At West Cancer Center, we use the word fight quite a bit. The “fight” against cancer. The “fight” our patients embark on when they begin their cancer journey. And while this word is simplistic in nature, it embodies so much of what we hope to instill in those that receive the unfortunate news that they are beginning the ultimate fight for their life. Because that’s truly what we at West Cancer Center – and all of our patients – experience, every single day. The ultimate fight for survival. For more weeks, months, years or even a lifetime with their friends and family. The fight to make it to that next big event in their child’s or loved one’s life.
We have the privilege of fighting alongside those who face this disease – these fighters who receive this dreaded news, and get out of bed the next day anyway. Survivors whose will to live exceeds statistics and transcends medicine. At West Cancer Center, this is our calling; and it is why our signature fundraising event bears the same, simple message: Fight On.
These patients below embody all we hope to say when we use the word “fight.” Because that’s what they are – the ultimate fighters and survivors.
Whether you cycle, run, walk, cheer, volunteer or simply fundraise, you are ensuring that none of our 35,000 patients fight alone.
Fighter Profile: Niki Harrison
It was December of 2014 when 25-year-old Nicole Matthews-Harrison felt a lump in her left breast. Following a breast exam, mammogram and biopsy, she was given the devastating news: it was indeed breast cancer. “My only thought was ‘Why me and why now?’” said Nicole. “I had a fiancé and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter at home who needed me – I could not lose my life now.”
The biopsy results showed Nicole had Triple-Negative Breast Cancer – an extremely aggressive cancer type that requires an extremely aggressive treatment plan. She met with Sylvia Richey, MD, Medical Oncologist and Elizabeth Pritchard, MD, Surgical Oncologist to have her portacath surgically inserted. In January of 2015, she began the first of sixteen rounds of chemotherapy – first administered every two weeks and advancing to every week – lasting six months.
Those six months were filled with overwhelming obstacles from nausea and soreness to the loss of her hair and impending thoughts of possible breast removal. Nicole knew a large part of her recovery rested on her positivity throughout the journey – positivity that was made possible with the help of her support system.
Nicole underwent genetic testing which tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene – a genetic mutation that increases susceptibility to both breast and ovarian cancers. With a significantly high risk of breast cancer recurrence, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy in July of 2015. Six weeks later, she had a preventative full hysterectomy. “We have one daughter,” said Nicole. “And I was willing to do everything in order to stick around to see her grow up.”
Following a visit with Dr. Richey, she was finally given the good news she’d been longing for: she was in remission and had won her Fight. After her final surgical reconstruction in November of 2015, she only visits for check-ups every three to six months – living cancer-free. Nicole got married – to the love of her life – and celebrated her daughter’s fourth birthday in April of 2016. “Looking back on everything, I can’t believe I made it – but I am certainly glad it’s over,” said Nicole. “However, I miss seeing the friendly faces of staff and patients at West Cancer Center – those that became more like family, Fighting alongside me.”
Fighter Profile: Kathi Morris
“I knew from the beginning that giving up wasn’t an option for me. I have grandkids that I want to see graduate. I want to be around to grow old with my husband, who has been my rock.”
Kathi Morris had never been sick a day in her life – but that all changed in late October of 2015. After weeks of dealing with excruciating hip pain, Kathi scheduled a visit with her primary care physician for an x-ray – an x-ray that appeared normal – and was sent home with medication to ease the pain. A couple weeks later, however, she informed her co-worker of a significant increase in pain accompanied by sudden migraines, dizziness, blurred vision and auras, which led her to call an ambulance. Despite the initial assessment of Kathi’s vital signs being normal, in a matter of the ten minutes it took to arrive at the hospital, Kathi began to have a seizure – a seizure that possibly saved her life.
Initial testing and imaging results revealed to the Emergency Room physicians that Kathi’s seizure was the result of increased intracranial pressure due to a brain tumor. The following week, Kathi underwent a craniotomy to remove the brain tumor – a tumor which pathology tests proved to be malignant. Following further evaluation, physicians discovered the cancer was in fact Stage 4 Non-Small Cell Carcinoma that originated in her lung and had metastasized to both her brain and hip.
Kathi proceeded to undergo five rounds of radiotherapy to treat the pain in her hip coupled with one radiation treatment to her brain to clear the abscess from the craniotomy. Her Medical Oncologist at the time, recommended a treatment plan that included several rounds of radiation on her affected lung. After researching the side effects of this course of treatment, Kathi refused to continue with this course of action because of the possible side effects, which included the potential for severe burns to her throat and chest areas. Kathi’s medical oncologist gave her a life expectancy prognosis of six months if she chose to forgo the radiation treatment. After much thought and prayer, she decided to take a friend’s advice to seek a second opinion from a Medical Oncologist at West Cancer Center.
At Kathi’s first consultation with Gary Tian, MD, a Medical Oncologist at West Cancer Center, she immediately felt like she was at the right place. Dr. Tian’s recommended treatment plan didn’t require radiation to her lungs; instead, he wanted to put her on a clinical trial. “From the moment I met Dr. Tian, I trusted him to guide my cancer journey and he will always be very special to me,” said Kathi. “He listened to my concerns and he devised an individualized treatment plan for me while explaining every aspect along the way.”
Following four rounds of an experimental chemotherapy drug, scans showed no evidence of disease and Kathi is now in remission. Every three weeks, she receives a 30-minute drip infusion of Avastin and a CT scan every two months. “Despite the remaining side effects from different treatments, I consider myself very lucky,” said Kathi. “There are so many more blessings I could tell you about my journey and current situation than I could tell you about the bad.”
Kathi’s treatment plan requires her to continue maintenance therapy – an aspect that allows her to spend time with other fighters; time that allows her to comfort, encourage and give them the same strength she once needed in the fight for her life. “I want others to know that they aren’t alone,” says Kathi. “That I know what they are feeling.”
Now in remission and looking forward to a life cancer free, Kathi participated in Fight On: Cycle, Run, Walk’s Tribute Walk in September 2016. “I walked with around 440 other people and I finished in 439thplace – but I still finished. And it was great,” said Kathi.