Kristin, Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma Survivor
At 42-years-old, I was in the prime of my life. I had just won the Senior National Women’s Clay Court Tennis Championships in Houston and was enjoying my career at The Coca-Cola Company. Then, my life came to a devastating halt, when I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-hodgkin lymphoma.
My love for tennis and the competitive spirit in me, helped me to endure the “match” ahead. Upon receiving my diagnosis, I simply stated, “When can we start treatment?” So, it began, one month at a time. I was immediately rushed into chemotherapy and was given a standard course of treatment called R-CHOP. I received this regimen every 21 days, for eight months – and was then declared in remission.
Unfortunately, my remission was short-lived and two years later, I was back in the chemo chair receiving a different, and more aggressive treatment. If there is one thing a cancer patient will tell you it’s that the diagnosis is almost as overwhelming as the constant monitoring of side affects you encounter while receiving treatment. Over the course of five years, I received 28 cycles of chemotherapy and in October of 2014 underwent a stem cell transplant. The process was quite grueling. I was in isolation for 27 days while my immune system was stripped to zero and I had intensive care around the clock.
Over the course of five years I felt an array of emotions and some not so cognitive thoughts went through my mind. For me, the hardest part of cancer treatment was the neurological effects of chemotherapy, often referred to as “chemo brain.” It truly caused me a lot of angst. To pass the time, I used positive thought analogies like, “it’s a third set tie-breaker, you got this!” and “in the whole scheme of things, it is only a couple years of your life, out of the 85+ that I will live.” Time and days started to blur together, and my sole job was to get well and stay strong.
Through all the difficult times, friends and family showed their love and support in numerous ways. My dear tennis friends rallied around me to help with boost my morale, provide positive energy, and meals on a weekly basis. My parents immediately packed their bags and drove from Arizona to Houston and moved in with me for four months. Their compassion, love and help were unparalleled to no other.
Another helping hand throughout my journey was the Lymphoma Research Foundation. When I was first diagnosed, I connected with their LRF Helpline and received a grant from their Patient Aid Program – this was extremely helpful as I was not working at the time. From there, my relationship and involvement with the Foundation evolved. I decided to participate in the Houston and Dallas Lymphoma walks and began attending their educational programs, such as the Ask the Doctor About Lymphoma Program. In 2012 my participation evolved one step further, as I became the Houston Chapter President and attended my first North American Educational Forum on Lymphoma in California. The support and opportunity to volunteer in these various ways have been priceless to me, as it gave me the ability to give back to an organization that had given so much to me.
Fast forward to present date, I am currently managing my lymphoma with an experimental cancer vaccine as part of a clinical trial at Texas Medical Center. I am still in remission and am excited to celebrate my six-year birthday in October 2020. Since I received a stem cell transplant, and therefore an entirely new immune system like a new-born baby, people often mark their years out from the transplant as a ‘birthday.’ I even had to receive all of my childhood and adult vaccinations over again.
One year ago, I decided to move to Scottsdale, Arizona to be near my family and escape the hustle and bustle of Houston. Making the move to a more serene and calming lifestyle was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I will be forever grateful for my healthcare team in Houston, and believe that I was in the best hands to receive my treatment and to be part of a clinical trial.
While it has certainly been an intense experience, I never had any doubt that I would overcome this disease and fight it through to the end. At work and in my daily life, I am a very task driven, detail oriented and a focused individual, and I used these strengths towards healing, coping and treatments. My advice to other cancer patients is to stay focused, let the doctors work their magic and allow friends and family to help take everyday burdens off you. It is your time to fight and heal.