Kate Yglesias Houghton, a staffer at the Democratic National Committee, has been helping organize the Congressional Women’s Softball Game since its inception five years ago.
But this year’s outing, which raises money for the Young Survival Coalition, a nonprofit that provides support for young women who have survived breast cancer, holds a greater significance for Houghton: The 28-year-old recently became a cancer survivor herself.
Last year, while serving as the “body person” for DNC Chairwoman and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Houghton was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood.
At the time of her diagnosis, Houghton was in the midst of planning the softball game, which pits female members of Congress against female members of the press. The tradition was started by Wasserman Schultz, a young breast cancer survivor herself, and last year’s game raised more than $50,000 for the YSC.
Treatment for the type of cancer Houghton was diagnosed with is intense. Doctors in essence got rid of her immune system, where the cancer was growing, and replaced it with a new one.
The treatment made Houghton extremely susceptible to infection, as any little germ could grow rapidly without a healthy immune system to fight it off.
But she didn’t let her cancer fight stop her from planning the game.
“I had this one little piece of bacteria go into my blood system, and I was starting to become septic,” Houghton said of an incident before last summer’s game. “I had to be admitted to the ICU, and in the midst of all that I was delirious, I didn’t know my name or what was going on. But as soon as I got the all clear, I sent Debbie an email with an update on the game. She said to me, ‘You could have died yesterday and all you want to talk about is the game!’”
Houghton said she never considered forgoing her game-planning duties.
In fact, she said organizing the game and the support of the women involved actually helped her get through the darkest days of her cancer battle.
“[I] can’t even begin to tell you how much support I received from the members of Congress who play,” Houghton said. “Every time I’m in the same vicinity as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen … she will come over and give me a huge hug. In fact, last year at the game, while it was being played, she found my husband, had him call me at the hospital and passed the phone around to every member player so I could hear their words of encouragement. It was not only a surreal experience but a source of so much strength. And when you are fighting for your life, you need it. Even now, at every practice the women ask me how I’m doing or tell me how happy they are to have me back.”
Natalie Buchanan, a staffer in House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s office and an assistant coach of the member team, said Houghton’s cancer fight served as a daily reminder of why the members of Congress were playing in the game.
“When the team found out that she was diagnosed with leukemia last year, we were all devastated,” Buchanan said. “Even though she wasn’t able to be around physically last year, Kate never stopped planning, leading and fighting for the game even while she was fighting for her life. Her commitment to the game and her dedication to overcoming cancer were truly inspirational to our entire team.”
This year’s game marks the five-year cancer free milestone for Wasserman Schultz.
Houghton said that, to honor the Florida Democrat’s milestone, the theme of this year’s game is survivalship and what it means to be a cancer survivor.
Houghton added that she now shares a special bond with Wasserman Schultz, who she said would visit her in the hospital during treatment to provide support.
“Cancer treatment and recovery is a grueling process, and it just wears you down no matter how emotionally or physically strong you are,” Houghton said. “My friends and the woman members probably have no idea how much their words and support kept me going.”
The Congressional Women’s Softball Game will be played at 7 p.m. on June 26 at the Watkins Recreation Center on Capitol Hill.