Kristin Katich Sumbot, a 25-year-old Salt Lake City woman, already beat cancer once.
After completing treatment for leukemia at 17, she told her mom, Leslie Katich, that if she were to relapse, she didn’t think she could beat it again. She told her mom that it was “just too hard the first time.” But there are a few things that make her current battle with cancer different from the last.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia and glioblastoma multiforme grade 4 are two very different diagnoses. When Sumbot was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager, she was given an 80 percent chance of survival. Now doctors have given her a 5 percent chance of living more than 16 months. But there is something else that makes Sumbot's current battle against cancer different: This time, she is the mom of a baby boy.
“She handled that like a rock star,” Katich said of her daughter’s first battle with cancer. “She just handled it so well, but this time she’s got that baby to help her get through it. It’s a reason to fight.”
On Oct. 12, 2015, Sumbot, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was two days away from the due date of her first child when she got a headache. She had been looking for any excuse to go to the hospital, but an unusual headache was not the kind of excuse she had hoped for. She went to her doctor’s office to make sure everything was OK. Although the doctor didn’t seem concerned, it was recommended that she have an MRI, just to be safe. No stranger to doctors' offices and tests, Sumbot reluctantly agreed. She just wanted to have her baby, but in retrospect, it is a test she is glad she took.
The MRI revealed that Sumbot was suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage that, if she had given birth naturally, would have killed her. Doctors performed a cesarean section, and August James Sumbot was born later that day.
“He came into our lives, and it was so beautiful,” Sumbot said. “You know that moment when you first hear a baby cry? It was just so special, and you just forget about the bad things in special moments like that. It was just overpowering the fear of something that was wrong in my head. We were just able to enjoy him for those few moments.”
A few days later, doctors did a biopsy and discovered that Sumbot had a tumor.
Doctors were able to remove 98 percent of the tumor, but Sumbot continues to battle the most aggressive form of brain cancer. She is fighting for every possible moment she can spend with August.
“She has put herself aside," Katich said. "She does what she has to do so that she can have more good days with August. She doesn’t know how many days she has, and she doesn’t get do-overs, so the fact that she makes every day beautiful is what I admire the most — and being the very best mom she can be. Even when she doesn’t feel good, she thinks of him.”
After Sumbot was declared cancer-free, she and her mother devoted a significant amount of time to advocacy work for cancer research. Katich began working as the director of programs and services at Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation, where Sumbot served as a spokeswoman. In 2012, they scaled Mount Kailash (18,000 feet), part of the Himalayas, with other cancer survivors, a 20-day trip covering 36 miles.
“Climbing the Himalayan mountains in a very foreign place could bring anyone closer together, and we’re just best friends now,” Sumbot said of her mother. “She’s a source of strength and inspiration, and she really teaches me how to be a mom and what’s important and the kind of sacrifices mothers make in situations like this.”
At the time of their trip, Sumbot shared her perspective on cancer in a KSL.com article.
“You cannot just put a cancer journey in a box and feed it to the dust bunnies under your bed,” she said. “You have to use it as a tool. I now live life like it should be, not looking out into the rain longing for normality but feeling each rain drop and embracing those kinds of moments because you are alive to do so.”
Through helping other cancer patients and their families, she said she learned that “compassion is never an individual thing. It’s something you give to other people and you share.”
“We have loved being a part of helping other people, and I’ve always felt that you’re not really living if the only person you make better in this world is yourself,” Sumbot said.
She now finds herself on the receiving end of that compassion. A GoFundMe account has raised nearly $87,000 to assist the family with medical costs. Sumbot said she is “just incredibly grateful.”
Sumbot lives each day with the belief that this life is not the end.
“I know I’ll have the chance to be with (my family) forever, instead of ‘death do us part,’ and although I probably won’t have 80 years to spend with them on this Earth, I will have the chance to spend eternity with them, and that means everything,” Sumbot said.
The hopes she has for August are similar to those that many mothers have for their children.
“I think the hope that any mother has for her baby is that he’ll grow to his potential, that he’ll enjoy all the beautiful things in life ” Sumbot said. “And I wish that he’d have his mom, but just that he will be a strong member of the church, that he’ll know that his mom loved him, that he’ll be smart and happy.”
Sumbot trusts in the gospel of Jesus Christ and relies on the support of friends and family.
“We’ve really learned to rely on priesthood blessings and the faith and prayers of those around us,” Sumbot said. “I hear constantly of people who are praying for me and my family. And it’s almost a tangible feeling. ... You can almost reach out and grab the prayers and the faith.”
So Sumbot will continue to fight, cherishing every moment with her family.
“There are just so many things to fight for,” Sumbot said.