August 13, 2019
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 gynecologic oncologist, performed a radical hysterectomy and removed 25 lymph nodes (22 lymph nodes were cancerous) during Kristina’s surgery in December 2012. Pathology results determined Kristina had stage 1B2 cervical cancer.
“Without our aggressive approach in surgery, I doubt she would be alive today,” says Dr. Chapman. “Her cancer is fast growing and metastatic.” Chemotherapy, radiation and intracavitary brachytherapy treatments followed Kristina’s hysterectomy.
Cervical cancer remission
In spring 2013, a positron emission tomography 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,” says 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 4 cancer was discovered in a chest nodule. She had 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,” shares Kristina. “You know you’re in stage 4, 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 is worth it. I may not be curable, but I’m definitely treatable. And I hang on to that.”
Dr. Chapman says Kristina is a phenomenal patient. Despite everything, she says 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,” marvels Dr. Chapman.
Crucial Catch is about collaboration
“Just knowing I was 1 of 7 patients chosen for the Crucial Catch recognition made me feel special,” Kristina shares. “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 says.
Kristina, who lives in Tarkio, Missouri, about 2 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 says of her collaboration with Dr. Abou-Jawde. “With treatments spanning over 5 years, there’s no way she could have done this without that type of cooperation between healthcare professionals.”