While listening to Kristi's story, it's evident that she has had quite a journey with lung cancer over the past few years. Throughout her story, we learn about her experiences with researching clinical trials, how she has been coping with her diagnosis and the importance of having hope.
Kristi recalls her experiences before she learned about her diagnosis. “In November of 2020, I started to have a dry cough, and it wasn't really bad so I let it go for a couple weeks. Then I did a COVID-19 test because I thought maybe I caught COVID. It was negative. I waited until after Christmas and contacted my doctor. She thought it was asthma, then she thought maybe it was bronchitis. So I did those series of treatments and it was sort of getting better but not really. Then she ordered an x-ray and then a CT scan. The CT scan wasn't a priority and was booked out a couple weeks. So the x-ray showed something - they told me, maybe it's pneumonia.”
After completing multiple scans and tests and seeing numerous doctors, she was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer. “I knew I had cancer because the fluid tested positive. I just didn't know what stage. So then I had to wait to find out what stage I was and what my mutations were.” By February, Kristi received a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis and started treatment with chemotherapies. In the meantime, she was desperately searching for other options.
After researching her options, Kristi was on a mission to get surgery. She was told numerous times that they wouldn’t do surgery because she was stage 4, or they could do it but she would have to pay out of pocket which wasn’t an option. Finally, her doctor was able to refer her to another surgeon who eventually did her pneumonectomy. During her surgery, she had her left lung and 22 lymph nodes removed. After the surgery, she learned there was more lymph node involvement than shown on her previous scan, so Kristi continued to get second opinions and search for clinical trials.
“I'm a pediatric occupational therapist. I don't have a huge background, as far as trials but I certainly have a few clients that have done trials. I think I just knew once the surgery wasn't working, I definitely pushed to have my scans sooner. I knew the timing was quick as far as progression and I had a gut feeling that I should because I didn't think I would have much time to wait and find out. I've learned that trials take a really long time.”
Kristi also mentions how it was difficult finding trials she could participate in. “Based on criteria, I didn't make the trial because I had started my third line of treatment or I had the pneumonectomy or the non-small cell lung cancer cohort was closed. It was a lot of calling around, a lot of work and then it's not an option.”
Kristi emphasized how much she values the support she has received throughout her journey and how her diagnosis has affected her relationships with friends and family.
“I have 3 kids. It's a lot to juggle. But as a mom, you sort of keep everything running and together. I think my husband is super nervous and that the fact is at one point, it will all fall on him. I go between being super hopeful and having a dose of reality and thinking what do I want to do and what do I want to get done with them before things change. It’s hard."
“I'm lucky. I'm in a situation where I don’t have to work. I go on walks pretty much everyday so that way, I can catch up with friends. COVID-19 has thrown a little bit of a wrench. I still try to plan family trips. I try to get together with friends and plan more of our extended family gatherings. It helps me out connecting with people that I love and hearing what’s going on.”
She also talks about how she is coping with her diagnosis and what advice she would give to someone in a similar situation. “I certainly have my ups and downs. I think it depends on where I am on this roller coaster of a ride. I had a little more hope when I went to a top-rated comprehensive cancer center and they had trials to offer, and then I definitely had hope when I had the option of radiation and surgery. I'm hopeful this trial will work until the really smart people come up with something for KRAS G12D.”
“As far as advice for someone in a similar situation, I think it's a shock. Especially when you’re healthy and young, when you still have young kids. It's been hard up until this point not having a lot of positive news other than I could have surgery and that I could have the chest wall mass removed. I think those were two points in time where I felt really hopeful. And signing the consenting papers for the trial. I think you just have to try and stay hopeful and positive. I think that’s really important for my kids. I am realistic in letting them know that I don’t know if it's going to be a positive outcome or not but we need to stay hopeful and positive and make the best of the time we have together.”
As Kristi continues on, she voices what she wants other KRAS Kickers to know who are faced with a similar diagnosis.
“Stay hopeful, that's all we have. Align yourself with people you really trust, that you feel also care as much about your life (maybe not as much but they care), and it's never a bad thing to get a second opinion. In my case, five! Let people know that you love them, make memories. In terms of KRAS and your health, you're the best advocate."
Written by Gabrielle Connolly
Each month, KRAS Kickers is pleased to present a Survivor Story. These are the journeys of cancer survivors that have graciously offered to share this part of their lives with us to provide an awareness of community and hope to our readers. None of us are in this alone, and we all have a story to tell.