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A Personal Story of Struggle and Triumph over Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a devastating and aggressive form of cancer. It is most often caused by exposure to asbestos, a harmful natural mineral that was used for decades in a variety of applications. Getting a diagnosis of this type of cancer can feel like your world is ending; the prognosis is rarely good. There are hopeful stories, though, like that of Katherine Keys who was diagnosed with mesothelioma ten years ago and today is thriving and telling her story to give others hope.

Flu-Like Symptoms
Her story began when Katherine was 49 years old. She started to feel some persistent symptoms, like difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a frequent cough, and chest pains. She thought she must have some type of respiratory infection, like the flu. But the symptoms just wouldn’t go away, and eventually she went to the emergency room where she ultimately got the diagnosis of stage I mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the mesothelium, the tissue lining the inside of the body and most organs. Katherine was diagnosed with the most common form of the disease, which affects the pleura, the part of the mesothelium that surrounds the lungs in the chest cavity. This is why her symptoms resembled those of an upper respiratory infection.

Katherine was luckier than most people with mesothelioma in that she got her diagnosis in stage I of the disease. Because the symptoms are so similar to more common illnesses, and because the cancer has a long latency period, many people never get an accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma until it is already advanced to a later stage. This makes it much more difficult to treat. Katherine, at stage I, still did not get a good prognosis from her doctors, but her early staging gave her hope that she could fight the cancer and possibly win.

Ready for a Fight
Determined to give the fight her all, Katherine realized she needed an ally and turned to MesotheliomaLaywerCenter.org. Here, victims of asbestos exposure and those who have received a mesothelioma diagnosis can find the support and guidance needed to fight back. The site provides resources to help inform patients about everything related to mesothelioma. It also provides access to medical experts who can provide the best treatment and legal experts who can provide services to help patients fight for compensation through settlements and asbestos trust funds.

With guidance from MesotheliomaLawyerCenter.org and access to medical teams that could provide her with the most advanced treatments, Katherine chose to go with the most aggressive attack against her cancer. She chose to undergo a very radical type of surgery that is risky and only performed by experienced surgeons. Called an extrapleural pneumonectomy, this surgery involves opening the chest cavity and removing one entire lung, all of the pleura surrounding that lung, part of the diaphragm, and even some of the lymph nodes. This extensive surgery is the best chance a mesothelioma patient has of achieving remission and Katherine was prepared to take the risks and hope for the best outcome.

After the surgery, Katherine had to face life with just one lung, but her treatment wasn’t over yet. To reduce the risk of the cancer recurring, she received radiation therapy five times a week for several months. Although she had also been scheduled to receive chemotherapy, the success of surgery and radiation mean she could avoid that treatment.

Recovery and Remission
Recovery from this aggressive line of treatment took Katherine months, and even after a year she still had limitations. In fact, she will always live with some physical limitations because she has only one lung. After her treatment Katherine’s doctors could not find any signs of cancer, but there was still a possibility of recurrence. Every month for several months she had to undergo blood tests, X-rays, PET scans, and other tests to confirm that the cancer had not come back.

Those check-ups were eventually reduced to every two months, three months, six months, and then once a year. The cancer never came back. After one year Katherine was thrilled to be cancer-free. Ten years later, she celebrates life like never before because she is still cancer-free.

Katherine beat mesothelioma, not something that many people can say. She credits her survival to her own hope and optimism, her amazing medical team, the love and support of her family, and the resources she received from MesotheliomaLawyerCenter.org. Now, as a mesothelioma survivor, Katherine relishes having time with her family, but she also loves telling her story and bringing hope to other people who are going through the same struggle.

Why I Hate Diabetes, But Love Being A Diabetic

Diagnosed just a little over seven years ago, diabetes has become “the norm”. By now, the carb counting, injecting in public, and answering looks and questions from strangers when I stab a needle in my stomach, is all second nature; it doesn’t phase me anymore. But, when I was first diagnosed, at age thirteen, it did. I did not want the world to see me as “disabled”. I thought that if people were aware of my disease, they would see me as weak. Seven years later, I am still the same girl, with the same autoimmune disease, but now, I show the world I am stronger than ever because I am a diabetic.

I was practically born with a tennis racket in my hand. Growing up, there wasn’t a day where I wasn’t in a gym, on a court, or in a field for at least an hour or two.  Sports made sense to me, and I thrived on the heat of competition. When I was taken to the doctor on the morning of January 28, 2010, and soon told I had an autoimmune disease that would potentially hinder my ability to compete at a high level, my earth shattered. My immediate family had no history or real knowledge of T1D, but now I would be surviving on multiple daily injections and religious carbohydrate counting. Cool.

