Assistant AD Shows Student Athletes What It Means to Previve
Katie Beineke uses her experience as a former student athlete to empower UAFS athletes to be their best in sports competitions and the classroom, and she uses a recent health challenge she faced and answered to teach them how to live life.
As the assistant athletic director at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, Katie Beineke built her career creating environments where both coaches and student-athletes could thrive by empowering them to be their best in the arena and the classroom.
“I know how unique the experience is as a former collegiate athlete myself,” Beineke explained. “I know how dynamic and life-altering it can be, so I strive to make a difference in our students’ lives, serving day in and day out to ensure their experience as Lions is the best it can be.”
Beineke attends student practices and camps, works every game, and accompanies her teams to every tournament, encouraging and supporting them every step of the way.
“Katie means so much to me,” said Rachel Williams, a UAFS volleyball player from Mesquite, Texas. “She’s the first face I see when I walk into the athletics office, and she inspires me every day. She’s the epitome of the woman I aspire to be. She’s strong, independent, beautiful and she has a true joy we should all strive to have.”
In September of 2017, that strength was put to the test, when doctors told Beineke that she carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation. The mutation meant she had an 87 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and a 54 percent lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer, the disease that took her mother’s life when Beineke was just 14.
“I was not prepared to hear those results,” said Beineke. Besides her mother, she had never heard of another family member carrying the gene or either form of cancer. “I thought I was eliminating the possibility of it being genetic. I never thought I would be facing this reality.”
When Beineke had left home to work at UAFS, she discovered a group called the River Valley Ovarian Cancer Alliance, where she was embraced in her grief at her mother’s loss and found new avenues to help others. It was through Beineke’s outreach and education efforts on behalf of RVOCA that she learned about genetic testing.
“In the beginning, I didn’t want to know if I had a mutation,” Beineke said. “It’s a lot to process emotionally, but ultimately I realized knowledge is power and that I should take advantage of modern medicine.”
She sat down with a genetic counselor, reviewed her family history, and sent off a blood test.
“The next logical step after processing that I had the mutation was to set up a meeting with a genetic counselor to create a plan of action. She sat me down and took two hours explaining and breaking down my results for me, answering my questions and concerns flawlessly.”
Though initially the pair set up a plan to monitor her health with comprehensive checkups every six months, Beineke quickly realized she couldn’t continue to put her life on hold. After her first MRI, she decided to undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy at age 30.
“After seeing what my mother went through fighting cancer, I knew that if I had the opportunity to decrease my chances, I had to take it. The statistics showed that the surgery would reduce my 87-percent chance of developing breast cancer to less than 1 percent.”
“There’s no way to prepare mentally,” said Beineke, “but I found solace in the communities I’d built with RVOCA and FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.)” Following other women her age who were both cancer survivors and cancer “previvors” gave her perspective.
“You’re so attached to your breasts,” she said with a smile. “So much of our identity as women is wrapped up in this part of our bodies, so much of our beauty and self-acceptance, but when I saw these women who had gone through the [mastectomy] process living their lives with such exuberance and passion, I felt comforted. I had a moment, surrounded by people like me, where I realized that I could do it.”
After deciding to proceed with the mastectomy, Beineke faced another task: informing her bosses and colleagues of her decision and the time she would need to recover.
“I was so lucky to have the support of my UAFS family,” she explained. “The way they supported my health decisions meant the world. I have a boss who fully supported my time away and empowered me on this journey, and my colleagues were behind me all the way.”
“I never feared that I might have to choose between my health and my career," she said. "I had utter