I’m always with my friends, so I don’t have time to think about it.”
Support has been strong even from outside Kwitek’s usual social circle.
“Random people are reaching out,” she said. “People I don’t talk to are sending me messages. It helps me stay positive and keep my mind off things. It’s nice to see everyone coming together to help. The support has been great and very strong.”
The community has also stepped up to help Kwitek’s family pay for medical bills. A spaghetti dinner was held at the High School on March 15, and another benefit will be held at the Chicken Coop VFW, at 299 Leydecker Road in West Seneca, on Sunday, May 6, from 3 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. Contact Kathy Tabor at 289-4304, Linda Ulrich at 310-7144 or Lynn Phillips at 725-2743 for tickets.
Despite the classification of Kwitek’s cancer as Stage IV, her prognosis is positive. Secondary testing on her bone marrow and a spinal tap revealed the cancer hadn’t spread.
PET scan results on March 21 suggested Kwitek is responding well to the chemotherapy, and while many students might complain about going to school, she misses it.
“I want to go back,” said Kwitek, who has been receiving home instruction from teachers since leaving school in January. “If the chemo is reduced to twice a month, I can go back and only miss two days of school a month, but I’m not sure how realistic it is.”
Kwitek’s positive attitude continues to be the driving force behind her fight. She remains confident despite losing her hair and shrugged off an incident at a store recently when a little girl asked why a boy had a bow in his hair.
“I just walked away and laughed,” said Kwitek. “I didn’t know how to react.”
Kwitek boasts the same bright smile she had before her diagnosis, and is confident that there’s a purpose for her battle.
“I’ve always said things happen for a reason and I’ve always believed it, even if we don’t know the reason,” said Kwitek. “I feel like God has a plan for everyone and everything. I don’t know why this is happening, but I think I’ll find out.”