My Cancer JourneyKristin Moffett Melissa C Palmer, LCSW, ACHP-SW, APHSW-C, JD Apr 4, 2023
This is the first of a series of blog entries from a patient who is dear to us at UC Health, and she has given us permission to use her name and her story. Even before her cancer diagnosis, Kristin had a serious injury and she was living with chronic pain. In August 2022, Kristin Moffett was admitted to the hospital with sepsis and underlying Burkett’s lymphoma. Her body reacted negatively to the treatments, and Kristin experienced complications including sepsis. As a result of the complications, all four of Kristin’s limbs became gangrenous and needed to be amputated. Despite these challenges, Kristin has been an example of extraordinary strength and perseverance in light of her prolonged hospitalization. She has returned home with prosthetics after rigorous cancer treatment. Kristin has spent hours talking with the inpatient palliative care art therapist, social worker, and other providers about her experience in real time. In Kristin’s story today she talks about what it felt like during her cancer diagnosis and treatment.
I was feeling very ill one day in July 2022 and was brought to the emergency room. During this visit, the medical team did tests and discovered I had cancer as well as sepsis. When they told me about the cancer, I felt like the whole room stopped, the doctor’s mouth was moving but I wasn’t processing that I have cancer and that it was bad. At that moment, I thought of everyone who will be affected, everyone who will lose the relationship with me, and what I will lose.
My brother died 2 ½ years before I was diagnosed, and our family knows how that heartbreak feels. Now my family will have to deal with my serious, life-threatening illness. The idea of my parents losing another child was too much.
Shortly after the initial shock, I learned from the oncologist about the extent of the cancer. My father came with me to the appointment for emotional support. During that visit, I thought about my 16-year- old daughter who is already struggling, and worried what this diagnosis would do to her. With thoughts of my family and my daughter in mind, I told myself and my oncologist, “if you need a fighter, you got one”. My family was on the same page with going through treatment, and I have always been a person who is strong and this is how I showed up in this scenario.
What I didn’t know is what the process would do to me physically and mentally. I have been hospitalized since August 2022 and have experienced 5 rounds of treatment during this time, and after my second round of treatment I was also recovering from my four amputations. Here is an idea of how things changed in my mind and body during the process:
Round 1: I was ready to get through treatment and follow the oncologist’s recommendations and did not have any worries. I felt encouraged and okay.
Round 2: Everyday was long and by the end of the week I felt like “get me out of here now”. I did not want to be in the hospital any more. I did not feel particularly physically sick, but the mental toll was difficult and being in the hospital made it real for me.
Round 3: All hell broke loose. I was discharged to a local hotel between treatments because my home is too far to drive back and forth. I was also worried about not being close to the medical team in case something happened. I felt dizzy and it felt like my lungs were filling up with fluid. However, I minimized my symptoms and stayed in the hotel so that I could be there for my sister’s wedding online. I was missing my sister’s destination wedding in Hawaii due to my treatments. I felt like I was a failure because I could not be there for her and I was letting her down. I put on a brave face and participated in the wedding by video chat, because I wanted her wedding to be wonderful.
I continued to feel poorly, and my breathing was difficult/labored, so I came back into the ER. I was discharged from the ER and went back to the hotel.
I pushed through even though I continued to feel ill. At the time my husband had returned home to take care of the dogs and my daughter was in school. It felt so empty not having family there; but I also did not want to worry them by telling them now sick I was becoming. Finally, my best friend noticed I was struggling to find words and completing sentences. I fell and became confused. I returned to the ER and by this time I had sepsis. Looking back, I wish I had spoken up when I was feeling so terrible at the time, I remember feeling I didn’t want to be a burden or worry my family or bother the medical staff.
Because I was so ill, I was admitted to the ICU and put on a ventilator. I don’t remember most of what happened when I was intubated; however, I do remember waking up and seeing my daughter’s face and falling back asleep. When I finally woke up I saw my family in the hospital in my room. What helped me wake up the second time was hearing my dad day my daughter’s name and hearing her voice. It was so confusing and I did not understand why I was in the hospital. Then I became aware that my brother from Texas was in the room as well, and then I really started worrying. Why am I here? What happened? As I became more oriented, I realized I was on a ventilator. It was so scary to wake up on a ventilator, but I am so grateful for my awesome family who were all supportive and there for me. It helped me to know that my family was at bedside and felt it was going to be okay. My family, especially my daughter, had a calming effect on me.
In the next blog, I will continue my story about the death of my limbs.