Nine-year-old Kaitlyn Holste is a competitive gymnast. And like most dedicated athletes, she didn’t let a minor cough and some mild fatigue get in the way of her training. But last October, when she complained about difficulty breathing, her mom took her to the hospital near their home in Effingham, Illinois. “They thought she might have pneumonia,” says Kaitlyn’s mom, Rebecca. “However, a CT scan revealed a softball size mass that was threatening her airway and the vessels of heart. She also had a collapsed lung and a large amount of fluid in her chest cavity.”
The family was given a probable diagnosis and sent to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Kaitlyn was admitted to the PICU where she was treated for a collapsed lung and her doctors drained the fluid from her chest. Additional testing confirmed Mediastinal Lymphoma. “We couldn’t believe it. Up to that point she really didn’t have many symptoms. She had just won a gold medal at the National Junior Olympics a few months earlier. We thought she was tired because she was back in school. We were shocked to discover she had not only been walking around with a collapsed lung, but she also had a malignant mass in her chest. “
Within three days Kaitlyn started chemotherapy. “Kaitlyn’s treatment was pretty grueling. She missed 78 days of school and has had eight blood and four platelet transfusions,” says Rebecca. “Thanks to her teacher, and Kaitlyn’s hard work and determination, she has kept up with her school work and continued with gymnastics. She even won a gymnastics meet in February.” In June, Kaitlyn transitioned into the maintenance phase of her treatment. She is now in remission.
Kaitlyn was recently named one of the “Ride for a Child” pediatric cancer patients for Pedal the Cause, a bicycle race to raise money for cancer research in St. Louis. All the proceeds to go St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Siteman Cancer Center.
Her parents think it’s fitting that their daughter—a dedicated athlete—is part of an event that celebrates physical fitness and benefits a cause that is near and dear to their hearts. “We have all the confidence in the world in St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Everyone has been wonderful—we can’t say enough good things about all of the doctors and nurses. I will never forget Dr. Amy Barone meeting us the first time we showed up in the Emergency Department. We were really scared, but she spent a lot of time explaining what was going on and patiently answering questions. And she has followed us every step of the way.”
Kaitlyn is looking forward to Pedal the Cause on October 1 and 2. But before she returns to St. Louis, she is focused on a more immediate goal: the AAU Junior Olympics. “Ever since Kaitlyn was diagnosed she has been determined to go back and compete again this year. Thanks to the excellent treatment and support she received at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, she is going to accomplish this goal and we are heading to the AAU Junior Olympic games in New Orleans!”