In celebration of Christina Kuzma’s successful fight against breast cancer at the age of 33, Tx:Team begins a weekly series to share her experience making decisions about her treatment. Christina is the Manager of Business Development at Tx:Team, and more than that, she is the catalyst for making things happen – an entrepreneur, easily connecting with others and quick to inspire them to be their best. It’s no surprise then that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Christina explored all treatment strategies and committed to one that she believes in. She hopes that more people will consider her approach, especially if they find themselves in similar circumstances to hers in the beginning of 2018. Being honest about her “crappy 2018” is a strong suit, so we’ll come to understand how the months since Christina’s diagnosis on February 5, 2018, have pained her body, given life to the small stuff, and ultimately transformed her into a different person.
There are several kinds of breast cancer, and not all are treated with the course of treatment that Christina completed. Keep that in mind if you are at the beginning of your diagnosis – everybody’s story is different. Christina’s form of cancer was diagnosed as HER2-positive, one that tests positive for a cancer-generating protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Luckily, we have targeted therapy for HER2-positive breast cancer, but of all known forms of breast cancer, HER2-positive has a high re-occurrence rate.
Her daughter became her ultimate source of strength. At 33 years old, Christina didn’t have time for cancer. She had a career, a marriage, a 3-year old daughter…it was thoughts of her daughter’s future with or without her mother that gave rise to her moment of clarity. The moment where Christina decided that it was time to put on the armor and fight, saying, “I have A LOT of life left to live, and I want to know that I did everything I could to see my daughter grow up.” She moved forward with 5 months of chemotherapy, 1 month of rest, and then a bi-lateral mastectomy surgery.
Christina’s story is primarily a testament to Physical Therapy as a choice alternative to opioid medication throughout her recovery. With the help of her coworkers at Tx:Team, who specialize in Physical Therapy and are experts in treating pain through strengthening and movement, Christina developed and implemented a physical therapy-focused treatment plan with her doctor, confidently refused morphine in her IV, and took none of her prescribed pain relievers.
NO PAIN PILLS AT ALL
At this point, you may be in disbelief, but it’s true. Christina’s previous exposure to pain relievers prompted her to choose a different path. The dizzying effects of an opioid analgesic in her IV after her cesarean section for the birth of her daughter upset her. The doctors urged her to take them so that she could walk without pain, but she recalls the rush of the medication going to her head and says, “that feeling is the last thing you want while holding a newborn for the first time.” She returned home the next day with her first child- clearheaded- and never filled the prescription, opting for Tylenol.
Her own brother’s escalated addiction to opioids terrifies her. Doctors prescribed him an opioid pain reliever after an injury he suffered while working with the army. Once the prescription ran out, he searched the streets for substitutes and disappeared. That was seven years ago. Christina’s decision to avoid opioids was a way to protect herself. She reflects on that decision, saying, “Cancer was already controlling my life, I was not going to let something else get in my way.”
TALKING TO HER DOCTOR
Day 1 with her doctor, Christina emphasized the importance of finding an alternative method for pain control. Her doctor was immediately on board – something we can’t take for granted. She listened to the research that Christina was prepared to present, and she agreed that Christina was the perfect candidate for a physical therapy-focused plan.
It is important to note here that Christina is assertive. When she enters the office, you hear her. Ears perk and heads turn, ready to answer her happy “hellos” and energetic conversation. She commands attention and you’ll be sure to hear her request. To this Christina says, “You’ve got to be your own advocate!” When it’s just you and your doctor in the room discussing what the next year is going to look like, you have to show up for yourself. If you’re reading this thinking, “I don’t know if I have it in me to hold my ground if my doctor declines my request,” know that it’s going to be a rough road for everyone to navigate our healthcare system and steer us away from its opioid-dependence. But know that it’s a good fight! Now more than ever, doctors are aware of the need to break free from opioid dependent treatment plans
And so, with her armor on and her team at her side, Christina’s battle with breast cancer began.