In many ways, Kate D. Mahoney experienced the typical teenage years: She was figuring out who she was while being told who she was, and she was figuring out who she wanted to be while being told who she was supposed to be.
But, unlike a typical teenager, Mahoney was considered by many people — those she knew and even those she didn't — to be the Miracle Girl.
Diagnosed with stage IV germ cell ovarian cancer at age 14, she experienced what is considered a miraculous recovery from multi-system organ failure after prayer requests that were directed to Mother Marianne Cope and later documented by Vatican City as part of Cope's canonization.
"For me, all of that was happening under this umbrella of — oh by the way — you can't walk, you can't talk, you can't do anything, even eat or go to the bathroom, without a team of four people," Mahoney said in a phone interview. "And a lot of people who have never met you before have now put a label on you, not based in who you are but everything they know to be what miracle means on another person."
The Syracuse woman details her journey from miraculous survival as a teenager to coming to terms with that miracle in adulthood in her book, "The Misfit Miracle Girl: Candid Reflections," published by Skaneateles-based Divine Phoenix Books.
She called her book two stories embodied by one person with the notion that she isn't one or the other but both the Miracle Girl and a human being.
It was an identity she struggled with at first: Mahoney said she pushed back on the concepts of faith and prayer in the weeks, months and years after her recovery because she wondered if people were nice to her because she was a miracle or if they welcomed her into their lives because they would have anyway.
Then in college, as she pursued her dream of acting, Mahoney said she played characters that might be considered outside the norm for what Catholics believe and received phone calls and letters saying she had abandoned her faith and wasn't living up to her status as a miracle.
So, she said, she found herself feeling the doubt, fear and misunderstanding of being a teenager while leading a professional life that she found satisfying and important, but it all left her confused and frustrated as she struggled to experience the faith she grew up with.
Now 38, Mahoney said she "lived with this story for many, many years" before finally coming to understand her role in it.
"Something as powerful as praying for a miracle that then gets documented by the Vatican, in a lot of circles that's a big deal and I'm the face of that," she said. "It's no longer me being the face of something that's horribly uncomfortable for me. It's me understanding that I literally represent tangibly to so many people the power of prayer, and that is nothing short of a privilege or an honor for me to wear that."
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With that in mind, Mahoney said the message of her book is that she — and anyone — is both a miracle and a human at the same time.
"I have this miracle and I'm so very, very grateful for it, but I'm also a human being who's grown up and had a lot of different experiences," she said. "If I was given a miracle at point A, the miracle doesn't get taken away just because I'm a human and I make decisions people might not agree with any more than I make decisions that people want to celebrate."
A piece of her message is also that people can and should find miracles in the simple things of everyday life.
"I just wake up and walk through the day like most other people, and sometimes I don't have great days and sometimes I have awesome days," Mahoney said. "I can't live in a functional way just celebrating miracles in some sort of overt way. It is in my every breath that that is a piece of my story."
It took her awhile to get to that point, though. Waking up from a medically induced coma and being told she was a miracle, she was incredulous at first because she had to focus on virtually every part of her body getting stronger.
"How is this is a miracle if I can't be independent? That doesn't feel like anything that makes sense to me," Mahoney said. "The miracle was something somewhat offensive to me. It wasn't something I could attach to. It kind of felt like there was a bit of an entrapment."
It wasn't until after her college years — in her 20s — that she began to open up more about her miracle and take ownership of her experience.
"I had to live and grow in these various circumstances where I would meet different people and bear the brunt of whatever it was they thought I represented, and those were not always easy years by any means," Mahoney said. "Like everything, for every moment where somebody offended my sensibilities, there was somebody who I felt like, 'Wow, I am meeting you because of this miracle, and my life is so much better for it.'"
Mahoney said her book isn't specifically a Catholic one: If it was labeled that way, she said, it would close doors instead of open them to those who have been wounded by the Catholic faith, struggle with it or doubt it.
Nor is the story she captured in her book completely hers: Though she wrote about her experience, she said she feels her journey is not all that different from what other people are going through and have gone through.
"I think that there is a way for all of us to relate to one another," she said. "We need to be open to the fact that everyone is working through, surviving, celebrating, experiencing something, and there's a commonality in that human condition. In many ways, even though the story I've written is mine, I think that my story is for everyone."