Cervical Cancer Survivor Keeps Fighting

Kristina Traughber says good days outnumber the bad

 stage IB2 Cervical cancer survivor Kristina Traughber

Five years is a long time to fight cancer. But, right now, Kristina Traughber is winning the fight. 

Kristina, 53, is a former financial industry professional. She skipped her yearly physical in 2011 because she was caring for her mother, who was battling cancer. In October 2012, after her mother passed away, she saw her nurse practitioner for an examination, which resulted in an abnormal pap test. 

Additional testing produced suspicious results. Then, an MRI showed a 2 centimeter tumor in her cervix. She was immediately referred to The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s Julia Chapman, MD

Dr. Chapman, a gynecological oncologist, performed a radical hysterectomy and removed 25 lymph nodes during Kristina’s surgery in December 2012. (22 lymph nodes were cancerous.) Pathology results determined Kristina had stage IB2 cervical cancer. 

“Without our aggressive approach in surgery, I doubt she would be alive today,” said Dr. Chapman. “Her cancer is fast growing and metastatic.” Chemotherapy, radiation and intracavitary brachytherapy treatments followed Kristina’s hysterectomy. 

Brief relief in remission

In spring 2013, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan was clear. “I was so excited! I was aware of the threat that it could spread and get worse. So, seeing the clear scan was such a relief,” said Kristina. 

However, her relief was brief. In May 2014, she was met with more chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a tumor found near her esophagus. Two years later, stage IV cancer was discovered in a chest nodule. More chemotherapy to combat the cancer. In September 2016, Kristina started immunotherapy to battle the cancer. A scan in September indicates the immunotherapy is shrinking the tumors. 

Finding the bright side

“It’s hard to stay positive,” said Kristina. “You know you’re in stage IV, and you’re scared at times. You wonder what happens when the immunotherapy stops working and they tell you there’s nothing more they can do. But, you just try to make sure you have more good days than bad days. Otherwise, none of it’s worth it. I may not be curable, but I’m definitely treatable. And I hang on to that.” 

chapman-julia-KS25183Dr. Chapman says Kristina is a “phenomenal” patient. Despite everything, she said Kristina remains positive. “She’s had to fight with her insurance company, to travel for treatment, quit her job, deal with a variety of personal issues and with multiple cancer diagnoses, in addition to other health problems associated with treatment. She never asks, “Why me?” Kristina just says she’s going to do it and never complains. That’s amazing,” said Dr. Chapman. 

Crucial Catch is about collaboration

“Just knowing I was one of seven patients chosen for the Crucial Catch recognition made me feel special,” said Kristina. “Growing up, I was always a Chiefs fan. So this is fun!” Kristina will be escorted to the game by her 32-year-old son. “He’s excited, because he’s a Chiefs fan, too!” she said. 

Kristina, who lives in Tarkio, Missouri, about two hours north of Kansas City, has received much of her treatment in St. Joseph, Missouri, under the direction of medical oncologist Rony Abou-Jawde, MD. Dr. Chapman collaborates with Dr. Abou-Jawde to ensure Kristina can receive care closer to home. 

Kristina’s treatment experience is another example of the physician collaboration necessary to ensure patients receive quality healthcare. 

“We communicate all of the time and consult about her treatment plan, test results and her overall condition,” Dr. Chapman said of her collaboration with Dr. Abou-Jawde. “With treatments spanning over five years, there’s no way she could have done this without that type of cooperation between healthcare professionals.”

As with all treatments, individual patient results vary. It is important to discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.