Follow us

RACINE — Katie Jensen, Senator Van Wanggaard’s daughter, received the shocking news that she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in November 2022. She was 46 years old when she received the diagnosis, just one year after colon cancer screenings begin.

With a life-threatening diagnosis like hers, Jensen has found the will to fight by mustering up the strength and determination to make her story known, so that others can learn from the battle she’s enduring.

Katie Jensen
Katie Jensen receives treatment at the Aurora Cancer Center in Mount Pleasant for colon cancer that also spread to her liver. – Photo courtesy of Katie Jensen

Jensen is an educator on unpaid leave from Racine Unified School District’s Schulte Elementary School, 8515 Westminster Drive. This past year, she has traded her days of teaching for time spent in a treatment chair at the Aurora Cancer Center receiving chemotherapy.

It’s a long road that isn’t over yet, but Jensen hopes to share her story with the intent to spread awareness about colon cancer, cancer in general, and its impact on families, caregivers, communities, and beyond.

Getting diagnosed

Her journey to a diagnosis began in August 2022 when she noticed changes in her bowel patterns and pain in her abdomen, leading the educator to head to the Gastroenterologist for an opinion. What she now knows is these are signs of the diagnosis she is dealing with.

With a family history of gastrointestinal issues and complications, Jensen was taking the matter seriously by investing in her health through chiropractic care, prior to being able to be seen by a physician for her troubles.

When the time came for a colonoscopy, Jensen received the news that no one ever wants to hear.

“I was 46 at the time, so now they’ve lowered it to 45 (the recommended age for a colonoscopy) for when you should go, but a lot of people wait till 50, or even beyond. I went for the colonoscopy and then he (the doctor) came back to the room and he almost had tears in his eyes too, and he said I had a grapefruit-size tumor in there,” explained Katie about receiving the news of the tumor. “He believed it was cancer and he said it was gonna be a long journey.”

Katie Jensen
Katie is taking a wide approach to her cancer treatment including receiving acupuncture at the Aurora Cancer Center– Photo courtesy of Katie Jensen

At a time when panicking would have been appropriate, Jensen said the news didn’t shake her within that moment.

“I was not going to accept that this is my fate,” she said. “We’re going to do everything I can, kick (cancer’s) butt so that I can stay around here for a little longer and do some good.”

The next day following her colonoscopy, she received the news, it was confirmed that it was cancer. A PET scan later determined that the cancer had metastasized to the liver.

Colliding with complications

With a future of unknowns ahead of her, Katie set out with a fierce attitude to take on cancer but had to adjust to her new normal.

“I have lost older family members to cancer. My grandma died when I was young to ovarian cancer and her husband, my dad’s father, passed away from lung cancer later on, 20 years later, but it was different. They were older,” said Katie about dealing with cancer as a woman in her 40s.

Giving treatment a go, Katie’s faith began to be the foundation of her hope and what she’s relied on to help her through treatment, which has included 11 of 12 rounds of chemotherapy thus far.

Treating her complex cancer has been no easy task and has met Katie with complications, including being diagnosed with DPD deficiency, which resulted in Katie experiencing toxicity to her chemotherapy, and further led to an unexpected hospital admission costing $45,000.

The deficiency was unknown to her prior to receiving chemotherapy but has greatly impacted the way she receives treatment. Jensen is only able to tolerate half of the dose that a typical patient would receive each time.

“It’s more than just the cancer,” she said.

Other complications from the toxicity include her hair falling out. Jensen explained with this treatment for colon cancer, patients do not typically lose their hair, but the toxicity she experienced, unfortunately, led to her going bald.

She has also experienced the inability to eat and drink properly due to oral sores from the treatment. The complications didn’t stop there, she was also impacted by a central line placement that failed to heal, requiring her to have two Port-a-caths placed. Which was a big feat for Jensen, given that she is needle-phobic.

“I’ve had to really overcome a lot of hurdles, fears, and just face them head on because there was no choice,” explained Jensen.

A village of support

Katie Jensen
Katie is finding strength in her support system. Each week of treatment a friend or family member comes to sit with Jensen as she receives treatment. – Photo courtesy of Katie Jensen

This battle hasn’t been one that Katie faces alone. She has an army of support ranging from her husband, John, who is there day in and day out, her parents, family, and friends — especially Ann Wangaard and Sarah Greening.

