After Surviving a Brain Tumor, This Miami Woman Is on a Mission to Meet Kanye West

Kanye West's music has inspired one Miami woman to keep fighting.
Kanye West's music has inspired one Miami woman to keep fighting.
Carl Bjorklund /

Here's something Katiana Urbina has learned in the past year: Life doesn't care about your plans. It doesn't give a hoot about the big red X's on your calendar or that things happen to be going swimmingly at the moment. Life is rude, and it will rear back its pimply gullet and belch directly into your soup, offering no apologies.

Here's something else Katiana Urbina has learned in the past year: You can beat life at its own game. Even if it throws everything it has at you — which, in Urbina's case, was a tumor right in the center of her brain — you can still go on. You can grab life by the ear; say, Nice try, you oily little hobgoblin; and go right back to doing what you were doing. It's incredible, really. It's not that the hurdles shrink; it's that your legs get stronger. All of a sudden you can jump over walls that once looked insurmountable.

Take Kanye West, for instance. One day, in 2002, he's driving home from the studio in the early morning, having recently achieved his dream of getting signed to Roc-A-Fella Records, and, the next thing you know, a couple of tons of steel come crashing into his cheek in a head-on collision. Imagine what was going through his mind (besides Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow) when he woke up in the hospital.

Really? Now this happens? I finally catch a break in this industry, and suddenly I've got a face that looks like a balloon made out of lasagna?

But then something incredible happens. Two weeks later, with his jaw broken in three places and still wired shut, unable to chew even a pinch of cotton candy, he steps into the studio and records a song that would launch him into the center of not only hip-hop but also the world's cultural stomach: "Through the Wire." That right there is a prime example of turning chicken poop into chicken salad.

So when Katiana Urbina woke up from her brain surgery unable to talk, walk, use the restroom, or anything else we associate with being a living human, you can imagine how a story like Kanye's would resonate.

"It was so cool," Urbina remembers thinking the first time she heard "Through the Wire," years before a tumor began forming inside her brain. "This guy just got in a car accident, but he's so fly... He talked about how people thought that he wasn't going to make it, and he did."

There were a few moments when Urbina thought she might not make it. The 24-year-old Miami native was at a roller rink when she first noticed something was wrong.

Urbina had two semesters to go until graduating from Miami Dade College with a degree in TV and radio broadcasting. As part of a school project, she and a few classmates were working on a short film, shooting on location at Super Wheels Skating Center in Kendall. At first, Urbina thought it was just the cigarette smoke that was making her eyes feel "dusty." But something felt off. The lights in the roller rink were brighter than normal. Each bulb seemed to be pointing directly into her pupils.

Plus, she'd been dealing with these bizarre episodes for a week. Later that day, a teacher glanced down at Urbina's notes in class and saw that she was writing sloppily, as if she couldn't even see the lines on the paper. She told Urbina to go home and rest. The sun had set, and Urbina stumbled to her car, tripping on curbs along the way. She got to her front seat and finally accepted something was seriously wrong with her body. She called her parents to come get her, and cried while she waited for them. "I haven't cried since that day," she says.

Just 24 hours later, on March 8, 2015, Urbina waited for the results of her MRI with her mom by her side. A little after 2 a.m., the doctor finally walked in.

"We found a mass."

Urbina remembers hearing her mom gasp and then cry, but not much else. After a couple of minutes, she scraped together a sentence: "What do we do next?"

What they did next was a planned 12-hour surgery that took 16 hours, then two weeks of intensive care, then another surgery, then another week of intensive care, then over a month of physical therapy, and then finally she was allowed to go home.

"I left there looking like crap, walking like crap," she remembers.

But sandwiched in those weeks of pain came a bit of very good news: Her tumor wasn't cancerous. It was benign.

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Still, Urbina had to relearn how to navigate the world again. The surgery left her legally blind, and walking unassisted was still months away. But she persisted, eventually regaining her balance and recovering slightly in her field of vision. Just more than a year later, on May 23, 2016, Urbina landed a production internship with the Miami Heat.

One day, while archiving news clips for her internship, she came across a brief concert announcement. Kanye West was coming to Miami. "I'm like, I have to go." One VIP ticket and $350 later, she was on her way. But she's not going simply to enjoy the show (though she does plan to thoroughly enjoy it). She's determined to meet Kanye West. That's why she opted for the VIP ticket.

Urbina knows what you're thinking. All this for Kanye West? Seriously? She's heard it over and over from her mom, her two best friends, and her boss.

Being a Kanye West fan can be lonely, but Urbina has had practice. "Whenever there was negative feedback," like the incident at the VMAs with Taylor Swift (Urbina can barely utter her name aloud), "people were saying things like, 'Really, Kanye? That's the person you want to meet?'?"

But she stood firm in her support. "I don't care — I love Kanye West," she says. "You know, there are people that are followers out there, and they like people because that's the person that everybody likes. But I don't care about any of that crap."

She adds, "I look up to God, Kanye West, Michael Jordan, Quentin Tarentino — those are my people right there."

Right before Urbina underwent her first surgery to remove the tumor, her two best friends (neither of them Kanye fans) gave her a card. On it, they'd written a quote from the 2004 Kanye track "Family Business."

"Keep your nose out the sky/Keep your heart to God/And keep your face to the risin' sun."

When she was recovering in the hospital, spending much of that time by herself because her parents had to work, Urbina listened to music from two musicians: Selena and Kanye West. She remembers the song "FourFiveSeconds" had just come out. She would listen to Rihanna sing, "I'm just tryna make it back home by Monday," and think to herself, Me too, RiRi. Me too.

"Finally, when I left, it wasn't Monday, but I wish it was. That song still connected with me."

Now Urbina wants to meet the man behind that song and so many others like it that helped guide her through the most difficult chunk of her young life. She doesn't have a concrete plan to make it happen. She's confident that if Kanye can only hear her story, he'd happily invite her backstage. She's hoping this article can help with that.

She hasn't put too much thought into what she'd do if she made it backstage. She doesn't want to jinx it. But after closing her eyes for a moment and imagining, she's got it. "I see his big smile. I see me being very happy. I wouldn't cry — that's insane. I would just be so happy. And the picture would be so cool, because I know he'll pose and I'll pose. Katiana Urbina met Kanye West. It would be awesome."

She's nervous for the actual show. Going alone will be a true test of her independence, and many of her friends have urged her to sit this one out. That doesn't look likely, though. "[The VIP ticket] gives me early entry, but I'm going to be there even earlier than early entry," she says.

Kanye West. 8 p.m. Friday, September 16, and Saturday, September 17, at the American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; Tickets cost $55 to $1,177 via

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