MANILA, Philippines - Her name is Katrina Yarza. She calls herself Kcat. Not C-a-t, or K-a-t, but K-c-a-t, because, she says, there are many Cats and Kats but no Kcats. She wants to be unique, and it starts with the name.
Kcat is suffering from NH2, or Neurofibromatosis Type II, a neurological disease characterized by the growth of non-malignant tumors in the brain.
When she found out she had brain tumors, she took the MRIs home, and showed them off to the neighbors. She said she thought it was funny—unique. She had tumors, and nobody else did.
NH II patients can experience hearing loss, weakness, migraines, blindness, and in Kcat’s case, partial paralysis. Kcat cannot walk without support, one hand is paralyzed, and she spends much of her time on a wheelchair.
Kcat’s father Egay is a government engineer. Her mother Madge is a housewife who herself is fighting lupus. Treatments for Kcat are constant and expensive. The family has managed on donations, fund drives, government support and the sale of Kcat’s T-shirt designs.
On July 22, Kcat told her story on ANC’s Storyline in an episode called "Whispers". Two weeks later, her story aired again on ABS-CBN, this time as episode “Damdamin.”
“I can’t walk. I can’t hear. I can’t see well. But I am still Kcat. This is still me.”
“Me” is the girl who smiles with half her face—“I think I scare kids off, so I cover the other half of my face”—and raises funds for her own treatment with T-shirts and baller bands.
In the episode, she talked about her family, and dealing with NH II, and her one dream.
On a Sunday afternoon, she sits in their backyard with her mother and father. It is months after Kcat’s story aired on ANC’s Storyline.
“Maybe the people watching won’t recognize me, because of my hair.”
Hers is straight, shiny, and newly rebonded. The hair is courtesy of a hairdresser named Sely, who calls herself a walking parlor. Sely had seen Kcat’s story on television and had searched for the Yarza family’s green-gated Mandaluyong home to buy a T-shirt. She admitted she earned very little, but had set aside enough to help.
There are many donors who refuse to be named. The lady who has been helping the family secure support from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), who drops by every week with Kcat’s favorite food. The sandwich store owner who recognized Kcat from television when she was out with her family, and is now one of her strongest supporters. Then there was the benefit concert in Metro Bar, featuring The Dawn, True Faith, and Bamboo, put together by a group of young professionals who had seen the episode.
|Kenneth Ilagan at the Metrobar benefit concert for Kcat. (Photo courtesy of Kcat Yarza)
Kcat’s mother says it was a long wished-for event.
“It was Kcat’s and my dream to someday have a benefit concert for her, only we couldn’t, because who would go to a concert if the bands aren’t popular? Mostly those who bought tickets were people who saw her on Storyline.”
The Dawn lead guitarist Kenneth Ilagan found Kcat before the show, introduced himself, and jogged up to the family after the concert to buy T-shirts.
“And then,” says Madge, “he said, ‘Add mo ko sa Facebook ha.’”
Egay laughs. “It was almost like Kcat was the celebrity instead of him.”
Madge says they are still stopped in malls by people who approach Kcat and offer help and prayers.
|Kcat with the 'Storyline' crew. (Photo courtesy of Kcat Yarza)
“It’s just heartwarming how so many people we didn’t know offered to help, that so many people were inspired by Katrina. We always thought of ourselves as ordinary people, we never thought there was anything inspiring about us.”
“Sometimes,” Kcat says, “I’d think to myself, have I really done anything extraordinary? People are now treating me like I did something great. All I do is live, and try to do the best I can.”
Just last week, Kcat’s right eye went completely blind. Without surgery, the loss can become permanent. The family is still raising funds. They say they’re not asking for pity, or handouts, or hard-earned money. Prayers are enough, and if there’s anything left to buy one of Kcat’s T-shirts, they are happy.
Her name is Kcat. This is her story.
To help Kcat Yarza, send an email to [email protected]
Storyline WHISPERS plug can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7gb4N_HXbg