Katie Mazurek ends every blog post with "Give 'em hell."
"I realized very quickly that this was an opportunity to live a daringly bold life," she said of starting her blog, Katie Over Cancer. "Give 'em hell was just like a rally cry to be your own person. If somebody doesn’t like it, give 'em hell. The only person you can be is you, and the flip side of that is the person you’re best at being is you, because you can't be anybody else.
"Cancer strips away any excuse not to do and be the thing you want. It just expedites that process because you're putting all the normal life stuff on the big stage, and dealing with it."
One way Mazurek dealt with it was by finishing Missoula's 5K on Saturday, part of the marathon weekend.
The new year kicked off a whirlwind of work and stress for Mazurek, who lives in Bozeman. She decided to start her own law firm, "this big dream about how to modernize family law: more cost-effective, more client-centered, way less attorney-centered."
Construction contracts were signed, employees were hired and she was in a rush. She had four days to get her office up and running.
They succeeded, and she remembers saying, "This is stressful, but at least we're all healthy."
Then she took a shower, and felt a lump in her breast. On Feb. 5, she had an ultrasound and mammogram and "they pretty much knew," she said.
She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
"It was one of those moments where everything had flipped," Mazurek said.
Saturday marked exactly five months since she was diagnosed.
Mazurek and her family walked the 3.1 miles, crossing the finish line – all smiles – in less than an hour. Missoula is a "homecoming," she said, since it's where she finished her undergrad degree and went to law school.
"I was specifically looking for a race that would be right after chemo to celebrate the end of that chapter, and doing it in a place that means so much to us is really cool," she said.
But that chapter didn't end the way she wanted. She was too sick to receive her last chemo infusion on Wednesday.
"I needed that closure moment and it didn't happen, so I'm treating this as my closure moment," Mazurek said. "That finish line was leaving that behind me."
Now, she's starting a new chapter. The chemo's effects are starting to wear off, and she's treating July as her "upper body freedom month."
Mazurek saw her cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to look at her life through a new lens.
Five days after her diagnosis, she started a blog. Initially, it was simply a way to keep her loved ones updated on her progress. But even in her first post, she realized something, writing:
"I may have a big bad scary disease but I am going to leverage every opportunity for growth, authenticity, and love out of it. I’ve had a nagging feeling for some time that I wasn’t living out loud the way I was compelled to be inside."
Mazurek's life wasn't where she wanted it to be. Her job had taken over, and she had lost her balance.
"I was just trying to do everything, trying to fill that hole a little bit, just stuffing everything I could into it without understanding first what was missing," she said. "When you aren't healthy yourself, it's very hard to be healthy in a relationship. And I think I had neglected a lot of the love that I owed to him (her husband, Tom)."
They met when Katie moved from Michigan to Montana, taking a semester off college. Tom hired Katie, and they were friends at work.
"I was raised that you can't date your boss, you know," she said. "And then it was two weeks before I was supposed to go home and I was like, that's enough time."
One of their friends played matchmaker, and they've been together ever since. Today, they have a 5-year-old, Elle, and a 2-year-old, Sophie.
Tom is the son of former Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek, who died in 2012 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.
"Joe is the reason I'm a lawyer," Katie said. "I had no interest. But after dating (Tom) and watching Joe ... I wanted a career where I could have integrity, where you could be a solid family person, and that you could contribute to your community and be a meaningful part of your community. He was all of those things. He was the example of those things."
Joe getting sick, and his wife acting as his caretaker, was "heartbreaking," Katie said.
"Yes, the person who's sick needs support," Katie said. "But please think about the caretakers, too, because they're zapped. Their needs are always secondary to someone else. You know, I've got the cancer card. I could play that all day long. And people look at me and they feel bad for me, and they ask me how I'm doing and they send me nice cards and stuff like that. He's (Tom) just doing everything he can to make sure that I'm comfortable. It's a tough job."
Vulnerability is key, she said, and important for other cancer patients to see.
"I'm trying to talk to cancer patients, and be open and vulnerable about what this process looks like so it helps them set their mindset for what to expect," she said. "Because for me, knowing gives me more peace, less stress.
"I'm trying to send out a message of self-love, community, grace and patience with yourself so that you don't have to get so spun up in those scary and not-so-scary times."
She's learned that everything is temporary.
"The good things are temporary, so you've got to be present with them. But the bad things are temporary, too," she said. "You've got to dig into your toolbox and figure out how to get through the next five minutes.
"A week ago was probably the hardest moment of this journey. It was real dark. So sick, in so much pain, I didn’t know how I was physically going to get through it, and so being as loving to yourself as possible is what's going to lift the burdens the most and let as much healing in as possible."
The blog has been therapeutic.
"It’s funny how we’re our own teachers if we just sit down in our quiet enough to listen to ourselves," Katie Mazurek said.
One day, her "cancer story" will end, and the blog will have to evolve.
"It's going to be about living an authentic and daringly bold life," she said. "So let's see what that looks like. Let's see if I can do it, and then let's see if you can do it."