During a battle with breast cancer, Lake Mary’s Katharine Stratis proves the best way to help yourself is to help others.
It all happened so fast.
Katharine Stratis was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2017 and faced her first surgery about a month later.
“I was very anxious and had to do a lot of research very quickly,” she says. “In the beginning, I was extremely depressed and just beside myself. But about two weeks out from my surgery, I had this overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be okay.”
Katharine credits this positive outlook to a wholesale change in her thought process.
“When your life is in turmoil, when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory and you’re scared, you can really change everything by the way you think,” she explains.
When Katharine went into surgery she made a promise, one that she’s intent on keeping.
“I promised God, if he gets me through this, I’ll do something amazing,” she remembers.
With time, Katharine reasoned that her purpose was to help others going through the same challenge.
“It became really emotional for me,” says the Lake Mary resident. “I couldn’t go back on my promise.”
During her months in recovery, Katharine’s mission became clear. She started the nonprofit organization Sisters Surviving Globally, and her goal is to provide Care and Comfort bags to women in treatment. The bags contain such comfort items as an inspirational book, a pink fluffy blanket, cozy socks, a gratitude journal, ChapStick, pink lip-gloss, silver bangle bracelets with encouraging sayings, and comforting and inspiring letters from survivors and supporters.
The highlight of each bag is the book When Everything Changes, Change Everything by The New York Times bestselling author Neale Donald Walsch. Katharine credits the book as her guide through tumultuous times. She wanted to include a copy of the book in each of her bags, but knew buying them all would be cost-prohibitive. Katharine took a chance and emailed the author to see if he might be able to help.
“He actually returned my email and said that he would love to give books for my bags,” Katharine says with pride.
During recovery from her third surgery, Katharine dutifully assembled the bags and plans to distribute them to local oncologist offices and hospitals. Family and friends have pitched in to help, and Sisters Surviving Globally held its first fundraiser – a family boot camp at a local athletic club followed by an after-party in Lake Mary – in late July. The events included raffle prizes and other fundraisers, with all proceeds going to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.
“A lot of people don’t understand when I say this, but I feel like I’m almost glad for the experience,” Katharine says of her breast cancer journey. “It’s given purpose to my life.”
While she cherishes her role as a mother to two college-aged kids and says she loves her life, Katharine says that she’s “never really had something that I’ve been this passionate about.”
Going forward, Katharine wants to be a voice for women battling breast cancer and counsel those who are at the start of a long and scary process.
To those women, Katharine offers this advice: “Stay encouraged. You can get through it with your ability to change your thoughts. I would also tell people to laugh as much as you can.”
Katharine recalls watching classic Three Stooges movies to try and find something to laugh about.
“It really does help,” she says. Most of all, though, Katharine believes the best healing process is to help others.
“The interesting thing about giving is that it heals the giver as well,” she says. “I wake up every day with a sense of happiness and joy that I didn’t have before, because when you are giving and helping, it’s a win-win for both parties. It makes everyone feel really good.”
Plans are in the works for a golf event fundraiser on October 5 (one year to the day that Katharine was diagnosed) at Timacuan Golf Club. Connect with Sisters Surviving Globally on Facebook for more information.
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