A mom against all odds to celebrate first Mother's Day
ALEXANDRIA, Minn.—After being diagnosed with bone cancer in her spine at age 5 and undergoing surgery, as well as receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments, 24-year-old Kayla Streich of Alexandria was told it wasn't likely that she would ever walk again or be able to have children.
But through a lifetime of surgeries and obstacles, the odds have never been something Streich has paid attention to.
Today, Streich, who is a paraprofessional at Voyager Elementary School, is doing much more than walking. She exercises five times a week, often with her newborn daughter, Raylee, in tow.
Three days after starting kindergarten, Streich was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a bone cancer. After some tests, doctors found a tumor in her lower spine. A number of symptoms led up to the diagnosis.
"I was walking funny," Streich said. "I used to do gymnastics and couldn't even do a backbend anymore. I remember never being able to sleep because laying down hurt so bad. My mom says she always remembers holding me screaming because it hurt."
Before taking her into surgery to remove the tumor, doctors told Streich's parents it was possible she would never walk again due to potential nerve damage while removing the tumor.
Once in surgery, instead of removing the entire tumor, doctors opted to remove the majority of it and have Streich undergo chemotherapy and radiation to attack the remaining parts.
"Where they did all the radiation was around my uterus and ovaries," Streich said. "They told my parents at the time, 'We can do the radiation but it's going to fry all these parts and Kayla's not going to be able to have kids.' And my parents were like, 'Do whatever you need to do to save Kayla.' So having kids was a big question mark in my life."
Though they didn't damage any major nerves during the surgery, Streich's right foot was still affected. Over the years, Streich underwent 11 surgeries to try to fix her foot.
The final foot surgery Streich underwent involved fusing all her foot bones together. But two weeks later, Streich found herself in surgery again after a car accident.
"Since my foot was completely fused together, my foot stayed together but completely separated from my ankle, which was shattered into pieces," she said.
Streich was told she may have to have her foot fused to her ankle, further limiting her physical activity.
But upon moving to Alexandria from Nebraska in 2012, Streich heard of a doctor in town who performed total ankle replacements. She underwent the surgery in January 2015.
"I had my total ankle replacement, where they basically take out the ankle joint and it's a titanium ankle joint with fake cartilage that's put in," Streich said.
Proving them wrong
About a year and a half before her ankle injury, Streich had been introduced to the Crossfit exercise program. At first, she was hesitant to try it due to her physical limitations.
"I was thinking with my ankle and back, there's no way I could do any of that Crossfit stuff," Streich said. "I came in and was so nervous the first time that I just watched. I was like, 'OK, I'm going to try this.' The coaches were super good about modifying certain stuff for me."
As time passed, Streich found that exercising gave her the confidence that had been missing from her life.
Her father-in-law, Corey Streich, also serves as one of her coaches.
"Working with athletes like Kayla is a joy and a blessing," Corey said. "When you're told you cannot do something or will never be able to do something, it takes a piece of you. Working with them for me and seeing the expressions on the faces when they do what they were told they couldn't do is why I do what I do."
Streich would later discover she had beat another set of odds: she and her husband, Jon, were expecting a baby.
Rather than stop working out upon finding out the news, Streich continued.
"I kept doing Crossfit and working out through my whole pregnancy," Streich said. "I thought of it as, 'I've been doing this for last three years, this is what my body is used to, what my body craves, what my body likes.' I felt best when I was pregnant when I was working out, especially come week 36 and 37."
On Feb. 15, Streich gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Raylee. Two weeks later, she was back at the gym, where her father-in-law watches his granddaughter while Streich works out.
"It will be great having her there, growing up watching me care about my physical and mental fitness, setting a good example," Streich said.
As her first Mother's Day approaches, Streich says it's a little emotional.
"Celebrating my first Mother's Day means so much to me because it was a day I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to celebrate," she said. "Now we have been blessed with our beautiful miracle baby."