My mother, a tennis coach, urged me to consider “just playing local tennis and volleyball tournaments”, and to not stress if I couldn’t become a Division 1 athlete, my lifelong dream. Her comments and the lack of knowledge my doctor had around competitive athletics and diabetes were my driving force. I realized I would have to train harder and smarter than my competitors, but I didn’t need easy– I needed doable.

Four years later, I ended up graduating high school a year early, at age 17, to accept a tennis scholarship at Seattle University. Since coming to college, in the fall of 2015, I have made diabetes my life. I started the first College Diabetes Network Chapter in the state of Washington, at Seattle University. I started volunteering at my local JDRF chapter, and even babysitting diabetic children. I began experimenting with dietary changes to help negate the highs and lows that can come with poor diet choices. The transition to Division 1 athletics required more of me physically and mentally, and I soon realized optimal diabetes care was more important than ever. By embracing my disease, and advocating as a type 1 diabetic and division 1 athlete, I truly embraced that I was a diabetic, not just someone with diabetes.

I used to hate being associated with the disease and all of the negative impacts it had on my life, but now I rejoice the person diabetes has made me. I realized I cannot change the fact that I am a type 1 diabetic, but I can change how I let diabetes influence my life. I can set a positive example by participating in clinical research, by making healthy dietary decisions, by being active, and by teaching the public about type 1 diabetes and its implications. I can show the world that I am more than diabetes– I am a strong, capable, passionate diabetic.

Yes, diabetes can be grueling, and tiresome, and I would never wish it upon anyone. But, the diabetic community, the friends and connections I’ve made through my broken pancreas, are invaluable. Being a diabetic is the most rewarding, demanding, empowering roller-coaster I’ve ever been on, but I learned how to embrace the ride.

 

With Diabetes, You Can Do Anything!

Diabetes has been a part of my life for 22 years. On February 9th, I celebrated my Diaversary. I always knew diabetes wasn’t my purpose, my purpose is to live my life the fullest and that’s what I communicate to all people with diabetes –

“you’re the purpose, not diabetes, so do everything you can to not let diabetes stand in the way of your dreams”.

I have had type one diabetes since the age of 4 (1995). Many people think that I’m used to it because I was diagnosed as I child and I don’t remember life as a healthy person. But as every person with a chronic disease, I dream of a life without it. Unfortunately, I remember some images from the hospital and feelings of pain, fear, and sadness. Till this day I’m afraid of taking venous blood samples for tests in clinics, because of how traumatic it was to me when I was diagnosed.

In the begging I was treated with insulin injections, then I was on insulin pens and in 2003 I got my first insulin pump. Since that time I became a “full-time pumper” with no breaks. For most of the time, diabetes was just a normal part of my everyday life, nothing special. I only experienced some teasing and discrimination in elementary school, but time heals wounds, especially when you meet some nice people after a tough time in your life.

Now I am a Diabetes Youth Advocate, a Diabetes Educator, and a Diabetes Blogger. Raising diabetes awareness is an important issue to me…but how did it happen?

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It all started with my diabetes burnout in 2013 – when my disease “turned 18.” I felt kind of depressed that it’s “an adult” now, and so many years have already passed. I was exhausted and unhappy at that time. One day I thought that maybe I could overcome it with running a blog. I was writing a lot of poems, stories, and songs, so that’s why this idea came to me in a natural way. With the support of my family and boyfriend, the blog was finally created.

I’ve decided that the symbol of my blog will be a blue sugar cube because I think sugar cubes are so cute and of course blue is our color. 🙂 At first, it was only my personal thing, but to my surprise, people started to read my posts! It turned out that I’m not only helping myself but also other people with diabetes, and parents of children with diabetes.

Then many things in my life changed for the better! I received both Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree with honors (in Exhibition Design Study) and my Masters’ diploma was presented on Coming OuT Best Diplomas of Academy of Fine Arts 2014. I also managed to finish my second field of study on the Academy – Pedagogical Study, which allowed me to gain experience in teaching arts and crafts to children, adults, and people with disabilities.

I wanted to use my artistic skills to change diabetes somehow. That’s why in 2014 I have created two adorable monsters – Hypo (blue) and Hyper (red), which represent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. I wanted to encourage people with diabetes to talk about symptoms and emotions related to those states and to explain to healthy people how it works. Hypo and Hyper were heroes of the calendar which were designed for diabetes clinics in Poland in 2014.

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I’ve started to be involved in many different social campaigns and actions (Menu for diabetic, How to Live with Diabetes, Human Library and more), write articles and feuilletons for diabetes magazines or portals and even lead free lectures and educational meetings for people with different types of diabetes in Polish Diabetes Association. I became certificated Diabetes Educator by participating in course organized by one of the polish diabetes foundations. Recently I founded the diabetes group Blue Sugar Cubes on Facebook to give people with diabetes and their families more support.

