Syracuse University Magazine


Katherine Frega

The Healing Game

Katherine Frega ’16 has loved Syracuse University lacrosse since childhood, a devotion instilled in her by her late father, Mark ’85. “Even though we are from New Jersey, we would come to the Dome to watch games, and we’d always go watch when Syracuse played Rutgers or Princeton,” says the College of Arts and Sciences biology and policy studies pre-med major, who was a standout lacrosse player in high school. “My goal was to play lacrosse for Syracuse. It was all I wanted to do. I was so close to doing it, and then I got sick in my junior year of high school.”

Frega was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma—cancer of the lymphatic system—and spent three years in treatment. During the months of hospitalization, she was inspired to consider a career in health care, perhaps as a nurse, or a social worker. “My father said, ‘Why don’t you become a doctor—you’re smart enough,’” she says. “I thought about it and decided I want to work in a pediatric specialty. I’m leaning toward oncology, because I know it so well.”

Since her first year at Syracuse, Frega’s had the opportunity to explore a medical career by working as an undergraduate research assistant at SUNY Upstate Medical University. This summer, as part of a clinical research program, she is volunteering in Upstate’s emergency department. Her policy studies in the Maxwell School also focus on health care, including ways to develop government action in addressing public health issues. The public policy major requires 35 hours of community service, and to meet that goal, Frega has volunteered at after-school programs for third-graders in Dr. Weeks Elementary School, and at the Syracuse Northeast Community Center, conducting open gym for teens. “It’s pretty cool that I get to do these things and get credit, too,” she says.

A person who enjoys having a wide social circle, Frega is a founding member of the newly re-chartered Delta Phi Epsilon sorority and in the fall will serve as the organization’s philanthropy chair. She’s also a member of the University’s club lacrosse team and credits the game with playing an important role in her recovery. “It’s called a healing game, but it’s so much more than that,” she says. “For Native Americans, it’s very spiritual, and I felt that, too. I always had a Native American stick with me when I was in treatment.”

Planning her Syracuse University experience helped Frega through that difficult time, as well. “I spent my entire treatment thinking about what I wanted to do when I got here,” she says. “I wanted it so much, and was afraid it might not be as great as I imagined. But it was everything I had hoped for, and more.”

When she first arrived on campus, Frega hesitated to tell anyone about the cancer, but then decided it would be hiding too much of her life experience. “Instead, I chose to be an advocate for people with the disease and raise awareness of it,” she says. “Having cancer changed my entire outlook on life. I don’t stress over little things any more. If I’m having a bad day, I think about what I’ve been through, and try to look at the big picture.”

That resilient attitude has helped her cope not only with the disease, but also with the unexpected death of her father in March. “My dad met my mom, Christina Clair [’85], when they were seniors at Syracuse,” she says. “I grew up loving this place because of him and the Orange pride he instilled in me. If I go to a lacrosse game or to the Varsity for pizza, I feel like a part of him is here, too.”  —Paula Meseroll

Photo by Kevin Tomczak