Not dead, can't quit

PHOTO PROVIDED Katherine "Katie" Lawliss is a 2019 AbbVie CF Thriving Student Scholarship recipient.

PERU — “Not dead, can’t quit.”

A mantra, which inspires Katherine “Katie” Lawliss that originated with the late Richard John “Mack” Machowicz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and host of “Future Weapons” and “Deadly Warrior.”

Katie heard it her senior year at Florida Southern University from speaker/author Kyle Maynard, who became the first quad amputee to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro.


In her award-winning 2019 AbbVie CF Scholarship Thriving Graduate Student essay, Katie wrote:

“This quote struck a chord with me that I had not embodied before. I am a fighter, I don’t just have cf, I fight cf each and every day with each breath, PFT score, and PICC line. I wake every morning with a sense of pride in what I do to care for myself, and quitting isn’t an option. The year I heard Kyle speak, I climbed the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with my dad. I hiked four days straight up very tall passes reaching 14,000 feet, taking countless steps. There were times I cried, and moments I felt like I couldn’t keep going because I was slower than the group or needed my inhaler and a break. The second day of this trek was by far the hardest, but then I remembered “Not dead, can’t quit.”

The AbbVie CF Scholarship recognizes exceptional students with cystic fibrosis who demonstrate academic excellence, community involvement, creativity, and the ability to serve as a positive role model for the cystic fibrosis community, according to its website.

Each year, AbbVie awards 40 scholars with $3,000 each.

Two of these students, an undergraduate and a graduate, are then selected to receive a Thriving Student Scholarship, winning an additional $22,000 each.


Katie, 25, is the daughter of Tim and Kathy Lawliss of Peru.

She has a younger sister, Molly.

Katie was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when was two-months old.

“I had something called failure to thrive,” she said.

“I wasn't growing and getting my nutritional needs met. That was because I wasn't able to digest food in the way that I should because of the CF. This is a lifelong chronic illness. It's hereditary. It changed over time for me.”

She spent her first birthday hospitalized.

“As I got older, I started noticing subtle differences from my peers,” Katie said.

“The fact that I would have to go to the nurse to take medicine before I had to eat. I would have to go to hospital for a little bit and other kids didn't.

I would have to do my treatments before I went to a sleepover. Things like that.”

After she graduated from Peru High School, the disease started to progress. Her lung function declined.

“I had to start being a lot pickier about where I was putting my energy and my time into and balancing my health along with things like college and graduate school and friendships,” Katie said.

“It was definitely just a balancing act for me, which I think was the really challenging part of it. Trying to find joy and excitement out of life while I also putting my health care first. That was definitely tricky.”


Looking back over her life, her teachers were always super supportive.

They encouraged her to talk to her peers about CF from the fifth grade on.

“It was something I was very open about which I think helped me developmentally,” Katie said.

“I actually didn't even know it was a life-threatening illness until late middle school. So obviously that took some time to process and think about. I was still able just to live my life without thinking about that constantly.”

At Peru High School, Katie played volleyball, tennis and softball.

She was also a member of the National Honor Society, Students Against the Vanishing Environment (SAVE) Model UN, and class treasurer.

Katie graduated from Florida Southern College with a bachelor's degree in science and psychology and a minor in mathematics.

“I loved every second of it down there,” she said.

Katie landed at Widener University by doing extensive research on clinical psychology programs.

“I interviewed there, and I absolutely loved it from the interview,” she said.

“So, that's how I ended up there.”


Katie is in her fourth year of a five-year program in clinical psychology.

About her 2019 AbbVie CF Scholarship Thriving Graduate Student award, she said:

“What it's doing for me is it's helping with the cost of this program. Unlike a lot of other PhD programs, it's completely paying out of pocket along with student loans. It's really helping me to take the weight off of that.”

The award also has allowed her to feel noticed for all of things that she's doing, especially about CF.

“It was really just nice to know that I am doing all these things but to help somebody else recognize it and see the hard work that I am doing made me feel really great,” Katie said.

Right now, she is enmeshed in a number of different case conferences.

“Which is basically when you're talking about your different clients, your different case loads, how you're approaching caseloads,” Katie said.

“I'm really interested in health psychology in my program so I typically take as many electives in health psychology as I can so looking at chronic illness, mental health and the combination between the two.”

Katie spends three days a week at an internship at Jefferson Headache Center.

“I'm doing psychotherapy and biofeedback,” she said.

“I'm doing this with adult clients who suffer from migraine, cluster headaches, any type of chronic pain. And working with them to cope with that and help reduce the impact of stress on their physical symptoms.”

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