Catherine Williams could light up a room with her infectious smile, boundless energy, and natural leadership ability. She was an exceptional student, played varsity volleyball, and was a member of the Delta Upsilon Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma at University of Georgia – even though she passed away shortly after graduating from high school.
During her junior year at North Atlanta High School, Catherine began to suffer knee pain. Since she was a volleyball player, her parents thought it was a sports-related issue. As the pain increased, Catherine tried physical therapy which didn’t help. She soon had an MRI that revealed a tumor on her left knee.
“Looking back, the tumor had been there a while,” Catherine’s mother, Anne, recalled. “By the time we found out she had osteosarcoma, the cancer was metastatic and had moved to her lungs.”
This was not Anne’s first brush with cancer. When she was pregnant with Catherine, her sister passed away after a battle with breast cancer. In fact, Catherine was named after the aunt she never met.
After chemotherapy, Catherine had surgery to remove the tumor and reconstruct her knee. The reconstruction never worked, however, and doctors were later forced to amputate her leg. That surgery was followed by more chemotherapy and radiation, which also proved to be ineffective. In March of 2020, Catherine was sent home without treatment options as the pandemic started to spread across the country.
“COVID was somewhat of an equalizer for Catherine,” Anne said. “All of her friends were out having fun and she couldn’t. But when quarantines hit, everyone had to stay at home.”
While she was at home, a hospice nurse discovered that Catherine hoped to join a sorority when she got to UGA that fall. Since both Anne and her mother had been Kappas in college, the nurse reached out to the University of Georgia chapter and got a welcome response.
“We have some members of our sorority who know Catherine’s family and had been following her treatment,” said Lilia Sullivan, the Philanthropy Chairman of Georgia’s Kappa chapter. “When we got the call, we contacted Kappa headquarters immediately and got their support. This unfortunate situation became a great way for the community to come together for Catherine.”
Lilia knows about the need for support for children with cancer. When she was sixteen, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Shockingly, three weeks later, her older sister, Saville, was diagnosed with a different type of brain tumor! They went through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery together. Both sisters survived and are thriving today.
“My parents say that period in our lives was like an out-of-body experience,” Lilia recalled. “Everything we were going through was completely draining emotionally, physically, and mentally. I’m not sure how we would have done it without our faith and our family, friends, and neighbors in Albany.”
When the call went out about Catherine, local Kappas came to the William’s house, and members from all over the country attended on a Zoom connection as Catherine was initiated.
“It was a sweet and special afternoon,” said Anne. “It was also the last time Catherine was able to come downstairs.”
Catherine “Cappie” Williams died peacefully at home on June 2, 2020, after a courageous 13-month battle with osteosarcoma. She was 18 years old.
Although she was initiated into the sorority, she was unable to participate in the academic and social life that the rest of the Kappas enjoy. As Philanthropy Chairman, Lilia is determined to help build a legacy for Catherine in Athens – even though she never attended a class. To do this, the Kappa chapter is planning a run in her memory. The event is called “5k for Kappie” and will start at the Kappa house and finish at one of their favorite restaurants, Saucehouse Barbecue. The 5k will be held on Sunday, September 12, and proceeds will benefit CURE Childhood Cancer. Together, the University of Georgia chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma is proving that sisterhood knows no bounds.
If you would like to register for the 5K for Kappy, please click here.