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Taking Control Over Lung Cancer

August 13, 2019

Christy Fischer insists on controlling her cancer, not allowing it to control her. At 48 years old, the Olathe resident faces her diagnosis, which she first received in 2006, with determination.

Before her diagnosis, Christy went to her primary care physician complaining of chest and back pain, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.

“I'm the kind of person who intentionally parks away from the door so I get to walk. I'm athletic and active. It got to the point where I couldn't hold a conversation with someone after walking up a flight of stairs. I knew I had to do something. I couldn't be that out of shape,” she says.

Her doctor did a full examination and conducted several tests, including a chest X-ray. “They sent me home and told me to take an acid reflux medicine for 30 days. That was on a Tuesday,” recalls Christy. That diagnosis didn't last long, however. “On Friday, my nurse called with news that they found several spots in my lung.”

As a young nonsmoker, it seemed unlikely that Christy had cancer. After 3 months of tests at 5 different medical facilities for everything from asthma to acid reflux to scar tissue, the diagnosis loomed clear. A needle biopsy followed and confirmed that Christy had stage 4 adenocarcinoma.

Chao Huang, MD, Christy’s medical oncologist at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, said that although it seemed improbable that she could have lung cancer, nonsmokers account for approximately 15% of lung cancer cases.

“Given the fact that she was diagnosed at stage 4, she is certainly at risk of her cancer progressing in the future. But she has a very positive attitude. She chose life and does the things she wants to do – she travels, works and fights the cancer. She's such a powerful person and very uplifting,” he says.

Since Christy had undergone tests at so many different medical facilities, she had several to choose from for her treatment.

“One of my friends told me about The University of Kansas Cancer Center, so I checked it out. When I went there, I liked them better than anywhere else I had been,” she says. “They are great partners and very supportive. They work with other practitioners to provide the best care possible. They understand me and adjust their methods to fit with my needs.”

In 2013, after Christy had beaten her first diagnosis, the cancer returned. During a routine checkup, doctors found a walnut-sized tumor in her chest. She had surgery to remove her thymus and pericardium, which is nearly unheard of for stage 4 lung cancer. Upon recovery, doctors declared Fischer to be "cancer-free" again.

“I've refused to allow cancer to steal my identity. My life is my life. I just worked cancer into it,” Christy says. “I've run a half marathon with cancer. I've traveled. I've worked. I do anything I want to do. I'm very blessed.”

Yet she still had another challenge to face. Doctors informed Christy in May 2014 that the cancer had returned for a third time.

"I went after round 3 just like I did with round 1 and 2 – with determination," she says. Having recently completed her last chemotherapy treatment, she again received good news from her doctors: Her disease is stable for a third time.

Christy credits her job for allowing her the flexibility to work while she was receiving treatment. She also credits her caregivers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center for her outcome. “I can't say enough nice things about them. They know me and are on top of their game. I've become friends with my nurses. They are amazing! It's a comfortable atmosphere, and they realize that I have my life to live. They help me get my chemo done and get back on my way. But in the most considerate way possible,” she says.

Christy enjoys spending time at the lake with her husband of 25 years, Rich, and doing anything creative. She loves getting together with family and friends and spending time with her puppies.

“I just set my sights where I want to be: cancer-free. The symptoms of cancer and chemo won't last forever,” she says. "And, right now, here's the score: Christy 3, and cancer 0. Nine years ago they told me I would die within the year – look at me now!"

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