- Kristina, a 39-year-old, is enrolled in a focused ultrasound clinical trial for treating breast cancer.
- She shares, “This trial offered me purpose through pain. That was a huge mental gift.”
Kristina is a 39-year-old supply chain director, wife, and mother to a 5-year-old son. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 and is currently under the care of Dr. David Brenin at UVA Health. After diagnosis, Kristina had a mastectomy; she just finished undergoing chemotherapy and is about to start radiation therapy. Kristina also enrolled in an ongoing focused ultrasound clinical trial for treating breast cancer. She recently shared her story during the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s breast cancer treatment webinar. The Q&A below is excerpted from her interview with fellow breast cancer survivor, Suzanne LeBlang, MD, the Foundation’s Director of Clinical Relationships.
Tell us about your journey through surgery and chemotherapy so far…how are you doing?
I am doing really well. I am grateful that it has not been incredibly difficult. Treatment definitely comes with challenges, but I was able to continue to work and parent. And fortunately, I was even able to go Turkey hunting in the spring, four weeks after surgery. I have been able to maintain my quality of life with my family.
When we were talking before, you used some powerful phrases. You said that you would not let your disease define you – that it was not your identity. Can you share some of the feelings that you had? What side effects have you have had during chemotherapy?
I have not been overly vocal about my feelings and the treatment. For example, I did not share what was going on over social media because it was something I wanted to navigate with my close family and friends, without it becoming my identity. In fact, most people I work with still do not even know. But, of course, I lost my hair. So, I ended up buying a really nice, very realistic wig. And I got pretty good at drawing my eyebrows. I think I miss my eyelashes the most; you don’t realize how much stuff gets into your eyes when you don’t have anything keeping it out.
The challenges that I experienced with chemotherapy included bone pain, like pain in my cheek bones, and things like that. I would take Claritin to do my best to prevent the bone pain and avoid having to go back in the next day, because that was inconvenient. Besides the bone pain, I had fatigue, headache, and overwhelming exhaustion. I was fortunate to not have had a lot of nausea, so I was able to eat and maintain my weight. Because of the exhaustion, I could not be as active as I was accustomed to being, so that was a bit hard. I am grateful because many other people have such extreme difficulty with the chemotherapy regimen I was on. So, I don’t want to whine about it. But it definitely took a lot of perseverance, particularly during the AC part of the AC-T. That was brutal in comparison to the Taxol. [Editor’s note: AC-T, or AC-Taxol, is a chemotherapy regimen used for breast cancer. A=doxorubicin; C=cyclophosphamide; T=paclitaxel or “Taxol.”]
When they offered you the treatment for your stage of disease, you were excited to start the treatment because you want to get rid of the cancer. How did they offer you possible entry into the focused ultrasound clinical trial? What was your deciding factor to enter it?
They explained the randomized control trial had one arm that added partial focused ultrasound ablation to the chemotherapy regimen and one arm that did not receive the focused ultrasound treatment. For me, when I thought about it, it did not affect the timeline for my treatment. In my mind, there was no reason not to participate, because information gained from the research could be helpful to someone else going through what I had just started. There was no addition to the timeline. There was nothing that was going to be painful or disrupt getting to the next step. So, it seemed like a like a no-brainer.
Some people say, “You’re too young for breast cancer. I can’t believe this happened!” And then you talk to someone else who sees it every day, and they are like, “No, we see this a lot. A lot of younger women get cancer. It does not wait for a certain age.” Cancer does not have a mind to wait for when it’s an appropriate time. It would never be appropriate. So, I wanted to be a part of helping somebody out down the road – with their decisions, with their timeline, making it easier. It is unfair. There is a line in The Princess Bride that says, “Life isn’t fair…Anybody who tells you different is trying to sell you something.” For me, it just seemed like a no brainer to help other people if I had the opportunity to help – and to do it with little pain and disruption.
As a breast cancer survivor, I am appreciative that you took part in this trial. Your courage and determination are amazing. I hope for both of us, as well as for breast cancer patients that are currently undergoing treatment and those who will get diagnosed in the future, that focused ultrasound can offer another treatment alternative and decrease the side effects from the chemotherapy. Thank you so much for your time, and I hope that we can keep in touch.
Thank you for allowing me to speak my voice and share my journey. It is really important for women to continue to be a part of the journey for generations to come. I want to make the future a little bit better. Getting breast cancer is shocking and challenging mentally, emotionally, and physically. Making it better for somebody else makes me feel better while I am going through it. This trial offered me purpose through pain. That was a huge mental gift. Thank you for selecting me and allowing me time to speak. I think it is really valuable, and it helps me move on.
Watch the Webinar Featuring Kristina: Focused Ultrasound and Breast Cancer