Cancer survivor continues fight in Relay for Life

Trish Barrios (left) and her daughter, Katrina White (Courtesy photo)

Editor's Note: On May 22, 2004, the Tyler Morning Telegraph featured a story about Katrina White's (then Katrina Wyatt) fight with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and her plea to the community for help raising funds for treatment.

In 2003, Katrina White, 42, of Tyler, was diagnosed with B cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Doctors didn't expect her to have a good prognosis. More than 11 years later, she's known as a fighter and has used her experience to help others battling cancer.

Ms. White was asked to participate on the leadership and planning committee for the 2015 Relay For Life of Smith County and serves as the sponsorship chairwoman. She also joined the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that recently lobbied at the Texas Capitol for those affected by cancer.

There, they spoke with local state representatives and senators about cancer funding, palliative care and tobacco cessation programs, as tobacco use causes or increases risk of cancers.

"I was 31 when I first was diagnosed and pretty shortly after my diagnosis, the oncologist came in and told my family that ‘you need to put your final affairs in order,'" Ms. White said. "I was terrified but at the same time, as a nurse, I accepted what he was telling me. I completely gave up. I gave up fighting."

An oncology nurse told her about Relay For Life's annual walk, and at that time, she could not walk without assistance.

"As soon as I got to the field I saw a sea of purple and it just amazed me," she said. "I was in awe. They weren't crying. They weren't mourning. They were having a huge birthday party, if you will. They were celebrating life … In that moment, it inspired me."

The mother of a now-adult son said fear, anger and other emotions left her body.

"I took my little boy's hand, and we started walking that track," she said. "Each step that I made, as painful as it was, it gave me hope."

She added, "In those moments as I was making steps around that track, I decided I was going to fight back. I was going to win my ballet with cancer. I'll be damned if any man was going to tell me it was my time to die."

Ms. White has participated in every Relay walk since then.

Following chemotherapy treatment, Ms. White suffered permanent nerve damage in her hands and feet. While she no longer walks with the assistance of a walker or wheelchair, she has to cope with discomfort and pain. Instead of using strong pain medications, she opts for yoga and meditation.

Since the 2003 diagnosis, the cancer came back twice, but she's been in remission for five years now. She takes pride in advocating for cancer research funding and reaching out to others who are impacted by cancer.

"It's given me a voice," she said. "I can't explain the power and the feeling I get. When I was nursing, to give and take care of other people it was so rewarding and when that was taken away, I felt lost. But doing what I'm doing now as a volunteer, it is so much more rewarding than nursing was. I never thought I'd have that feeling again."

From the time of her diagnosis, Ms. White's mother, Trish Barrios, experienced the cancer journey with her. She even shaved her head in support.

Today, she co-chairs the sponsorship committee at Relay For Life with her daughter. She also joined ACS CAN, and traveled with her to the Texas Capitol earlier this month.

Ms. Barrios, 59, said she is proud of her daughter's "amazing strength and courage to fight and the desire to help others win their fight."

"I am so honored to be a part of her life and to participate in her recovery and to be able to stand up and help fight and encourage others," she said.

The two women don't expect to walk away from their new roles anytime soon.

"Our hearts are there to continue and we're very honored to be able to do this and to be on the ACS CAN to take a platform with our lawmakers," Ms. Barrios said.

Meanwhile, Ms. White understands it's easy to give in to despair while undergoing treatment for cancer, so she's made a point to uplift others.

"I've been able to reach out to others and say, ‘Don't give up,'" she said. "Lean on your family when you feel like you have no hope left. Find that little seed of strength and lean on whoever is around you. And I can be their voice."

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Smith County Relay For Life

What: Walk in the annual relay fundraiser to support cancer treatment and research, honor cancer survivors and support cancer patients in the community

When: 6 p.m.-midnight, Friday, April 10

Where: T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza in downtown Tyler

For information or to sign up: Call 903.597.1383, email arie.curtis@cancer.org, or visit