SPOKANE, Wash. - When we first told the story of Cat Davis nearly two years ago, her message spread like wildfire. Her fight against Scleroderma even rallied donors to pay for a stem-cell transplant they hoped would save her life.
Now, 16 months after the transplant, Cat is adjusting to life and trying to figure out what's next.
The Davis family living room in north Spokane has transformed from a family gathering place to a writing center. Cat and her mom Sally are in the editing stage of a book that tells the story of the last five years of their lives. It begins with the moment Cat, then 24 years old, told her mom she was given between two and five years to live.
"Scleroderma ruins everything and takes away your entire life," Cat explains. The disease hardens skin and organs and, right now, has no cure.
When we first told Cat's story in 2012, the disease had robbed her of what many of us value most in our 20's: independence. She couldn't drive, dress or even shower by herself. She was living at home, with her mom providing round-the-clock care. Her best hope was a stem-cell transplant, a costly procedure not covered by insurance. Cat pleaded publicly for help and the Cure for Cat campaign was born.
In a matter of weeks, the community raised more than $100,000 to pay for Cat's stem-cell transplant. The hope? Somehow cure the incurable. "We needed to raise money for this transplant," Cat remembers. "Then, we had the transplant and it was like... aw, what now?"
16 months later, Cat's right arm, once stuck in a bent position and solid as a rock, bends freely. Her fingers, once bent and covered in painful ulcers, are now uncurled.
"The transplant, obviously, got me to where I am today. I used to not be able to shower, dress myself and do all that. It's huge for me."
Cat is always smiling, spending time with friends and relishing the independence she's lost. But, she wants people to know, she's still very sick. A picture of Cat on a night out with friends betrays the fact that, most days, she spends most of her time in bed. In pain.
They call it a terminal illness for a reason. The transplant did not fix Cat's gastro issues, which she struggles with the most. In addition to digestive problems, Cat's esophagus is so tight, she has problems with vomiting and choking. Every four weeks, she undergoes a painful procedure to widen out the esophagus. Some day, she knows, eating solid food will be impossible.
Despite the fact the symptoms are getting worse, Cat is still grateful. She knows better than anyone the time the transplant gave her. Since her diagnosis, she's lost two close friends who also suffered from Scleroderma.
"It was scary to think that out of the three of us, I'm the only one left." Cat says.
"We've had to really adjust our mindset," says Cat's mom Sally. "This is going to be a lifelong struggle until maybe there's a cure."
Cat suffers from pulmonary hypertension, lung disease, the digestive issues and constant pain and fatigue. The woman who grew up swimming and teaching lessons in her backyard pool would love to be able to swim again. To play volleyball. To date and plan for a family like other people her age. She wonders how much time she has left. Right now, there's no treatment. It's a matter of keeping her comfortable and treating the side effects of the disease.
"Sometimes I think maybe I had the transplant to get to the next treatment," Cat explains. "As of right now, there's nothing left for me. We're band-aiding all the problems."
But, she's not going to sit back and wait. Cat spends time online, researching every experimental treatment. She's even formed a support group for other Scleroderma patients in our region. And, she hopes the book they're writing with help others relate and find strength.
The book may open with the Scleroderma diagnosis, and the disease may write the final chapter as well. It's up to Cat now to find the meaning in the chapters in between.
"I just feel there has to be more to my life than just being sick every day. I won't accept that," she said.
The Scleroderma support group meets Thursday, June 26th at 6:30 pm at the Argonne Library. You can read more about the Cure for Cat campaign and donate here or on Facebook. And, if you have questions or would like to send a message to Cat, send it to email@example.com