“Growing up, I read all of the books about kids with cancer and everybody died. It was frustrating … because I lived. And I knew a lot of kids who lived.”
Kati Gardner was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer, at 8 years old. It presented as a tumor on her femur, followed by months of painful rehabilitation, prolonged hospital stays, and chemotherapy. In the end, when faced with having to endure a series of complicated procedures to save her leg, Gardner, with the full support of her parents, made the decision to amputate. Next to marrying her husband, she says, it was the best decision she ever made. She was able to get on with the business of being Kati.
The Woodstock, Georgia native did get on with it, pursuing a passion for performance and writing with a degree in theatre arts. Young people, in particular, are her calling; and she wound up working as a middle-school drama teacher. One day, while her students took a standardized test, she jotted down a scene that had been playing in her mind for a while.
What she jotted down became the first page of many in her young adult novel, Brave Enough. Gardner plugged away at it during stolen moments over five years, while also raising two young daughters and relocating with her family to Raleigh. It was tough going—Gardner recalls editing pages in an empty Sunday school classroom at First Baptist Church Raleigh while her daughter was attending preschool—but her perseverance landed a book deal on the first go.
Brave Enough’s main character is a promising young dancer who loses a leg to cancer. She discovers that she can still stand strong and be a normal teenager who goes to camp, flirts with boys, and likes glitter. Sound familiar? And—spoiler alert—she lives. —Katherine Poole