Tierney Grisalano

Still the same Kate

October 17, 2014

Kate Kemper, junior, is an honors student, balancing two engineering courses and three advanced classes. Her hobbies include drawing as well as cooking. She has friends that have been with her since kindergarten. She also had a brain tumor removed last year.

Kemper found out she had a brain tumor in August 2013 and surgery followed soon after. She was in the hospital for more than a month afterward, eventually going home in late November. It has now been a little over a year since she received the news. Kemper travels via wheelchair and has to wear an eye patch to prevent from seeing double. She has 34 screws, two plates and a dogbone (a type of plate), in her head. But do not be fooled; Kemper said she is still the same person, and she does not want pity.


Photo by Ellie Cassidy

“I never say ‘why me,’” Kemper said. “It makes me sound like I’m sorry for myself and that’s not me. I am who I am because of what’s happened. It’s just part of life; you roll with the punches.”

The type of brain tumor Kemper had was a benign pilocytic astrocytoma tumor, a grade I astrocytoma. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, they are considered the most benign, or noncancerous, type of brain tumor. This type of tumor normally remains in the area where it began and generally forms sacs of fluid or cysts. They are are usually slow-growing but can become very large.

With all this information to handle, Kemper said she is grateful for her friends who kept her distracted from the negatives and her spirits high. Friends like Christina Camarato and Diana Tang, juniors, have stood by her side the entire time.

“We spent so much time together,” Camarato said. “We visited her every Friday when she was in the hospital. We brought food and stayed past visiting hours. It was sort of fun and definitely brought us closer.”

Not only have they been there for Kemper, but she has been there for them as well. Tang said Kemper’s positive attitude and determination have played a large role in their friendship.

“When we were in middle school I complained a lot,” Tang said. “She was always the person saying to suck it up. She was there for me when I needed someone, so I’m trying to be that person for her.”

Both Kemper and her friends agree they will all stay in contact past high school. Kemper has plans of college with the goal of a masters and maybe a PhD in architecture or building design.

“My plans haven’t changed,” Kemper said. “Just my way of getting there.”

So far, Kemper’s path has not been easy. Following surgery, she went to physical and occupational therapy and continues to do so for two hours a week. She describes it as slow and frustrating. Nonetheless, she stays positive.

“There are always things that other people can do that I wish I could do, like playing sports,” Kemper said. “But I have things they wish they could do too, like drawing. It’s all good.”

Kemper said there will be a day when she can walk, run and participate in athletics again; but it just might take some time. Her doctor’s estimate is between three to five years. In the meantime, she is proud of her accomplishments so far. When Kemper first got out of surgery she could not do things like sit up straight, feed herself or speak clearly. Now the tumor is all gone and she is able to do all those things with ease.

“Not being able to feed yourself is annoying,” Kemper said. “It’s such a pride thing to be able to feed yourself and for a long time I had no proprioception (the concept of body awareness) and that’s why it was so difficult. ”

Kemper is appreciative of her day by day improvements and so are her friends. Tang said it makes her happy when she notices Kemper’s small improvements.

“She doesn’t always see the day to day difference, but I do,” Tang said. “I feel like I should remind her how far she’s come everytime I see her. I like to tell her how proud I am of her.”

One of Kemper’s biggest supporters is Robert Becker, science teacher, who was her Honors Chemistry teacher last year. Kemper missed a lot of the class after her surgery, but was adamant about staying in the class. Becker offered to give her an ‘incomplete’ for the time being and help her catch up. Becker met with Kemper around six times over the summer for two-hour sessions to help her learn what she missed.

“I was really impressed with her work ethic,” Becker said. “She always gave everything her all and that didn’t change after the operation. She has a great sense of humor and no qualms about putting herself out there and speaking what’s on her mind.”

With the help of her family, friends and teachers, Kemper’s future is looking bright. However, she said there are still everyday frustrations.

“It’s always upsetting when someone treats me differently because of how I look,” Kemper said. “People point and stare, and I get it. I mean a girl in a wheelchair with an eyepatch, you don’t see that everyday, but it’s still hard. I just try to laugh it off. ”

Kemper has managed to keep up with her advanced classes and maintain friendships. After everything that has happened she is not too different from who she was a year and a half ago.

“I’m still Kate,” Kemper said. “Yeah I’m a little different, but I’m still Kate.”


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