BYU student cancer survivor strives to make a difference

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Although Christmas is eagerly anticipated as one of the happiest times of the year, for Kristin Sumbot, then 17, the 2007 Christmas season did not bring laughter or joy but a devastating diagnosis.

“I was decorating Christmas sugar cookies when the phone rang,” said Leslie Katich, Sumbot’s mother. “A few days from Christmas, a family never expects this kind of news.”

On December 17, 2007, Sumbot was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive, and potentially fatal, form of cancer. Although she was given a mere 20 percent chance of survival, Sumbot said she pushed through the difficult moments and the chemotherapy by imagining her life ahead.

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Kristin and her younger brother, who shaved his head for her.
“There was a lot of pain and hurt when I let it get to me,” Sumbot said. “Being hopeful for better days made the experience easier. I dreamed about getting into BYU, dating and long, luscious hair.”

Katich said they would frequently imagine Kristin’s life ahead and all she had to look forward to.

“We talked constantly about her plans for the future,” Katich said. “Focusing on that seemed to give a much needed hope for life after chemo. When she was accepted into BYU, she cried quiet tears of joy. It meant the world to her to know that a life after chemotherapy was waiting.”

Sumbot did not let her cancer stop her from becoming involved and striving to change the lives of those around her. Despite her diagnosis, Sumbot and her mother Leslie became involved in Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation, a charity helping local children and their families who have been diagnosed with cancer. Kristin has since survived her last treatment of chemotherapy, nearly two years ago, and continues to be an inspiration to those around her.

“I often speak as a child representative at their charity events to help raise money and awareness by sharing my story,” Sumbot said. “My mom now works for the foundation, and she uses me as story of hope for the families that are in the thick of the struggle.”

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Kristin and her friends wearing her "Live Happy" T-shirts at a fundraiser event
Katich said she hopes that by coming in contact with other families she can help them to have faith in the future and inspire them to push forward.

“I work with families on a daily basis and help them navigate the bumpy road of childhood cancer,” Katich said. “When a family sees that I have had a child in the fight, they immediately ask how she is doing. Since I have walked this journey they understand that I know what they are going through.”

When Sumbot was finally able to attend BYU in 2009,  she soon met her future husband Nathan Sumbot, a BYU law student. Although he did not know she had cancer when they first began dating, he said he found out when she playfully spun her wig around on her head on their second date. Although the months before her last chemotherapy treatment were filled with trips to the hospital, he said what he admires most is how Sumbit lives her life now.

“It isn’t the in-the-thick-of-it-all Kristin that I admire the most, but the post-cancer Kristin,” Nathan said. “The fight she fights now, I feel, completely overshadows the battles of treatment.”

Sumbot is currently pursing a degree in art education with the goal of teaching art to high school students, and she dreams of eventually opening her own sandwich shop. Nathan said although high school was one of the darkest times for Sumbot, he admires that she is willing to go back so she can make a difference in people’s lives.

“That is what I respect most about Kristin,” Nathan said. “(It’s) what really inspires me to be a better person. She is a rarity (and) an exception. She is one of the small number of big-souled people that really make a difference in the world, and that is what I love most about her.”

Through her trial Sumbot never gave up on her life-motto, and strives to live it daily. Though her cancer had caused her significant trail and difficulty, Sumbot is hopeful that she will continue to live her life and make a difference, while inspiring others as well.

“Live happy,” Sumbot said, “because there are worse things.”

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Kristin on her last day of Chemotherapy, day 828.
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