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Laker state tennis champ missed senior season at Gonzaga, but beat lymphoma.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Lake Oswego's Katie Day lost her senior tennis season at Gonzaga to cancer, but went on to beat primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma.The last time most people saw Katie Day, she was teaming up with fellow Lake Oswego senior Mina Vukovic to win the 2016 state tennis doubles championship and lead the Lakers to their first-ever Class 6A team title.

In the four years since her heroic exit from Lake Oswego High School — she was also a state singles runner-up in 2015 — Day has continued her winning ways as a member of the {obj:51311:women's tennis team at Gonzaga University} in Spokane, Washington.

But her latest — and biggest — victory did not come on the tennis courts where Day has spent so much of her life.

Instead, her most recent "W" came when she was declared cancer-free back on Nov. 19 of 2020, a diagnosis that put a positive spin on the most difficult year of Day's young life.

'The scariest part'

Day, 23, was diagnosed with primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma back on Jan. 10 of 2020, a day that launched her on a journey no college senior should face. Over the next 10 months, she lost her senior season at Gonzaga, moved home to Lake Oswego for treatment and faced her own mortality.

"The (scariest) part about the whole thing was the in-between stage when you're finding out what kind of cancer you have," Day said. "(That was) the scariest part — the unknown."

While Day's cancer — a fast-growing type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma — was one of the more curable varieties, it was still cancer.

"Mine was only in one spot … (but) they had to do chemo," she said of the 3-5 inch growth that was discovered in the middle of her chest. "It was in my chest region with a bunch of bones around there … and it was right (near) my heart so they couldn't do surgery."

KATIE DAY

"That was the scariest part — the unknown."

— Katie Day

The day before

The day before her diagnosis — on Jan. 9 — Day was preparing for her senior season with the Bulldogs, while still trying to understand what was wrong with her health. Despite her complaints, doctors initially told Day she was just suffering anxiety related to her senior year at Gonzaga. Or perhaps she had injured a muscle doing pullups.

"In October is when it got really bad," she said. "I was losing a ton of weight for no reason. … I couldn't really breathe when I laid down flat. I was digesting food differently — I had a lot of heartburn — (and) I just felt awful all the time. I had a lot of body pain and back pain."

Following a family vacation to Mexico, Day went to see her gynecologist (Nancy Salisberry of Lake Oswego GYN), shared details of her continuing symptoms, then was referred to a primary care doctor at Kassay Family Medicine for more tests.

PMG FILE PHOTO - As a high school player at Lake Oswego, Katie Day won a Class 6A state doubles championship as a senior and finished second in the 6A singles draw as a junior.

The diagnosis

Those tests included an EKG and blood tests, and a day later, a chest X-ray — as her doctor said, "just to cross all the boxes off."

Two hours after that chest X-ray, while driving to a friend's house with her mom, Day got a call from her doctor saying that she had "a large mass in your chest that is three to five inches … and it's 99.9% cancerous."

"I literally jumped out of the car and walked around my mom's friend's apartment complex … crying," Day said. "I was like 'What the heck is happening?' I was just so mad because I knew there was something wrong with me. That's why I was so mad and upset — they could have found this in October."

The Day File

Family: Parents Shaun and Molly Day, brother Brandon Day and sister Libby Day

Honors: Day was the recipient of the 2020 #WCCRepresent Award

Support: Gonzaga's basketball teams wore neon green wrist bands imprinted with #KDStrong in nationally televised games dedicated to Day.

Support II: On the day she completed her chemotherapy, 100 cars paraded past her home to help Day celebrate.

The treatment

From there, Day met with her doctor to schedule a biopsy, got the full diagnosis a week later, met her new oncologist a week after that and went through her first chemotherapy session at Oregon Health & Science University after another two days.

"I was on chemo 24/7 for five days (a week) every other week for from January to May," Day said, noting that after her first round, she was able to administer her own chemotherapy at home for the final five rounds. "My oncologist said 'You should be in remission by your sixth round of chemo, (but) it took like three more months to be in remission."

While Day reacted positively to the chemotherapy, she struggled with doubt and fear every day and wondered about her future.

"I was just scared. Like, how am I going to react to all this … because no one knows," she said. "Everybody reacts to chemo differently."

After finishing treatment in May, Day's test results still showed signs of cancer, results that set the stage for six more months of tests and other, lighter forms of treatment.

Then, finally, she got her cancer-free diagnosis on Nov. 19. While relieved, obviously, Day — whose cancer journey coincided with much of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown — also felt confused about what to do next.

"It's kind of funny, because I was kind of like, 'Now what do I do?'" she said. "My whole life … for all 2020 was, um, cancer, cancer, cancer, like, get better, get better. All my friends were getting jobs and starting their lives. Not all of them, but most people had jobs and all this stuff. And I'm just, I'm going through cancer. ... So I just felt kind of behind."

COURTESY PHOTO: GONZAGA UNIVERSITY - Lake Oswego's Katie Day was a regular in the women's tennis lineup at Gonzaga University for three years before losing her senior season to her cancer diagnosis.

Remission confirmed

Since her treatments ended, Day had four PET scans — positron emission tomography scans detect signs of cancer, heart disease and brain disorders by using injectable radioactive tracers to detect diseased cells — that all showed her to be cancer-free.

Now, after entering remission two months ago, she is only required to see her oncologist once every six months — another jarring change after focusing the past year almost entirely on getting better.

"It's really weird. So after you are (in) remission … they're like 'See you in six months. Peace,'" Day said. "So I just sit around and pretend to go on with my life, dealing with this thing that's all been cancer, cancer, cancer for the past year? And now I just have to be done? Like, what? That was the weirdest thing. It was like 'All right. You're doing good. See you in six months. We did our work.' It was so strange."

Keys to survival

Looking back at her ordeal, Day said there were a several key factors that helped her get through 2020. Social media allowed Day to remain connected to friends from Gonzaga and Lake Oswego when she couldn't see them in person. Television provided a much-needed distraction from her 24/7 focus on treatment and wellness. Her positive attitude played an important role. And her faith in God — which she rekindled during her years at Gonzaga — was critical, too.

"It was just, like, therapeutic and … it's just a nice outlet," she said of her years at a nondenominational Christian church in Spokane. "It's kind of like therapy."

What's next

With cancer and her dismal 2020 growing ever smaller in the rearview mirror, Day is ready to move on and move forward with her life, though she knows that the COVID-19 pandemic will slow her return to normalcy.

After being away from school since January 2020, Day was able to return to her studies and finish her degree in business administration (with concentrations in marketing and international business), taking online courses at both Gonzaga and Central Washington University before eventually participating in a virtual commencement ceremony on Sept. 4.

"I want to do a million things, but also, the world sucks right now," Day said. "All I want to do is travel. I just want to go all over the world. When I finished (school), that was my plan. I just want to go travel everywhere, but you can't … so that's frustrating."

Until the COVID-19 lockdowns end and Day can start her travels, she's working on her resume and planning the start of her professional life. She hopes to use her degree and skills in social media to land a position in the "creative side" of business, advertising or public health — just like any other cancer-free 23-year-old.

"I feel great," she added. "I'm working out and doing normal things, just trying to find a job."

Just like any other cancer-free young woman.


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