Katie Garrison had her first seizure in December 2017. The second followed in February 2018. As she has fought her battle with cancer, she lost her husband to his.
Her husband Joe was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2013. Joe died May 1.
Now, Katie continues fighting against her brain tumor.
She has received treatment through the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She had a port placement surgery on June 21, and according to a recent MRI, there are currently no active cancer cells in her brain.
“If it wasn’t for my faith, then I don’t know that I would be doing as well as I am now,” Katie told the Log Cabin Democrat. “I firmly believe God has been with me and my family in every instance. He doesn’t put anyone through something that he doesn’t feel they can’t handle. It’s made me stronger and has grown my faith even more with all my family and I have been through.”
The Garrisons live in Greenbrier. Joe and his brother, Mike, founded GRT Race Cars, Inc. from a two-garage in the early 1980s. Joe was a one of the nation’s top dirt-racing chassis manufactures.
Although she is still undergoing treatment for her brain cancer, Katie continues to work through the pain.
Her journey began before she had realized it, she said.
Katie had her first seizure in December 2017. She had no clue she’d suffered a seizure.
“I didn’t even know it was a seizure at the time – so I didn’t think much of it,” Katie said. “After work that day, Joe insisted that I went to the ER but they couldn’t figure anything out and never did an MRI or anything to have known it was a tumor in my brain.”
It wasn’t until the second seizure two months later that Katie said she realized “something wasn’t right.”
Katie was teaching Sunday School at Crosspoint Baptist Church in Greenbrier when she suffered her second seizure. During this incident, her body became paralyzed and her head tilted to the left.
At this point, Katie reached out to her primary care doctor and was next sent off to see a neurologist.
Following a series of tests, she had a brain scan, which is when the Garissons learned Katie had “a large mass” on her brain.
The pace picked up quickly from there.
Katie spoke with a neurosurgeon and had surgery three days later.
Her first brain surgery along her journey was in March 2018 at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
But after the surgery, a large portion of the tumor, which was identified as a grade 2 oligodendroglioma, was still on her brain. She had also suffered a stroke a day after the surgery.
“It was incidentally not related to the tumor or surgery, it was just one of those random things that can happen,” Katie said.
From there, Katie had two choices: to receive radiation therapy and chemotherapy immediately, or see if the tumor would grow back.
Katie said medical staff did not point her in any direction and she was forced to make the decision on her own. It was “a tough decision to make,” she said.
A close friend of Katie’s who lives in Kentucky recommended she seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic, and after considering her options, she did so.
It was a decision that has helped to save Katie’s life, she said.
“It’s definitely been one of the best decisions ever,” she said of moving forward with seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic. “Mayo is truly top-notch and has the best doctors in the world. I’m so thankful for them. they’re so caring and compassionate!”
A team of the center’s physicians recommended Katie undergo a multipronged treatment that involved a second brain surgery, proton beam therapy and chemotherapy. It was an aggressive approach.
Katie’s first appointment with neurologist Joon Uhm at the Mayo Clinic was in August.
She learned she would have to have a portion of her brain removed to survive.
Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Terence Burns sat down with Katie soon after her initial encounter with Uhm and explained to her that while surgery “is never a complete cure,” a large portion of remaining tumor could be safely removed.
Burns took the time to make sure Katie understood exactly what he would be doing and why. His dedications, truthfulness and detailed responses brought the Greenbrier woman assurance.
Katie said Burns went above and beyond, which was important to her because her husband was struggling through his health issues at the time as well.
After the initial meetings with Mayo Clinic staff, the couple returned to Arkansas. It wasn’t long before Katie learned her tumor had grown.
It was time to get the ball rolling and undergo surgery, so Katie returned to Minnesota in February without her husband, who had been hospitalized at home because he had pneumonia. She underwent surgery on Feb. 22.
The surgery was rough, but the support Katie had going into the procedure helped giver her strength, she told the Log Cabin.
“It was tough, but with God and awesome family and friends by my side, it made it easier,” she said.
Mayo Clinic staff were able to remove much of the tumor during the February surgery.
From there, Katie participated in an in-patient rehabilitation program. Three weeks in to the rehabilitation treatement, Katie regained nearly all of her abilities.
“[It’s] crazy how I had to do the same thing after my [second] surgery that was done at Mayo, but it was due to where the neurosurgeon has to go in my brain and take [the] tumor out,” she said. “Luckily, rehabs are good and they don’t let you sit around. You stay busy doing things and working hard to get things back moving.”
While fighting her cancer battle was difficult, it was often hard for Katie to be so far from her husband as he suffered through his illness.
At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Katie was undergoing 30 proton beam therapy sessions to target the lingering cancer cells while Joe was home in Arkansas. She was more than half-way through with this portion of her treatment when her husband died.
While she was out-of-state, Katie said she sometimes felt helpless and defeated because she was not back home to support her husband.
The two always supported each other through the years. Katie said she feels there “is no support quite like your spouse’s.”
“The hardest part was knowing he was dying and I couldn’t be there to even just hold his hand and comfort him because I was having my own treatments in another state and 12 hours away. Talk about hard,” she said.
Katie took time away from her treatment to plan Joe’s funeral and mourn his passing. Katie was devastated, but also committed to completing her treatment, Mayo Clinic staff said.
Losing Joe has been tough on the Garrisons and their close friends, Katie said.
“It was and still is very, very hard on me but more so probably on our 4-year-old daughter, Jolie Kate,” she said. “But again, I lean heavily on my faith and family and friends to get me through the hard times.”
Moving forward, Katie said she is hopeful.
“I feel confident the future is bright,” she said. “With my Mayo doctors, they’re always on my side, so I feel they’re on top of my health! I feel good that things look bright moving forward.”
The next step in Katie’s treatment plan is to begin oral chemotherapy. This portion of her treatment will be conducted in six cycles, each lasting between six to eight weeks.
The Greenbrier woman will be able to stay home during most of this phase, because the chemotherapy will be conducted via pills meaning she can be monitored locally.
While she can be monitored at home, Katie will need to return to the Mayo Clinic between cycles for comprehensive evaluations, according to the clinic’s staff.
To follow along with Katie and her brain cancer journey, visit www.facebook.com/katiegarrisonsjourney/.