Last year was truly a turning point in my life. I was a participant in International Diabetes Federation Europe Youth Leadership Camp 2016 and now I act as IDFE Diabetes Youth Advocate. For World Diabetes Day 2016, together with two friends from camp, we led our first diabetes campaign eUrMOVE in collaboration with IDFE. I designed logo and graphics with Hypo and Hyper. The campaign was a huge success and we look forward to doing more for diabetes cause this year.

Now I only hope that my fiance’s patience will stay on its’ high level forever, because I’m one crazy diabetic girl 😉 With diabetes you can do anything!

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Life With Crohn’s Is A Struggle, But I Am DETERMINED.

Normal. This is what everyone seems to strive for. However, this is definitely not me. I live my everyday life experiencing things a normal person doesn’t, and hopefully never will.

For an eighteen-year-old, I have endured a lot of pain. How? When I was sixteen, I started experiencing weight loss, abdominal pains, loss of menstrual cycles, fatigue, the list goes on. I thought it was just from being so busy with school and basketball, so I shook it off. Then, at the basketball state championships, my body started to act much worse. Eating food was irritating me, drinking water was irritating me, any activity was hard; I just wasn’t myself. So, I decided it was time to do something about it.

In all honesty, I never thought this would end up changing my life, but that is exactly what happened. I went to my pediatrician and they gave me a pregnancy test. I knew that wasn’t what I was experiencing, so I knew the test would be negative.  They sent me to a gastro doctor. He ordered me to take some tests and gave me a colonoscopy and endoscopy. Immediately, he diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease. Being a sixteen-year-old, I immediately thought …”What? My chromosomes are off?!” Then, he explained what Crohn’s Disease was.

Being a sixteen-year-old, I immediately thought …”What? My chromosomes are off?!” Then, he explained what Crohn’s Disease was.

Crohn’s Disease is a chronic disease and a form of Irritable Bowel Disease. Basically, my immune system attacked my intestines, causing ulcers and things of that nature. So, all throughout my intestines are painful sores. Certain foods – in all reality most foods – activities, rest, and life in general, irritate them. This causes extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, being sore, mood swings, and causes life to be very difficult. Also, the intestines don’t absorb nutrients like it is supposed to, causing malnutrition, weight loss, and loss of menstrual cycles.

My gastro started me off on Asocol and Prednisone. When I took those, I got way worse. I started dropping weight left and right. People thought that I had an eating disorder. I heard that so much I began to believe them. This all caused me so much pain. I even noticed people distancing away from me because they got depressed just looking at me. I started to get weak, sports became harder for me. However, I somehow managed to train harder and make the All-Star basketball team, captain of the basketball team, and the MVP award. I am a person that won’t let anything stop me. I have tons of determination and love to prove others wrong.

Despite all this, my life was a wreck. I could barely eat or drink anything. I couldn’t keep food in because of how much pain it gave me. All I wanted to do was exercise because it helped me feel better.  But I began to notice that I grew tired faster, and surfing became way harder for me. This realization depressed me. Surfing is something I really enjoy.

surf1

Myself, my family, friends, and even my doctors were all watching me slowly wither away. I lost around 30 pounds very fast and was way underweight. My gastro ordered me to take more tests, gave me another colonoscopy and endoscopy, but couldn’t seem to figure out how to help. Desperately, my gastro tried a new medicine on me called Imuran. This has not helped either. The summer after I graduated high school, I felt God telling me to go see a holistic doctor. I remember thinking, “Lord, You know we don’t have money for this! If this is your will, however, I trust You to supply the way like You graciously promised in Your Word.” We took a step of faith and acted on His request. I have to say, I DO NOT regret it!

Yes, this is expensive, but I am able to eat, drink, and to live! No, my body is not like it used to be, and I still experience these symptoms, but I am way better than I was in just a few months! I have gained around twenty pounds, started lifting instead of cardio, and am eating more. I changed my mindset and am starting to enjoy life more again. I started a blog on Instagram called @thenuttycrohnie, drum for my church worship band, (of course) ball at the courts, attend college, surf, and work.

I have to admit that all of this is still very hard for me. I still don’t have my menstrual cycle. (Not that I’m complaining about that! I hate periods as it is!) But, I know it is something I should have. Unfortunately, I can only work one day a week due to my health, and even that is hard. But I am so happy to see these improvements! A little goes a long way! I know one day I will be a bodybuilder, I will be able to work, I will have more energy! It’s all in time and effort! Yes, life is a struggle, but as always, I am DETERMINED to prove others wrong.

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Much love! Would appreciate you follow my journey and recipes on my Instagram blog @thenuttycrohnie. Thinking about starting a blog page on a different site as well! Should I? All credit to my Savior Jesus Christ! Thanks for reading!! Blessings!

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