Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your cancer experience.
My name is Krista, and I am 34 years old. I am a wife to my husband, Darryl (39), and mom to our wonderful children, Anthony (9), and Karley (4). My husband and I grew up in a small Northern Ontario mining town, and we continue to live there surrounded by extended family and a very supportive community.
On March 17, 2014, I found out that I almost certainly had some sort of breast cancer, and about 9 days later I received the diagnosis of Stage IV HER2 invasive ductal carcinoma with spread to my liver and vertebrae. What I thought was a benign pinched nerve in my back was actually serious damage to my L5 vertebrae. I was very lucky in that by March 31st, my treatment had started with 5 days of radiation to my L5. By the following week, the next phase of my treatment began with chemotherapy (Paclitaxel), antibodies (Herceptin and Perjeta), and bone treatments (Pamidronate). I was very fortunate to have finished chemotherapy in August 2014 with fairly decent results and virtually no serious complications. I currently still receive antibodies and bone treatments every few weeks to help keep the cancer at bay.
Today, I’m very thankful for my quality of life. Despite some fatigue and having to work really hard to manage my anxiety about the possibility of my disease progressing, I’ve been able to remain active, and we keep our family life as normal as possible for Anthony and Karley. My son’s a swimmer, and I’ve been to all of his swim meets except one, and I just returned from my daughter’s second dance competition.
For a few years leading up to my diagnosis, I had really struggled with my weight. For a long time, I’ve known my biggest weakness to be closet-eating in times of stress. About halfway through my chemotherapy, I started to pay more attention to everything I was hearing about plant-based, whole food eating, and since then, I’ve lost about 60 pounds and am in better shape than I’ve been in a very long time.
Of course, it’s easy to find the ways in which cancer has negatively affected our family. Unfortunately, on the same day I found out about my cancer, my mother also started her own journey. Thankfully, her cancer was not advanced, and she currently is showing no evidence of it’s recurrence. But those first few weeks were very tough because it seemed like every important appointment was on a day when she couldn’t be there for me and I couldn’t be there for her. We both had CT scans on the same day, but not in the same city. The day of her surgery to remove her tumour was also the day I had to be three hours away to receive confirmation of my diagnosis and pathology results. I’ll never forget the look on the hospitalist doctor’s face after he saw me visiting my mom in hospital and then saw me in the chemo room for my first treatment the next day.
Of course, my immediate and extended family worry about me - they worry when I have a cough, a belly-ache, if my back is sore, or I look a little more tired than usual. My kids are having to grow up a little too quick in some ways. The word “cancer” doesn’t shock them anymore. The idea of getting an IV or going to the hospital isn’t that unusual because they know mom goes to “get her medicine” every few weeks. They have grown-up worries, but they are still only kids.
Did you get any “words of wisdom,” that inspired you, that have helped you through your cancer journey?
I don’t know if I received, “words of wisdom,” but I have definitely been inspired by the experiences of others. There are a couple of kids in my community who have had cancer, and the strength and resilience they have demonstrated has taught me more than any adult ever could.
What is one thing you want everyone to know about having cancer?
I feel really strongly that the general public needs a better understanding of palliative care. I also believe that palliative care services need to be expanded to offer better support to younger cancer patients and their families. When I first saw the doctors in oncology, I remember them saying that they needed to determine whether they were treating to cure or offering palliative care. And when they told me I was Stage IV, I immediately thought death was imminent. I was terrified and had to educate myself about what palliative care really meant. The first time a nurse visited me at home to determine if I qualified for any in-home services, I received literature about caring for a patient at the end of life. While the pamphlets I received may have been intended for palliative patients, they were not applicable to my situation at the time and were anything but helpful. I think it’s important for people to know that while palliative patients will probably succumb to their diseases at some point, they might still have valuable life to live. However, appropriate support is needed to minimize the stress associated with the diagnosis and the adjustments that must be made.
How has cancerconnection.ca helped you through your cancer experience?
Being able to connect with other patients with circumstances similar to my own reduces the isolation that an advanced cancer diagnosis can create. It’s encouraging when others share how they’ve overcome different challenges, and there’s something therapeutic about being able to help someone by sharing what you’ve learned during difficult times.
If you could choose a superhero power, what would it be?
Without a doubt, Wolverine’s healing factor.