Resting in her bunk bed next to her sister, the 6-year-old suddenly felt sick to her stomach. The sickness continued for a month. Concerned, the girl’s parents decided to fly back to their hometown in Cincinnati, Ohio, from South Korea, where they were living at the time. On their first day home, the family got the diagnosis.
On July 20, 1999, the curious child heard the words, “You have a form of cancer called Wilms tumor, which is located on your left kidney, and at this point is the size of a football.”
Karly Perry, a sophomore majoring in special education, was that 6-year-old girl with cancer.
“I remember seeing my dad cry for the first time, and that was when I knew I would have to be the strong one,” Perry said. “I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Dad, I’m going to be fine. Stop crying, you big baby.’ The next few months I fought harder than a ‘grown man,’ according to my father.”
Perry had multiple surgeries and six months of intense chemotherapy. She lost her hair and spent days getting sick over and over again.
Korrin Perry, her younger sister, remembers watching her sister on the hospital bed with a dozen tubes connected to her body.
“Being young and naïve I didn’t understand that she could die, so I was positive about it all,” Korrin Perry said. “I remember holding her hair back when she was throwing up, being with her at the hospital all the time, and just being a good little sister.”
And Karly Perry did not give up. A year and a half later she was officially cancer free.
“Since we had to move back to the states for my treatment, I was attending first grade at a local elementary school, and I will never forget having my last treatment and returning to school that following Monday,” Karly Perry said. “My mom bought hundreds of balloons and had everyone in my class help celebrate my fight and success.”
After the cancer was beaten, Korrin Perry was glad to have her sister back.
“It did take time to get used to her short, boy-like hair, but I still loved her,” Korrin Perry said. “It wasn’t until I was older that I realized what could’ve happened to my big sister and now it makes me more appreciative for her and life in general.”
Until Karly Perry came to college, she didn’t like to share anything regarding her cancer.
“I felt it made me less of a person than someone else,” Karly Perry said. “As soon as I stepped onto campus, I wanted that to be different.”
Right away, Karly Perry found that she could finally be herself by opening up and sharing her story, ultimately making her a stronger person.
“I wake up feeling five times as lucky as other people for getting a new day, since at one point I wasn’t promised more than five minutes,” Karly Perry said. “Being able to share who I really am gives me strength and makes each day more fulfilling and rewarding. … Plus, getting to go to the best university in the world makes it just that much better.”
With shaking hands, sweating and trembling, Karly Perry publicly shared her testimony for the first time at this past year’s UA Dance Marathon.
“I kept reminding myself that this was a great opportunity to help give back to those kids I met when I was sick that weren’t lucky enough to make it,” Karly Perry said. “As soon as I began sharing, I felt more confident and extremely relieved. People were supportive and celebrated the fact that I am a cancer survivor. I never realized how truly lucky I was until that point.”
Karly Perry said her family is the main source of her strength.
“The fact that I almost lost my life at a young age, waking up is a new chance to do what I was put here to do,” Karly Perry said. “My family reminds me each and every day how lucky I am to be alive, and how I need to live each and every day to the full potential. … They make me want to be better and change the world.”
Shonda Kaiser, Karly Perry’s aunt and babysitter, said when she heard the news that her eldest niece had cancer, it felt like “the floor fell out of the world.”
“I still remember her little face telling me that she had cancer,” Kaiser said. “She smiled at me and said, ‘Aunt Shonda, I get to stay here with you and not go back to Korea. I have cancer.’ I was truly amazed by Karly’s positive attitude about her unexpected journey.”
Kaiser said she is proud of the woman her niece has become.
“I believe faith is what helped Karly and her family stay positive and hopeful during the difficult time,” Kaiser said. “Karly has taught each of us to celebrate life, and not take it for granted. Karly has been a gift to all of us from the very beginning.”
Jacki Perry, Karly Perry’s mother, said many things that seemed important before the cancer treatment became far less important after experiencing the realities of cancer.
“Family time and memories are the priceless things in life,” Jacki Perry said. “Telling our friends and loved ones every day how much we care about them is now our habit.”
Jacki Perry said her positive energy comes from her family’s faith in God.
“Daily we see how God can turn tragedy into triumph,” Jacki Perry said. “Karly is now giving back to the world in thanks to her survival. Because of God, we all have a relationship and compassion we would not have had if we would not have gone through this experience.”
Karly Perry’s friends also play a positive role in her life by allowing her to be a college girl.
“Having faith and not always looking for an answer to ‘Why?’ is something that helps me live my life, and I’m sure it could help others dealing with this as well,” Karly Perry said. “Living through this tough experience has been beyond a blessing in disguise, and I couldn’t imagine not having this as a part of my story. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Leading in today’s Crimson White: