Katina Shaw, cancer survivor

When Katina Shaw ran in the Chicago Marathon in October 2023, it meant more to her than checking a box on her bucket list. For her, it represented she had her health back and she was back in control.

“When I crossed the finish line, I cried,” Katina shared. “It was such a relief after everything I had been through.”

And the other reason it was such a memorable day? Her oncologist at Froedtert Hospital, Binod Dhakal, MD, who serves on the faculty of the Medical College of Wisconsin, had joined her in the race to show his support for Katina’s treatment and recovery.

“He got to the finish line before me,” Katina recalled with a laugh, “but it meant so much to me that he was there to see me through that part of my journey.”

Before turning to the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network for treatment, Katina, vice president of community relations and family liaison for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, had endured pain in her side and legs that she realized needed medical attention.

Katina Shaw at the Chicago Marathon.

Her journey began in March of 2020, at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was flying home from Arizona after a shortened Spring Training.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said.

After multiple trips to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics at other hospitals, Katina was, at first, misdiagnosed with several conditions — kidney stones, muscle spasms and anemia. At one point, she even underwent a blood transfusion.

Still, she knew something else must be wrong. After hearing her story, her friend and colleague, Roger Caplinger, the then Brewers’ vice president of medical operations, referred her to Patrick Foy, MD, a hematology specialist at Froedtert Hospital and MCW faculty member. After some testing, she was diagnosed with a fast-moving form of multiple myeloma — and Dr. Dhakal suggested stem cell therapy as a treatment.

Multiple myeloma is a presently uncurable form of cancer that responds to treatment if detected early enough. This malignant disease affects white blood cells and hampers the body’s natural ability to fight other diseases. Stem cell therapy for cancer patients with myeloma involves removing stem cells from the patient and storing them while the cancer cells are subject to large doses of radiation therapy. Then the stored stem cells are reintroduced to the body.

Treatment started immediately and Katina was admitted to a three-week stay at Froedtert Hospital.

“This is a disease that moves quickly so we had to move quickly” she said. “Luckily, I responded well to the stem cell treatment.”

Throughout her stay at Froedtert Hospital in 2020 and through two years following that of chemotherapy, Katina recalls being treated by clinicians and nurses who cared for her deeply.

“I never once felt as if anyone else was being cared for differently than me,” said, Shaw. “It was 100% great care.”

Now, in remission, Katina is sharing her story. She volunteers and serves on the Board of Trustees with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Wisconsin, served as the co-corporate walk chair for the organization’s 2023 ‘Light the Night’ event, and she is urging everyone, especially in the Black community, to not settle, but seek out second opinions and screening and testing for cancer.

Katina Shaw speaking at the Desert Classic event.

Four years after flying home from Spring Training during the start of the pandemic, she spoke at this year’s Desert Classic event, which raises money for cancer research and care at Froedtert Hospital, and is held in Scottsdale, Arizona. She shared her story with hundreds of Froedtert Hospital supporters and prospective benefactors who were together raising funds for the 24-Hour Cancer Center, an urgent care option for patients in the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network to receive care from trained oncologists and nurses.

In her remarks she credited Roger Caplinger for “saving my life,” the unwavering support of her husband and family, and Dr. Dhakal and her care team at Froedtert Hospital.

Following the stem cell transplant and the completion of two years of maintenance chemotherapy, Katina told the crowd, “I began a new chapter in my life filled with hope, purpose and happiness.”

“When worry and fear try to move in,” she said, “I control what I can by taking in the present moment … I use my energy to focus on wellness and what I can do now to stay as healthy as possible and share my journey to help inspire others.”