The Ohio State University Alumni Association

A quiet inspiration

Kristen Catton's personal trials guide her desire to serve others

Kristen Catton

Ohio State alumna Kristen Catton serves as a patient care resource manager at The James. She is a recipient of the Ohio State Alumni Association's 2017 Robert M. Duncan Alumni Citizenship Award. (Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons)

Kristen Catton ’92 is, in the words of one physician, “an inspiration in the quietest of ways.”

Turning her back on despair and self-pity, she uses her personal experiences with cancer and multiple sclerosis to assist and advocate for others.

Catton was diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago while pregnant with her second child. She chose not to follow her first doctor’s advice to terminate the pregnancy and instead sought a second opinion. (Her daughter, Katie, is now preparing for her junior year of high school.) Then, in 2012, Catton awoke one morning to blindness in her left eye. She feared the cancer she had survived years earlier had spread to her brain. Instead, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Unable to continue her work as a shift nurse because of fatigue and exhaustion brought on by MS, Catton has found a way to continue directly helping patients. She has worked since 2014 as a patient care resource manager at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, where she helps cancer patients transition from hospital to home care.

Brightening the lives of others

Catton empathizes with her patients and empowers them to move forward, says her supervisor, nurse manager Doris Garnett. “She has that knack to make people feel like they are the only person [in her care],” she says.

Having walked in their shoes, Catton is familiar with her patients’ obstacles.

“My main goal is to try to help others so nobody felt alone like I did when I was first diagnosed,” she says. “I thought I was going to die. I had this 4-year-old at home and a newborn infant on the way. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’”

Today, Catton considers each day a gift. She, her husband, Mark, and Katie, 16, live northeast of Columbus in Westerville, Ohio, and her son, Evan, 20, attends Ohio State.

She continues to live out the advice she has for others facing incurable or terminal illnesses.

“Don’t give up hope,” she says. “The best thing you can do in order to make yourself feel better is to make someone else feel better. Stay useful.”

Working through her challenges

The unpredictability of MS, which disrupts brain-to-body communication, means Catton’s symptoms can strike at any moment. That can cause blindness in one eye, weaken her left leg or numb her feet.

“There are days when I have trouble walking,” she says. “There are days when I have trouble seeing.”

Catton wanted to be a part of The James, she says, because it gives patients hope.

“You’d think a cancer hospital would be a depressing place. It’s not," she says. “It’s a happy place — with all these brilliant researchers.”

Dr. Don Benson Jr., a cancer researcher and physician at The James, is the doctor who describes Catton as a quiet source of inspiration. “She has demonstrated how one person with humility, faith, love, sacrifice and perseverance can make the world a better place,” he says.

Benson met Catton about seven years ago at Pelotonia, a grassroots bike tour that raises money for Ohio State cancer research. This August, Catton will ride in her ninth Pelotonia.

“She can’t stand the limelight and would much rather see others succeed and be fulfilled,” Benson says of Catton. “She conducts herself with joy and cheer, but always with humility and deference to others’ needs and duties.”

For the past 13 years, she also has raised money for cancer patients and organized educational events as a volunteer advocate for the Livestrong Foundation. She has volunteered as a nurse for the OhioHealth hospital system, served tea and pastries to cancer patients at Riverside Methodist Hospital and helped bring a camp for children of cancer patients to Ohio State.

As an activist for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Catton uses her Ohio State nursing degree to educate the public and elected officials on the importance of funding research and patient support. Each spring and summer, she lobbies state and federal officials for patient access to medication and treatment.

“They are trying to cut back on all these things” such as Medicaid, she says, “and it’s really hurting people with MS.”

Empathy is not Catton’s only driver.

“The patients every day at The James inspire me,” she says. “They are going through bone marrow transplants [or] have terminal illnesses and still have a smile on their face and still want to give back to the community. I want to do that. I want to help as many as I can for as long as I can.”