Kaylyn Kutchie is used to overcoming obstacles. During her junior year in high school she had to battle back from an ACL injury to regain her starting position on the Ishpeming High School basketball team. Now, however, the NMU junior is battling something much more serious than a sports injury.
Kutchie has been diagnosed with a stage two astrocytoma tumor, a form of brain cancer.
“I had a seizure and got an MRI of my brain, and then they found a fuzzy spot,” Kutchie said. “The doctors didn’t know exactly what it was, so they decided to operate and do a biopsy on it, and they found out it was cancer.”
Kutchie had the operation in June at Marquette General Hospital. The surgery took over five hours, as the surgeon had to inject fluid into her spinal cord to soften the brain so he could get to the tumor.
“I told her goodbye before she went into surgery and said that everything will be OK,” said Peggy Kutchie, Kaylyn’s mother. “You hear of stories like this day in and day out, but you never think in a million years that it would be your child. It’s all very traumatic.”
Astrocytoma is a malignant tumor of astrocytes, star-shaped cells that form the supportive tissue in the brain. Kutchie’s tumor is located in an area of the brain called the uncus, close to the optic nerves. Because of the risk of paralysis, 30 percent of the tumor is still inside her brain.
“It’s in God’s hands now. The doctors did all they could by removing 70 percent,” she said.
Currently, Kutchie is not receiving treatment for the tumor. Astrocytoma is a slow-growing form of cancer, so Kutchie receives an MRI every three months to monitor the remaining cancer. She is not receiving any chemotherapy or radiation, because the risk of side effects, like Alzheimer’s disease, is too high. Due to the location of the tumor and the amount of radiation to shrink a tumor, doctors said Alzheimer’s can be a side effect.
Kutchie did receive second opinions from Duke University and the Marquette General Tumor Board, and they believed this was the right decision, because this tumor is on the low end of the stage two astrocytoma and because of the location of the cancer.
The Kutchies did not ask about a shortened life expectancy due to the cancer and the doctors did not say anything about it either. But they remain hopeful for the future.
“I have a very positive feeling that Kaylyn can live out her dreams and have a family and get married and live a long life,” Peggy said. “This is just something that she will have to have checked out as she goes on.”
Kutchie is trying to live a normal life. She is a nursing major and is still taking classes while working 30 hours a week at Biolife Plasma Services.
“I just live my life as much as I can. You never know. You just never know,” said Kutchie.
On Saturday, Nov. 8, Kutchie will run in Joggin’ for her Noggin’, a benefit to help with the costs of her medical expense, like prescriptions and more MRIs. She is looking forward to it, as she relates the race to her battle with cancer.
She does receive insurance from her father, but the donations help her with uncovered bills.
“Even though I still have some cancer left in my brain, I feel like I already have beaten it, I already crossed the finish line,” Kutchie explained. “I’m hoping to get a big group of my friends and family and all run together. I’ve gotten through all of this with them; it’d be nice to cross the finish line together again.”
The race is being organized by NMU’s Volunteer Center, Students Nurses Association and Students for Organ Donation. People can either run the 5K (3.1 miles), walk the 5K or walk a 1K.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 4, over 95 people had signed up and the group is expecting more registrations on the day of the event.
“We are anticipating 120 participants,” said Danielle Foulks, vice president of Students for Organ Donation and one of the race coordinators. “Most of the people signed up so far are NMU students, but many of our community members are getting involved as well. The oldest person signed up is actually a 68-year-old man.”
The course will be located entirely on NMU’s campus, starting at the University Center, going past the Academic Mall, around the dormitory quads and back to the University Center for the finish. This will be the first 5K held as a fundraiser on campus.