Fighting cancer, racing against time

By Kristin Todd

Sacramento Bee

I was in my third trimester, ready for an exciting new world of motherhood in July 2013. My husband, Brian, and I were finalizing touches to the baby’s nursery and had just returned from our babymoon to Santa Barbara. But our lives, and all of our plans and dreams, were changed in an instant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I was 32 years old and 34 weeks pregnant.

In addition to being new parents, my husband and I became new cancer fighters.

Doing battle with cancer means doing more than dedicating yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually to fighting the disease full time. You need to become an advocate for yourself to navigate the hoops and obstacles placed before you by insurance companies and others to get treatment.

For me, it became a full-time job getting through the red tape to ensure I received all the required procedures and injections at the specialty clinics and pharmacies that provide them. As a cancer fighter for more than two years, the red tape has been at times very difficult to cut through and a huge frustration at a time when my family and I need our strength, time and energy just to fight the disease.

I have seen the medical world from both sides. I work at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento as a nurse practitioner. I see the miracles of scientific advances at work every day, and I see the power of caregivers providing personal and compassionate care for patients.

But I also know what it takes to be a patient fighting against a life-threatening disease. Today, my husband and I are more informed and better-equipped cancer warriors. Logan is 2 years old, and I have spent much of the time since his birth cancer-free. That was until this past month; doctors found a recurrence in my liver.

I am officially on the cancer roller coaster, where my emotional endurance and patience will be tried and tested, time after time, in the weeks and months ahead.

That roller coaster comes with emotional peaks and valleys, with great hope and great frustration. On one hand, it seems there are articles published on a daily basis about exciting new breakthroughs and clinical trials in the fight against different kinds of cancer. But as a patient, your sense of time also changes. Nothing can be done quickly enough, and every day or week without a new treatment seems like it could be the difference between life and death.

The goal is to keep fighting. I must for my sweet toddler, Logan, and my loving husband.

I need to battle cancer long enough for science to find a new treatment or a cure. New studies and clinical trials are leading to breakthroughs that potentially can save thousands of lives – maybe even my own.

But as a patient, I know these breakthroughs may be years away. It can be frustrating to see how slow the science is when you are in a race against time – time that I may not have. My hope is that I get to watch my son grow up and my husband grow old.

Advances are being made every day, offering hope to patients who for the longest time had none. That hope sustains me. Along with my family, it gives me a reason to fight. But we must make sure we are doing everything in our power to make sure these medications and new clinical trials can get to the patients who need them and get to market as quickly as possible.

As lawmakers and voters are asked to make important decisions about the future of health care, they must make sure they do so with the best interests of patients in mind. Their priority should be making it easier to navigate the insurance system and ensuring that these life-saving medications and treatments are available as quickly as possible to as many people as possible.

Kristin Todd, who lives in Davis, is a heart-failure nurse practitioner at UC Davis Medical Center.