Thrive by IU Health

February 04, 2024

Swiftie fan 20, was the ‘kid who never got sick’ until cancer diagnosis

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Swiftie fan 20, was the ‘kid who never got sick’ until cancer diagnosis

It was several months ago when Kaitlin Lutes was diagnosed with lymphoma. Now she’s sharing her story of hope.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Kaitlin Lutes recently sat with her mother in the infusion unit of IU Health Simon Cancer Center. As she talked to nurses and family members her face lit up. She was animated and cheerful. A stranger would not guess that Lutes was completing the most challenging six months of her life.

On July 22, Lutes was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer that begins in the lymph system, which is part of the immune system that helps the body fight infection and disease.

“When I heard the word ‘lymphoma’ I completely dropped to the floor and then I called my parents,” said Lutes, who turned 20 in May. She had just moved out on her parent’s home two weeks earlier and was looking forward to starting her life of independence.

The oldest of four girls, Lutes is the daughter of Tabitha and Brian Lutes. She was born in Lafayette, Ind. - her mother’s hometown. Lutes and her sisters were raised in upstate New York, three hours north of Syracuse and eventually moved to Spokane, Wash. Lutes graduated in 2022 from Ferris High School, in Spokane. The family moved back to Indiana in August 2022, about a year before Lutes received her diagnosis.

“I’m glad we’re here - close to family and close to IU Health,” said her mother. “Kaitlin was my kid who never got sick. Everyone else would get a bug and she’d end up just fine. And then the cancer diagnosis hit us.”

About a month before her diagnosis Lutes had been dehydrated and thought it might be due to a viral infection. When she went to the doctor her physician noticed a lump on her neck and ordered an ultrasound.

“It looked very concerning and the lump wasn’t going away. A biopsy followed the ultrasound and the next day I got the results and I had cancer,” said Kaitlin.

Tabitha Lutes said her daughter always had a bubbly personality and even though she was timid growing up, she always made friends. “She loved to be outside catching frogs and be carefree,” said her mom. “I’m amazed at how well she has handled all of this.”

Since her diagnosis, Lutes has been in the care of Dr. Michael Robertson. In addition to chemotherapy, she experienced her first hospital stay in her life when she spiked a fever and her white blood cell count dropped and she couldn’t fight off the infection. During those five days in the hospital, her hair began to fall out and she remembers sharing that experience with a special nurse at IU Health University Hospital.

“I don’t remember her name but I’ll always remember her as someone who supported me through this journey,” said Lutes. “She shared that she had gone through uterine cancer and she offered to shave my head. It was a relief, really.”

She also counts among her blessings a psychologist, Victoria Powers, that she meets with every other week.

“I think people don’t understand the toll cancer takes on your mental health. It’s been so tough and my therapist has helped me face my fears. I try hard not to show those fears because I don’t want to scare everyone, but those fears don’t just go away,” said Lutes.

In addition to her hospital caregivers, Lutes said she has been surrounded by a support system of family and friends - including her parents, her boyfriend, Hunter Smith, her grandmother Debra Alguire, and her boyfriend’s mother, Jill Smith.

The team recently showed up to cheer for Lutes as she rang the bell at Simon Cancer Center signaling an end to her treatment. In October she learned that she is in remission and now she looks toward her future.

First, she wants to settle into her home with her boyfriend - a one-bedroom white house in Beech Grove with a purple porch light. Purple is the color signifying lymphoma. “I want to someday own a house, get married, and have a family.”

Oh, and there’s one more thing: “I am Taylor Swift’s biggest fan. I hope I can make it to her concert. What a headline that would be she said: ’Taylor Swift welcomes biggest fan who beat cancer.’”

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