Family pays it forward with cancer research benefit

We Believe in Katie birthday benefit raises money
Family pays it forward with cancer research benefit

After losing a daughter to cancer, a Verona couple is using their grief to help others.

They held a birthday benefit for Katie Udelhofen-Clark at the Brink Lounge Saturday as part of their nonprofit group, We Believe in Katie.

While they weren’t planning to raise millions of dollars, doctors say it’s the smaller fundraisers that can really make a difference.

Saturday would have been Udelhofen-Clark’s 34th birthday, and her family knew they wanted to do something special in her honor. Coincidentally, it was also Pay it Forward Day, which is something her family said couldn’t be more fitting.

“Oh, I just feel like she’s here,” Katie’s mother, Susan Udelhofen, said.

In her home, Katie is everywhere – in pictures, phrases and memories.

“Believe was always Katie’s word,” Susan said. She has a wall devoted to Katie, lined with photographs and decorations that remind her of her daughter.

“It brings us comfort and joy and tears all at the same time,” she said.

Shortly after having a baby girl named Gracie, Katie was diagnosed with leukemia.

“She always loved children,” Susan said. “Katie and I were very close. She probably had the kindest heart of probably anybody I know.”

Now two years after Katie’s death, she isn’t ready to let her daughter go.

“I miss her,” Susan said. “If I could have her back, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Susan said a newly released drug at the time gave Katie an extra six months, and she’s determined to pay it forward.

The extra months gave Katie more time with her daughter, Gracie, and her mother.

“That’s a gift too and a comfort now that I had that time,” Susan said. “I wish I would’ve had more, of course, but in the saddest of times I hang on to that.”

“Those six months of a 30-year-old with their child, those are things that are really important,” said Dr. Aric Hall, assistant professor at the UW-Carbone Center. “And then people turning sad things into things that help other people.”

Now friends with the family, Hall said while it’s hard to secure government funds for new cancer research projects, money coming from smaller fundraisers can be used to explore fresh ideas.

“Everything has to start somewhere,” he said.

“I really do believe every dollar counts,” Susan said. She hopes the money they raise gives others additional years, rather than months, and she has a feeling Katie’s nearby, smiling.

“It’s very comforting for me, and makes me feel like even though she’s not physically here with us, her spirit is guiding us,” she said.

To learn more about the family’s organization or donate, click here.