Physicians, nurses, and other staff at the Aurora Cancer Center are also rooting for her, as are countless others.

As much as this is Katie’s story, it’s a journey they are all walking as well.

“They (the caregivers) really don’t get enough credit for what they do,” said Katie. “The nurses and everyone are important — fabulous — but my caretakers, they’re who’s with me 24/7.”

Students that she’s taught, co-workers, and those from Jensen’s childhood have stepped up to offer their support, too. It’s a community-wide effort to help her beat this disease.

“It’s so loving how these people want to like, be a part of the journey,” said Katie. “It’s very humbling.”

Katie has an army of people who sit with her at treatment, send cards — which are a favorite of hers — and who are helping to financially support her through this hard time. Day in and day out, she feels the love of her loved ones, and to her, it’s bigger than the battle she’s fighting.

Katie Jensen
After being admitted to the hospital just days before Christmas, Katie’s family and friends surprised her on Christmas day with signs and an overwhelming amount of love. – Photo courtesy of Katie Jensen

Faith helps Katie move forward

“I believe that God is using this horrible thing to do good,” she said. “I can honestly testify to that there have been so many miracles and works that have come through this, whether it’s people like reaching out to me that I haven’t heard from in forever, more people that have come back to God, who are starting to read their Bible more or just praying more people, realizing that life is a gift and tomorrow is not promised.”

Katie isn’t completely in the clear, but her story is looking up.

Recently, she was given the news that her bloodwork indicated that her CEA level, which is the level of carcinogens that is the blood, was at a level that someone without cancer would have.

“The nurse practitioner is trying to explain to me that this means basically that is undetectable in my blood right now, which means that it’s not spreading. She said it’s the same as somebody that doesn’t have cancer,” said Jensen. “I was like, elated with that because when I went in, it was a 49-point something. 20 or higher shows that it’s probably metastasized.”

Colon cancer awareness

Katie is hanging onto hope through her relationships with others, her faith in God, and the care she’s receiving, which allows her to use this period in her life to educate and spread awareness to others.

“I really pray that I can be an advocate for people’s awareness,” said Jensen.

Her story has inspired people to get their screening done, especially those ages of 45 and up.

“My brother, for instance, went when he found out I had (cancer) and he came home from Thanksgiving and he got right on his phone and registered. He was able to get in the next week,” she said.

He’s three years younger than Katie, but not waiting to hit the 45-year-old mark saved him from what could have been a serious situation.

“He had three precancerous polyps in there, so if he would have waited to get it at 45, which would have been another two years, they could have been cancerous by then,” explained Katie. “I’m telling him now I saved his life, but if I can do that for more people, like seriously, just don’t put it off. Some people say (the colonoscopy is) really bad, but, you know, it’s way better than finding out you have cancer.”

Get screened and learn about more ways you can advocate for colon cancer online.

“There’s a lot of stuff where your life can change in just a heartbeat. And it’s kind of like what happened here. And it didn’t just affect me; it affects everyone that’s close to me,” shared Katie.

‘Lei’d Back Luau’ fundraiser for Katie

Recently Katie finished chemo trip #11. With nearing the end of treatment comes the ability for Katie to attend her own fundraiser, which will help offset any costs accumulated due to cancer treatment, or the reality of being unable to work at this time.

The public is encouraged to attend her “Lei’d Back Luau” in the West Hall at Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St., on June 11 for a benefit.

There will be food, drinks, raffle baskets, silent auctions, live auctions, 50/50 raffles, kids’ activities, a liquor raffle, and more.

All funds will go to Katie and her husband, John, to help fight the financial hardships cancer puts on families.

More about Katie’s story including regular updates can be found online on her CaringBridge website. Questions about the benefit can be directed to

Katie Jensen
Katie and her husband John at chemotherapy. – Photo courtesy of Katie Jensen

For more information about colon cancer, view the following resources:

Local news

The Racine County Eye, which includes the Kenosha Lens, is your source for local news that serves our diverse communities. Subscribe today to stay up-to-date with local news.

Follow us on Facebook: Racine County Eye or Kenosha Lens to make sure you get the latest news.

Racine County Eye and Kenosha Lens – Journalism that serves.