Katie Casserly never knew how much the Scout Motto — “Be Prepared” — would apply to her life until she was diagnosed with cancer last fall.
The 18-year-old Venturer from Staten Island, N.Y., wanted to be in Scouting ever since she was little, and she has enjoyed every minute.
“Scouting teaches you numerous things, gives you millions of chances, makes you cross paths with many people,” she says. “I’ve done things I never would’ve imagined, met people who have become family, and I’ve learned things that have set me for life. Without Scouting, I would have nothing right now.”
Katie got the word she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymph nodes, two days before she was to receive the Venturing Silver Award at a court of honor.
“The hardest thing was going from something happy like that to something devastating like this,” she says.
A cancer diagnosis can be crippling, but Katie was determined to find a solution to this problem life had thrown her way. Scouting taught her how to survive in the wilderness, she figured, so surviving cancer should be no different.
“When you’re in Scouting, you’re taught how to survive and handle any situation,” she says. “To be prepared in case of anything: emergencies, weather, etc. The first thing you’re told when approaching any situation is to not panic. To stop and think.”
In fact, she found seven ways surviving cancer reminded her of wilderness survival:
1. Positive Mental Attitude.
“The first thing is wilderness survival and cancer survival. No matter how good or bad a situation is, having a positive mind will carry you to through to the end.”
2. First Aid.
“Being able to take care of yourself, knowing how others can help you and knowing what to do when something’s not right.”
“Protection — not just a place to sleep, eat and live in. But a place to feel safe.”
“Especially during the cold months, you need a source to keep yourself from getting sick, to make sure your meals are prepared well, to keep yourself properly dressed and comfortable.”
“Knowing when something’s wrong and how to take care of it. Noticing certain signs and symptoms. Knowing how to communicate those problems to the right people.”
“Keeping yourself hydrated and washing out toxins from your body.”
“Eating right, making sure it’s cooked right and eating in general.”
Telling her Scouting family the news
Revealing her cancer diagnosis to her “second family” wasn’t easy. She spent weeks waiting for the right time and settled on a Venturing crew meeting.
“I’ve never had a larger sense of stage fright than the day I decided to tell everyone,” she says. “I had to spend the whole meeting pretending it wasn’t going to happen, that everything was normal. My best friend sat next to me as I heard the words slowly transition into my turn to speak.
“I watched as faces grew serious, faces dropped and eyes changed. But they didn’t skip a beat. I’ve never been involved in a group of such caring and level-headed people, people that are my family. They knew it was there and asked questions, but everything was still normal. Despite everything, Scouting was the one place that I could be normal even though I wasn’t.”
Scouting ‘prepares you for anything, even cancer’
Those two words, “Be Prepared,” mean a lot more to Katie now than when she first learned them.
“I never would’ve been able to survive this without having the mindset, the people, the things keeping my feet on the ground when my balance was about to break,” she says. “I’ve never been more prepared in my life than having Scouting as a function in it.”
How’s Katie doing now?
I’m pleased to report that Katie is cancer-free and in remission.
“Everything has pretty much gone back to normal,” she says. “With the help of the gym, I hope to build my strength back up before I start work over the summer.”
Katie thanks Scouting for preparing her for this fight. But it’s young people like Katie who make Scouting so great, so let’s thank her for being a part of this life-changing movement that helps young people become “Prepared. For Life.”