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Spokane woman with rare skin-hardening disease dies, outliving her doctors’ predictions by six years

UPDATED: Fri., May 28, 2021

Cat Davis, who lived more than ten years despite her doctors' prediction of two to five, died this week.  (Courtesy of Melinda Sanchez)
Cat Davis, who lived more than ten years despite her doctors' prediction of two to five, died this week. (Courtesy of Melinda Sanchez)

At the age of 22, Cat Davis was alone in a doctor’s office when her practitioner said, “You have 2-5 years to live, but don’t worry, you’ll never have wrinkles.”

Davis, a Northwest Christian School graduate, was diagnosed with CREST syndrome in 2010. The syndrome made up of five combined diseases causes scleroderma, which literally means “hard skin.” Davis’s immune system attacked and destroyed her healthy tissue, hardening it to the point that it was difficult to insert needles for her medication, Davis told The Spokesman-Review in 2013.

“When you’re in your early twenties you’re told over and over again how the world is at your feet, or how the world is your oyster, or how you can do anything you set your mind to,” Davis wrote in a 2016 column for Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living Magazine.

“Life happens,” she wrote. “It is how we respond that matters. We must recognize that the choice is ours. The choice is ours to love both our good and bad times, for we never know what the next minute holds.”

Davis made life happen, for six years longer than some doctors predicted she had to live. She died this week at the age of 33, according to an update to a GoFundMe for Davis’ bucket list, which has now converted into a fundraiser for memorial costs. It is run by Melinda Sanchez.

Davis’s disease was a long, hard battle . After graduating high school, she moved to Arizona and worked as a waitress and at a medical clinic, her mother told The Spokesman-Review in 2011.

When Davis left her parents’ home before her diagnosis, they became eligible for Medicare and dropped her from their insurance policy. By 2011, they’d spent about $30,000 on her medical expenses, mostly using money loaned from a friend.

They continued to try everything. Davis ended up in Mexico for a regenerative cellular therapy not offered in the United States. The treatment made her sick. She showed brief improvement before she became sicker again.

By 2012, her hands were curled. It was difficult to stretch her arms over her head. She had trouble sleeping as esophageal symptoms made her vomit when she reclined.

Then she took a risk in the form of a stem cell treatment, though some of her doctors did not think she would survive it.

She endured two nasty bouts of chemotherapy during the process. After doctors harvested 14 million stem cells, she went through her second round of chemo and lost 20 pounds.

Finally, she got her transplant in Chicago. Prior to the transplant, she’d been deteriorating quickly. After , she could shower, dress herself and drive again.

But insurance didn’t cover the stem cell treatment. Instead, a Cure for Cat campaign launched by her friends and Northwest Christian School drew in tens of thousands of dollars from mostly Spokane donors.

“I literally believe Spokane has saved my life,” Davis said in 2012.

In the final months of her life, Davis was able to cross off all of the lines on her bucket list with the help of donations, Sanchez wrote on the GoFundMe Tuesday. She traveled to Hawaii, visited her long distance friends and spent Christmas with her family, the update said.

“Cat walked into the arms of Jesus. She went in her sleep and looked very peaceful,” Sanchez wrote.

Sanchez wrote that Cat’s desire was for everyone to know Jesus as she felt she did.

“When I’m feeling down, God always shows me in some way that my illness allows me to be a light to others in their darkness,” Davis wrote in 2016. “I’m often asked how I smile after all I have been through. The only answer I have is that it’s not me, it is all because of Jesus. My faith makes every day bearable, and that alone makes all the pain and suffering worth it.”

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