Make-A-Wish granted a visit to a Red Sox game, Katlyn Gould turned it into an opportunity to change lives
It was six years ago, but there’s a lot Katlyn Gould still remembers. The sharp needles. The eventually familiar, but always uncomfortable poking and prodding. The port that had to be inserted into her neck because her veins were too thin for the IV. The way chemotherapy treatments would make entire days of her life disappear from memory.
“One time I actually threw my breakfast at my dad — I would act like a crazy person and then forget everything that happened,” she said. “I remember how torn my mom was between working to pay my bills and wanting to be at my side every second. I remember the faces my dad would make, knowing that he wanted to trade places with me. I remember the first time my little brother had to see me without any hair.”
At 14 years old, Katlyn was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. While most high school freshmen stressed about finding friends to sit with in the cafeteria or the algebra pop quiz from first period, Katlyn had weekly appointments at MUSC in Charleston and completely different test results to worry about.
But for all the unimaginable pain she went through, Katlyn is quick to point out the positives — and in her eyes, there were too many to count.
For every needle prick, Katlyn has memories of her friends coming to visit her and staying so long that the nurses had to kick them out. Her school, Waccamaw High, coordinated a fundraising effort called “Cupcakes for Katlyn” to help offset the burden of gas money for her frequent trips from Pawleys Island to Charleston. “Through it all I stayed on my high school golf team,” Katlyn laughed.
She remembers that her friend Ashley, who was diagnosed with a more aggressive form of cancer, would stop by her hospital room to paint her nails and hold her hand as she helped Katlyn find the words to explain everything to her brother. Although they knew each other for only a few months, the two became like sisters as they went through the hardest parts of treatment together.
“Unfortunately, when I started getting better, she got worse. But I always remember the good during our time together,” Katlyn said.
When Katlyn was at her lowest, she was referred to participate in the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s wish program that grants wishes for children with life-threatening diseases. Although she didn’t know much about the organization, it would soon change her life in ways she never could have imagined.
Raised as a diehard Red Sox fan, it was no surprise that Katlyn wished to take her family to Fenway Park and meet Boston Red Sox center fielder Jocoby Ellsbury. “Now he’s a Yankee, so we won’t talk about that,” Katlyn laughed.
Although Katlyn’s wish is the envy of Red Sox baseball fans, it wasn’t just the trip to Boston that left a lasting mark on her — it was the whole experience. “Make-A-Wish does an amazing job of finding out what kids want, but in the process, they never forget about the families,” she said. “It gave me a chance to feel special for the right reasons. It gave my family a time to grow closer together.”
The positives don’t stop there. After four draining rounds of chemotherapy, eight weeks of radiation and an unforgettable trip up north, Katlyn went into remission. Her family and friends rejoiced as the tumors in her neck, chest and trachea shrank, but Katlyn’s passion for giving back grew exponentially.
For the next few years, Katlyn developed a close relationship with Make-A-Wish South Carolina — the same organization that sent her to Boston. She volunteered to travel to various schools, rotary clubs and organizations around her hometown to lead speaking engagements and to share her experience with others. “At that time I still didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school,” Katlyn said. “But I would always leave those events saying ‘I loved that’ — it just felt right.”
When it came time for college applications and campus tours, Katlyn was focused on a fresh start. Her educational aspirations took her to Clemson, where she started freshman year as an undeclared major. “I went in with an open mind,” Katlyn said. “But I really enjoyed sociology. I’m definitely a people person, and I wanted to know more about how people work.”
On top of her sociology classes, she added a minor in non-profit leadership to blend her passion for people with business strategy. The biggest challenge? A daunting requirement of 200 community service hours. But Katlyn knew exactly where to go.
She reached out to the nearby Greenville Make-A-Wish office and was immediately offered an internship position. Without missing a beat, she took on every task imaginable — from writing wish profiles to delivering plaques to managing the Facebook page. At the request of the S.C. chapter’s CEO, Katlyn even continued to lead Make-A-Wish speaking engagements across the Upstate. The aura of positivity that she kept throughout her own experience with cancer followed Katlyn whether she visited elementary, middle or high schools. “Afterwards the kids would come up and ask for pictures,” she laughed. “One girl even asked for a hug.”
A six-month-long internship with Make-A-Wish and more than 200 volunteer hours later, Katlyn realized that she wasn’t ready to give up her work with the organization. With graduation looming, she began to apply for full-time work at chapters across the Southeast. But, after chatting with her friends at the Greenville chapter, Katlyn was offered a part-time job before she even finished school.
She is currently balancing her last semester at Clemson and her part-time job as the chapter’s program assistant — not an easy task, but one that she enjoys every second of every day. Katlyn works behind the scenes managing referrals and inquiries in order to grant wishes of children all over South Carolina. Although she loves her current role as program assistant, she hopes for the opportunity to transition into a full-time wish coordination position after graduation in May.
“What I love about Make-A-Wish is that they don’t necessarily give money or items, but they give memories, and those are more valuable than anything in this life,” Katlyn said. “I’ve wanted to be a part of this process since I can remember. This organization is my heart.”
It was six years ago, but Katlyn will never forget her battle with cancer — neither the good nor the bad. And based on her unparalleled display of passion for making wishes come true, it’s unlikely that the hundreds of brave young wishers will ever forget what amazing results can come from a little perseverance, a positive attitude and a Clemson grad named Katlyn Gould.