The Catholic University of America

Nora Conley

Grad Student Celebrates Degree plus Life

At Catholic University’s May 17 Commencement, Katherine Warrick will receive a master’s degree in social work. Later that night she has a party planned. Family, friends, and coworkers will be there and her husband’s band will provide live music.

“Any excuse for a party has always been a good one in my book. But this one will be extra special,” she says.

Warrick began her master’s program in fall 2010 at the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS). In April 2012, just as she was completing her foundation year in the program, she received a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma (stage II breast cancer).

“I was in class during the last week of the semester and everyone started talking about their summer plans. It was surreal. As they were talking about vacation plans and reading for fun, I was getting ready to start chemo and scheduling a bilateral mastectomy.”

At the time, Warrick was a 31-year-old newlywed with no history of breast cancer in her family. With the support of her husband, a former Marine who she says “went into mission mode,” Warrick “prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.”

“It definitely helped that I was in social service. I immediately began a quest to learn everything I could. I did an exorbitant amount of research, not just empirical data, but I also read blogs, forums, even autobiographies of survivors,” she says.

Within days of her diagnosis, Warrick started her own blog. “Initially I just wanted an easy way to communicate with family and friends without having to send emails every day. But it became a way for me to organize my thoughts, track my progress, and to find the humor and absurdity in what I was going through. It was a coping mechanism for me and was hopefully helpful to those who care about me.”

Warrick says she underwent the most “brutal” rounds of chemotherapy that summer, followed by her first of five surgeries in the fall and more chemotherapy. She did not take classes that fall, but returned to NCSSS in the spring of 2013 while finishing out her treatment.

“My adviser, Linda Plitt Donaldson (NCSSS associate professor), worked closely with me. She was supportive and creative and committed to helping me meet my goal of attaining my degree as planned,” says Warrick.

Donaldson says advising Warrick was an honor. “Katherine is an amazing person. Her ability to focus and persevere in the face of many obstacles is awe inspiring. While battling cancer, she continued to perform academically at a high level and to creatively pursue opportunities to shape her graduate education,” says Donaldson.

Throughout her year and a half of treatment, Warrick continued to work full time as a civilian with the military in behavioral health, where she develops prevention services programs for military personnel and their families. “Our programs run the gamut,” she says. “We are working to prevent combat and operational stress issues, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence. Our services reach 400,000 clients,” she says.

Warrick graduated 10 years ago from George Mason University with an undergraduate degree in psychology and worked in community services in Northern Virginia as a mental health counselor. In 2008 she started her career with the military. “The needs of military personnel and their families are so urgent. The last decade has been rough for those who serve. And I felt compelled to get involved,” she says.

It was that interest that drew her to NCSSS. “The more I worked in mental health, the more I knew I wanted to further my education and become a social worker. NCSSS is really building up a military presence. They have unique programs and tracks that train social workers to address the needs of our service members.”

Warrick says her cancer diagnosis has only reaffirmed her commitment to the client population she serves. “They’re often dealing with life and death. I have a whole new appreciation for that now.”

She looks forward to continuing her career with the military, and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the near future. “It’s interesting. I’ve talked with lots of cancer survivors and those in treatment and some want to slow down and savor each moment. I certainly understand that. I’ve always been someone who likes to dive in head first. I’m always looking for the next project. Now I feel even more urgency to keep moving.”

In above photo, Katherine Warrick celebrates her one-year anniversary of being cancer free on Oct. 22, 2013.

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Katherine Warrick

Degree: M.S.W. 2014

Favorite place on campus: The pergola along the ellipse of the law school. “It’s pretty, especially in spring. The campus is gorgeous in spring. I’ll miss that.”

Favorite course:  “I worked with Dr. Donaldson and CUA’s Center for Global Education to take part in a course through the University of Virginia’s nursing program that allowed me to study public health for two weeks in St. Kitts this past January.”

Plans for the immediate future: “Travel. Visit friends. Visit family. Empty out the DVR. Catch up on all the things I’ve been too busy to do now that I don’t have papers to write every weekend.”