Katie Burke’s life hasn’t gone exactly as planned. But as a patient navigator at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, she’s proof that life’s detours can take you places you’d never expected.

“I meet with newly diagnosed breast, lung and colorectal patients,” Katie says. “I walk them through the process and connect them with resources, like our social worker, our dietician and support groups. I’m a kind of cheerleader for patients all the way through.”

Katie understands the fear of a cancer diagnosis. After discovering a lump when she was 23, Katie was told she had breast cancer.

“The next thing I knew I was being sent to a medical oncologist, a plastic surgeon, and a genetic counselor,” she says. “I did Herceptin for a year. I had four rounds of chemotherapy, then I ended up having a double mastectomy with reconstruction.”

Katie has shared her story with the local media and patients to encourage more women to do regular breast self-exams and to be their best advocate if they think something isn’t quite right with their health. She’s also become an inspiration to patients and a testament to never give up, even when life takes an unexpected turn.

When Katie was diagnosed, she was recently married and planning to start a family. Treatment delayed her plans to become a mom. But finally, six years later, she and her husband, Cameron, celebrated the arrival of their daughter, Sutton, last January.

“There are times when it seems like it’s been that long since I was diagnosed. But there are other times when I remember it all so clearly. I’m six years out and I still have anxiety each time I go to the doctor.”

Katie believes everything happens for a reason. It was her cancer diagnosis and the excellent care she received from the doctors and nurses at WVCI that lead her to her current position as a patient navigator.

“My journey has definitely changed since my diagnosis,” Katie says. “I always thought I’d be in nursing, but this patient navigator position is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”