In Search Of…Katie O’Reilly Overcomes the Odds 6/18/10

LA CROSSE, Wis. – Twenty-one-year-old Viterbo student Katie O’Reilly is putting the finishing touches on a dance she’ll perform this weekend for the Miss Wisconsin competition. Earlier this year, Katie entered the Miss Madison Capital City competition. It was only her second pageant ever. “You know I really had no idea I was going to win. Then they announced me as the winner and I’m pretty sure my face was that of complete shock,” says O’Reilly.

In fact, Katie never really imagined herself in the pageant world. She’d grown accustomed to being a sideline supporter. “I have been a supporter of Kristina Smaby’s and have always gone to watch her at Miss Wisconsin. I kind of always sat back and said, ‘I can do this. I have a story to tell and maybe it’s time I get on that stage and try it.”

And Katie really does have quite the story to tell. It’s one of overwhelming optimism and overcoming odds and it started when she was just 9-years-old. “I had been having stomach pain and my mom took me into the hospital and the doctor came over with a serious look on his face and he knew that there was something abnormal.” Katie’s grandma Mary Wetterling remembers the day well. “The doctors came in and said ‘this is not good. Katie has cancer.'”

The cancer was in her abdominal lining and was not only very rare, but very difficult to treat. “It was unbelievable. It was so shocking. We sat there in disbelief and they said ‘we’re going to have to do surgery,'” says Wetterling.

Doctors removed an 8 pound tumor from Katie’s abdomen. And then broke the news of just how grave the situation was. “I had a one percent chance of living. ” “We prayed.”

It would be a very difficult road ahead. But even in the midst of such scary news..Katie refused to give up. “I said ok. Let’s do it! Honestly, I never really thought that I wasn’t going to live. I had that feeling that I was going to beat this.”

Katie would go through 3 major surgeries, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and 32 rounds of radiation. “I try not to remember the bad parts when she was so sick she was laying on the couch barely able to lift her head up,” says Wetterling.

But one year later, against all the odds, Katie was cancer free. “She’s a miracle.”

Katie is now using her title to spread a very important message she learned in the middle of her cancer struggle. “My platform is H.O.P.E. Having optimism, purpose and empathy through life. I really had an optimistic attitude through my cancer and treatment. I had purpose for living that my family instilled in me and I had empathy for those around me and those around me had empathy for me. It’s not only important for that little girl lying in her bed like I was 12 years ago, but also to some random person who might be down on their luck.”

“When I sent her off here on Sunday, we packed up her car and I was crying. ‘Grandma, why are you crying??’ and I said ‘they’re tears of joy. I never thought I’d live to see the day that my granddaughter would be competing for Miss Wisconsin. And here she is. She’s a remarkable young woman.”

“I have realized that God gave me cancer for a reason. And at this time in my life, I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing to make a difference.”

And whether she win’s the title or not, the truth is, she’s already won.