Sanford nurse practitioner writes book about battling cancer

Katherine Friese transformed breast cancer into an endurance sport — and won

Sanford nurse practitioner smiles outside near a lake.

Katherine Friese is a nurse practitioner at Sanford Bemidji Walk-In Clinic who started writing a book right after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She wrote it, she said, because she had a lot to say.

Her book “Running Wild: More than Scars” was published in July. Her motivation was to encourage and inform, but the writing process itself was part of her story. It helped her and it helped her help others.

“It really became the cornerstone of my healing,” Friese said. “I was able to process my thoughts and feelings. The book is about my experience with cancer but I want to encourage people facing any sort of a struggle.”

Find a provider: Breast cancer specialists at Sanford Health

A dedicated swimmer and power walker, she decided early on that she would not step back and watch as her diagnosis and her treatment waged a clinical battle. Instead, she was going to take an active role in her recovery. It was going to include everything she had.

“Exercise brings you to a point of clarity of your thoughts,” she said. “It brings you a communion with God and your spirituality. There is a connectedness there.”

Lifesaving mammogram

It was February of 2018, just days after Friese’s 40th birthday, that she had a mammogram that determined she had breast cancer. As a health care provider herself, she reasoned it was time to practice what she preached when she went in for that mammogram.

The result of that screening was frightening but ultimately life-saving.

“I’m a mother. You have all these ideas go through your head about what life will be like without your family having you around,” Friese said. “It was terrifying.”

The screening revealed an active cancer that had advanced to her lymph nodes.

“It would have gotten me if I had not done my screening mammogram,” she said. “I’m so thankful for that. I had no idea anything was wrong. I didn’t feel sick at all.”

Friese has a professional history of caring for others. How did that affect how she handled her own health crisis? Well, it’s an interesting question that comes with a two-part answer.

“Cancer is such a human experience,” she said. “I don’t think being a nurse made me any less immune to the depth of impact. But my training did impact how I saw my situation. As a nurse, I became my own project. Wellness does not mean you’re without illness or injury, it’s about thriving despite them. Health is not just physical. It’s an interaction between body, mind and spirit.”

Friese’s personal marathon

Sanford Health provider power walks down the street in a pink hat.
Friese kept up her exercise routine during breast cancer treatment.

Photo by Sanford Health

Friese has always gravitated toward the challenges of endurance sports. While preparing to run a marathon, an injury cut down her at the half-marathon stage of her training. She was a competitive swimmer, however, who would go on to become a committed power walker. Testing and pushing herself had always been a part of getting up and starting a day.

“Viewing cancer as an endurance event seemed fitting in my mind,” Friese said. “So I approached as an event itself that needed to be paced.”

She defined the training phase as everything that came before cancer. It includes all those things that strengthened her as a person prior to the diagnosis. The race was the treatment phase. It included all she went through on her way to recovery.

“It’s about building up from nothing,” she said. “It’s like ground-zero where everything is stripped away and you’re becoming something even better than before. I wanted to show readers that life’s scars become our strengths. Our challenges develop perseverance, character and hope.”

Training for this moment

In the first chapter of her book she writes about enthusiastically showing up for work the morning after receiving word that she did indeed have cancer. She also touches on the heavy moments that came in the harrowing days leading up to confirmation of her diagnosis. Friese would wake up at odd hours during those times and contemplate the impact her own death would have on her husband and two young children.

Ultimately, however, she promises an uplifting message. This is a battle to be won.

“One early morning, I felt comforted by the warm presence of my feisty female line, women both passed and living,” she writes in the last paragraph of the first chapter. “They reminded me of where I came from – a line of strong women. And then I heard my dear sweet father, gone from his physical being nearly half my life. He called me by my childhood nickname, saying “Go get ‘em, Kate Kid.” My entire life I’ve been training for this event, this moment.”

“It has really shown me how to love myself, others and God better,” Friese said. “I feel like there are positives to having gone through the cancer. It’s not like I needed it to be a better person but it has made me a better person. I’m more comfortable in my own skin.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Cancer Treatments, Health Care Heroes, Healthy Living, Women's

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