After Beating Cancer, Kalispell Native Chases Singing Dream

By Beacon Staff

As Kalispell native Katie Maker Martin neared the end of college, she was too busy making plans to pay much notice to the strange bumps on her neck.

Martin, who recently performed in the local symphony’s opera Carmen, had been accepted to a prestigious graduate program for vocal performance at the University of Southern California. She was busy planning the move and her July wedding and hustling through the final months of school at the University of Montana.

“I wasn’t sick or hurting, so I just told myself it was fine,” Martin, 23, said. “When you’re young, you think you’re pretty invincible.”

It wasn’t until her graduation party that Martin had an unofficial check-up with a doctor – her then soon-to-be mother-in-law, a family physician. She pushed Martin to have a scan and biopsy. The bumps were a symptom of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that spreads from one lymph node group to another.

“You get so shell shocked when you hear the news,” Martin said. “I thought, ‘I’m 22 years old. I have a life to live and all these plans and cancer doesn’t really fit into that equation.’”

The move to California and graduate school would have to wait, she decided, but the wedding would carry on. Katie and Sam Martin were married July 21, 2007, about a week after she had shaved her head and undergone her second round of chemotherapy.

Martin jokes about how having a wig for her wedding cut primping time, while her mom, Francie Lipp, a Kalispell elementary school music teacher, recalls addressing wedding invitations in the hospital. Both say Martin’s cancer brought a fuller perspective to the wedding, keeping everyone relaxed – even when Lipp ran over the bridesmaids’ gifts when backing out of the driveway.

“A lot of brides go crazy around their wedding; they just freak out because everything has to be perfect,” Martin said. “The cancer helped me relax and really enjoy the wedding. But the wedding helped me to deal with the cancer, too. Rather than sitting around and wallowing in self-pity, I had something to look forward to and all my friends and family around.”

Lipp describes Martin’s husband Sam as the “unsung hero” through it all. “He was such a rock,” she said. “They focused on what they had with each other and their faith and both of them stayed so positive that they would come through this OK.”

The young couple was right. In October, Martin was declared cancer free, and every test since then for the disease has come back negative. She was reaccepted to USC and will move to California later this summer to begin school in August – just one year later than planned.

On Friday, June 20, the Kalispell Area Music Teachers Association will host a scholarship fundraiser at the Central School Museum from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to help Martin raise money for school. Martin will sing at the event. There is no charge to attend, but donations are encouraged and will be tax deductible through the association.

“The association had awarded Katie an $800 scholarship, but I knew that wouldn’t even come close to the bills she’s looking at,” Marcia Siblerud, a local voice teacher who gave Martin lessons through high school, said. “I knew that there were so many people who would like to help her if given the chance.”

Martin credits Silberud with encouraging her to pursue music in college, saying that she auditioned at the university mostly to appease her voice coach. “I was pretty set on doing elementary education, but the audition went well and within about half an hour I’d already switched my major to vocal performance.”

In college, Martin studied under Esther England, a straight-shooting teacher who not only bolstered Martin’s confidence, but as a breast cancer survivor, helped Martin through her own cancer. Martin, who has performed in several operas and national singing competitions, now hopes to teach music on the college level.

But Martin says it was her mom, a talented musician in her own right, who built her initial love and talent for music. At the fundraiser event Martin will sing composer Franz Schubert’s “An Die Musik,” a song that praises music as a precious gift.

“Other than the wedding and my family, music really was the beacon of light that got me through – something to look forward to,” she said.

If You Go:
Katie Maker Martin Fundraiser hosted by the Kalispell Area Music Teachers Association
Central School Museum
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday, June 20
No Charge; Donations Encouraged

Or, to donate, you can also mail checks payable to KAMTA to:

Marcia Siblerud
234 4th St. W.
Kalispell, MT 59901