When cancer isn’t right, pitcher goes left (handed)

Katelyn Craker is a sophomore who plays as a left-handed pitcher for the Lady Saints softball team. She has played more than 50 innings and has more than 50 strikeouts. She was named KJCCC Pitcher of the Week in April of 2013.

Craker is from San Marcos, Calif., where she earned 1st Team All League and 2nd Team All County Selection her senior year at Mission Hills High School.

However, Craker’s success in softball didn’t come easy. At the age of 9, Craker was thrown a curve ball when doctors found a cancerous tumor in her right shoulder that threatened to ruin the then-right-handed pitcher’s hope of ever playing softball again.

As a child, Craker started off pitching right handed. When she was 9, she noticed a pain in her arm. Craker decided that she should go to the doctor to see if maybe she had pulled a muscle. When she went to the doctors they told her it was probably bursitis or tendonitis. Craker iced her shoulder and took pain relievers for a couple months, but the pain wouldn’t go away.

Then they noticed there was a lump on her shoulder. Kristen, Craker’s mom, asked her pitching coach if the lump was normal, if it could be an overdeveloped muscle. Craker’s coach explained that she had never seen anything like it before. So Craker was sent to a physical therapist, and from there they ordered an MRI. Her doctor told them that it would take about two weeks before they would receive the results, but Kristen received a phone call the next day. They insisted that she would need to have Katelyn at her pediatrician that day.

Craker’s mom was worried that it had to do with an ankle disorder that Katelyn had when she was younger, where 50 percent of her muscle died and they had to rebuild it.

Craker remembers what happened at the pediatrician’s office. “He began by saying, ‘Well, I guess you know by now that it isn’t good.’ My mom just looked at my dad. The doctor continued on to say that I had cancer,” Craker said. “My mom instantly started crying, and I just patted her on the back and told her it was OK. I was only 9 at the time, and I didn’t really know what cancer was.”

They sent Craker to an oncologist for surgery to determine what kind of cancer she had. “They said I have Synovial Sarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer and is rare in children. I had a five-inch, slow-growing tumor in my shoulder,” Craker said. She went through eight months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.

“During chemotherapy I lost all of my hair, but I didn’t really get sick until later on,” Craker said. “When I did began to get sick from the chemo I could walk like 10 feet and would need to take a 45 minute nap. The radiation gave me third degree burns and made my bones brittle. The chemo was supposed to shrink my tumor tremendously, but it didn’t even shrink it 3 percent.”

The doctors ended up taking the entire tumor out of Craker’s shoulder. “They thought they might have to amputate my arm, but they scraped clean down to the bone. I’m missing half of my deltoid and pectoral muscles. I can’t do any long distance running because it rubs my shoulder bones together and hurts really bad, or do push- ups or pull- ups since the radiation made my bones brittle it could break my bones,” Craker said.

Craker missed her entire fifth grade year. “My teacher would come to the hospital and try to teach me, but I was on so many medications  and so tired, I just slept,” Craker said. “The funny thing about this whole situation is that the patients are supposed to sleep in the bed, but I didn’t like the bed so I let my mom sleep on the bed so I could sleep on the couch.”

When Craker was diagnosed with cancer, the doctors told her she would no longer be able to do the one thing she was the most passionate about, which was playing softball.

Bennett, Craker’s dad, asked, “What if she uses her left arm to pitch?” The doctors said that it was possible, but would require a lot of hard work. That’s when Craker decided she would learn how to pitch with her left hand.

“My dad and I started off throwing a wadded up sock around the house,” Craker said.  After I completely recovered, I went back to pitching lessons. I had to completely reteach myself how to pitch. It was very frustrating and took some time, but I was determined to play again.”

Craker said her family members are her No. 1 supporters. “I’m mostly influenced by my dad, Bennett,” Craker said. “He introduced me to softball, he coaches me and catches for me. My dad knows what to say or what not to say depending on how I’m playing.”

She is a very family-oriented person. She explained that her first year at Seward was hard. “Being so far away from my family was difficult. I was a little homesick, but now I have adjusted and it’s not so bad. I get to see them next week, so I’m pretty excited,” Craker said.

Craker’s hobbies include playing softball, snowboarding, going to the beach, hanging out with friends, reading and watching movies.

“When not on the field, I can be found with  my friend Jaclyn Wagner (who also plays softball), or in my bed because it’s where I go to relax and be myself. I can be comfortable while reading, watching movies, or doing homework,” Craker said.

“I love to read,” she said. “I like to just pick up anything and read it. I can spend hours in Barnes and Nobles and have 20 different books in my hands.” She also listens to all genres of music and her favorite movies include “Tangled” and “Just Right.”

Her goal after Seward is to continue to play softball for two more years, continue with her major in psychology and then go to law school.

Craker said, “My biggest motivation to reach all my goals is my family because I don’t want to disappoint them.” So far, Craker hasn’t. Her achievements have been noticed by others, but in her eyes, two achievements stand out.

“My biggest achievement on the field was last year at regionals against Butler.” She pitched a shut out into the seventh inning when Butler scored.

“My biggest achievement off of the field would be overcoming cancer,” Craker said.

 

Crusader photo/Jakub Stepanovic Katelyn Craker warms up before the inning begins in Monday’s game against McCook. The Lady Saints swept the double header 5-1 and 11-0.  The Lady Saints current overall standings are 17-4.
Crusader photo/Jakub Stepanovic
Katelyn Craker warms up before the inning begins in Monday’s game against McCook. The Lady Saints swept the double header 5-1 and 11-0. The Lady Saints current overall standings are 17-4.

 

Crusader photo / Jakub Stepavonic Katelyn Craker
Crusader photo / Jakub Stepavonic
Katelyn Craker