In the six months since she was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor, Katherine Mueller has made a resolution to live life more fully and to help others who share her diagnosis. Now the resilient Severna Park native is sharing her story with Voice readers while she gears up for Fight NET Cancer With Katherine, a fundraising event set for August 24 at Severna Park Taphouse to benefit the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation. (See details for the event at the end of the article.)
Here’s what Katherine had to share with us.
Severna Park Voice: I understand this is a very rare condition. What have you learned about it throughout your experience?
Katherine: The most interesting thing that I have learned is that while historically considered rare, the incidence of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) has increased exponentially over the last 20 years or so. I suspect the reasons for this include more awareness, better detection techniques and probably more accurate reporting systems.
The tricky thing about NETs is they can appear in various parts of the body and the symptoms often imitate other conditions. Subsequently, 58% of NET patients have metastases (meaning the cancer has spread to other parts of the body) by the time they are properly diagnosed.
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute estimates that there are more than 200,000 undiagnosed cases in the United States.
SPV: What is a neuroendocrine tumor (NET)?
K: A neuroendocrine tumor (NET) is a form of cancer that begins in the specialized cells of the body’s neuroendocrine system. These cells release hormones into the blood in response to signals from the nervous system. Neuroendocrine cells are scattered throughout the body, performing different roles based on location. For example, neuroendocrine cells in the digestive system regulate intestinal movements and the release of digestive enzymes.
When NETs develop in these cells, they not only can then spread to other locations but also can secrete excess amounts of hormones and substances that can cause an adverse effect on the body’s natural rhythm. Signs and symptoms depend on the tumor's type, size and location; whether it produces hormones; and whether it has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized).
While there currently is no cure, neuroendocrine tumors are typically slow-growing and therefore can be managed for many years with the right treatment and surveillance.
SPV: What inspired or motivated you to start raising funds and awareness?
K: Since my diagnosis six months ago, it’s really all been about me. Facing an uncertain future with regular scans, tests and treatments has made me the center of attention, whether I like it or not. The way my family, friends and community as a whole have come together to support me is truly amazing. I want to take this momentum and make it about something bigger than me. I am doing this for the 200,000-plus people that have yet to be diagnosed. My hope is that greater awareness will lead to earlier diagnosis, better treatments and eventually a cure.
SPV: Tell me a little bit about what people can expect from this upcoming fundraiser in August?
K: This fundraiser is going to be a whole lot of fun and I couldn’t imagine a better venue to hold it at than the Severna Park Taphouse. It will be a day filled with live music from a variety of talented artists, great food and beer, silent and live auction items, raffles and more. All proceeds from this event will be donated to the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation (NETRF). NETRF is a 501(c)(3) organization and the leading private funder of research into causes and treatments of NETs. Thanks to the NETRF Spark Hope Campaign, all of the funds that we raise will be matched dollar for dollar and put toward the search for a cure.
SPV: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
K: I want people to know that I don’t see myself as a sick person. Yes, the treatments are rough and I have some bad days, but “sick” is only ever a temporary label. When I feel stronger, I work a normal 40-hour week, I go out and do fun things with my family and friends, and I lead a relatively normal life. I think the one thing that has changed is my appreciation for that normal life. I make more time for the people I love, I don’t waste my energy worrying about small, petty things, and I try to be a better person every day. My message to everyone out there reading this is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Try not to take the beautiful, simple things in life for granted. Put down your phones and be present. Live.
To support Katherine in her mission, community members can sponsor or buy tickets to Fight NET Cancer With Katherine, happening August 24 from 11:00am to 8:00pm at Severna Park Taphouse. All money raised through the event will be matched dollar for dollar through the NETRF Spark Hope Campaign. Attendees will enjoy live music by Nashville country artist Chad Bearden, as well as the Moondogs, Case & Barley, George Evans and Johnny Wilson. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit https://fight-cancer-with-katherine.eventbrite.com or find the event “Fight NET Cancer With Katherine” on Facebook.