FAIRPORT, N.Y. -- Cat Gawronski, 23, was in the middle of her second year of college last year when she began feeling really sick.
“I remember having a cough starting in January right after my birthday, actually, of that year and people kept telling me ‘you’re fine, it’s just a virus,’ you know, ‘you’re a college student, you’re going to get better, you’re just not resting enough,’ but I kind of felt like deep down that something was really wrong,” Gawronski said.
Gawronski was right. Three months later, she received a blot clot and doctors diagnosed her with leukemia.
“It was scary, just because I hadn’t really expected to hear cancer. I don’t think anyone would really expect that,” Gawronski said.
Gawronski also admits she was relieved.
“I was just relieved to know that ‘okay, I have a diagnosis now and I’m going to try so hard and beat it and get better,’” Gawronski said.
It’s that positive attitude, Gawronski said, that has helped her get through chemotherapy and the other struggles that come with cancer.
“We call her our warrior because she has always had such a positive attitude about it,” her mother Beth Gawronski said.
Beyond that however, Gawronski also credits her family, friends, and boyfriend, as well as the nonprofit 13Thirty Cancer Connect, Inc. This organization gives support and provides an outlet for teens and young adults with cancer.
“It’s a bunch of people who are my age who are diagnosed around my age and they understand everything that I’m going through without me even having to explain,” Gawronski said. “So it’s nice to just be able to walk in and know that people understand you and accept you without having to explain anything.”
Later this month, 13Thirty will bring a story similar to Gawronski’s to the big screen in Rochester. "Until 20" is the emotional documentary of Texas resident James Ragan who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal form of bone cancer, at 13.
While Ragan ended up passing at age 20, he spent his last years helping to raise money for pediatric cancer research and living his life to the fullest.
Showing this movie is just another way 13Thirty is helping the community understand what children, teens, and young adults go through when they have cancer.
“It’s a story of not just this young man’s life, but a story of how to find purpose and meaning in our life and how much joy that can bring even in the most difficult situation,” 13Thirty founder Lauren Spiker said.
Just like Ragan, Gawronski said her cancer has helped her figure out what’s really important in life.
13Thirty will hold the movie screening at St John Fisher College Cleary Auditorium beginning a 6 p.m. on September 14. A panel discussion and question and answer session will follow.