Every day is special to leukemia survivor



Carly Knapp’s kids and husband may have been planning something for her on Mother’s Day last Sunday, but to her it was just another day to treasure.

In five years spanning most of the mid-1990s, her mother and father died, her younger sister fought a serious illness, and Knapp herself battled a potentially fatal disease. During and after those life-changing experiences, Knapp learned that every day is special.

“My focus, like a lot of people’s, is on day-to-day living and wanting to be with the people I love,” Knapp said.

She also has a strong desire to “give back.” Last week, she received the keys to the first office of her counseling practice in Federal Way. Partly because of her own experiences with death and sickness and the strength she drew from other people, Knapp, who turned 52 yesterday, has become a licensed mental health counselor. She plans to eventually specialize in cases involving grief and chronic or terminal illnesses.

“When my mom was dying (from lymphoma, a form of cancer) and I went through my own illness, I was struck by the need for this type of service –– for emotional connections,” she said. “I can never say in words how much I appreciated the help I received from so many people. I hope I can do the same for others.”

Knapp’s premature faceoff with mortality began in December 1992 when she was diagnosed as having leukemia. Her children were 6 and 8 years old. Death was out of the question for her, but the preferred answer didn’t come easily.

Doctors told Knapp that a bone marrow transplant was her only hope. A national search began for a matching donor. Locally, in efforts chronicled in newspaper coverage, the PTA at the elementary school her kids attended at the time –– Twin Lakes –– sponsored a blood drive at which 200 or so people were tested as possible bone marrow donors. Marine View Presbyterian Church and a running club Knapp belonged to organized similar help.

Finally, Knapp underwent a successful transplant in July 1994 from her sister, Christi Mihelitch –– once considered an unlikely source because of her own struggle with Hodgkin’s disease. But doctors ruled Christi, who’s six years younger than Knapp, was healthy enough to be a donor for the surgery at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

Through everything, “the support I got from the community and so many different people was tremendous,” Knapp recalled.

It helped buoy her through her father’s death six months before the transplant and her own recovery period. Those experiences, plus her mother’s death in 1989, motivated Knapp, a longtime dental assistant, to reassess some of her life goals.

Showing the determination of the marathon runner she’d been before getting sick, Knapp used the down time during her illness to study for a career in crisis counseling, starting at the University of Washington-Tacoma and continuing at Seattle University and Pacific Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“She’s done a lot and overcome a lot. We’re proud of her,” said her husband, Wayne –– a sentiment shared, no doubt, by daughter, Kami, 20, a student at Seattle U., and son Kenny, 18, who works in Wayne’s contractor business.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,

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