She had a rare form of cancer. Fortunately, she had an even more rare form of doctor.
Swimming. Rock climbing. Trapeze flying. If it’s physical and fun, Christy is game. A self-described adrenaline junkie with an abiding athleticism and freakishly high pain threshold, Christy was active every day until the day she found out she had cancer.
“It was a dead, screeching halt in my normal life,” Christy said. Now, she’s stronger than ever.
Christy was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was 41 years old. As a Korean-American, she had a very low risk and that, along with her young age, made her diagnosis rare. The type of tumor Christy had typically takes years to develop and the early stages are asymptomatic, meaning she carried it without knowing for nearly a decade before her symptoms showed. How she was diagnosed was just as unexpected.
At first, Christy went in for what she thought was an ulcer, but turned out to be gallstones. When she was referred to a gastroenterologist, she met Christian Stevoff, MD, who recommended she get an MRI after an ultrasound identified a growth in her liver. That MRI would reveal a tumor; a biopsy would confirm she had colon cancer.
The time after her diagnosis is a blur, but Christy came to rely on Linda, her nurse navigator. While Christy’s head was spinning, occupied with thoughts of hair loss and worst-case scenarios, Linda made sure Christy did what she needed to do over the two weeks between MRI and surgery. There were tests to confirm the cancer, tests to identify the type of cancer, tests to determine the stage and tests to determine if she was healthy for treatment. Linda gave Christy the steps, guided her, making sure she was ready for what came next.
“I was strong, but I also had a bit luck on my side. And a great staff.”
The team at Northwestern Medicine has extensive experience with digestive cancers, experience that draws from technical expertise, ongoing research – including recent studies on coffee and inflammation – and forward thinking clinical trials. Multiple locations offer leading-edge treatment in advanced surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center is home to clinical trials for colorectal cancer including a phase two trial to investigate the impact of vitamin D supplements for treating colorectal cancer that has spread to other areas as well as phase three trials to study the effectiveness of new treatments, ThedaSphere® and FOLFOX.
Treatment for Christy meant only surgery – she was comparatively lucky and would not need chemotherapy. David Bentrem, MD took out Christy’s gallbladder, the tumor and about 27 lymph nodes, all of which appeared clean because of how quickly the team caught the cancer. The whole surgery took an hour and a half.
“I was strong, but I also had a bit luck on my side. And a great staff,” Christy said. “It wasn’t just the physicians who gave amazing care, but people like Linda, the people who schedule the appointments, handle the insurance. Every little thing, they were like, don’t worry about it. You worry about making sure you’re healthy. We’re going to take care of it.”
Three months after her surgery, Christy went on her first run. As she was approaching the three-mile mark, she had to decide whether to stop there or run for her routine five or six miles. It was her first real athletic feat since treatment and three miles would have been respectable.
“I knew in the back of my head that Dr. Bentrem would tell me I’m fine, Linda would tell me I’m fine,” Christy said. “So I was like, I’m going to do it.”