The founder of SaveHerLife.org brings awareness to ovarian cancer to help others avoid fighting her same battle.
About Kristina Anderson:
I grew up in a small town called Garrett, Illinois. With limited opportunities and hardworking parents that struggled to make ends meet, I always pushed myself to succeed in hopes that I would reach my full potential. Throughout high school, I was President of my class and student council, Vice President of the National Honor Society, State Liaison of our Kickapoo District, Homecoming Queen, and the 2002 Miss Piatt County. I also participated in basketball, softball, band, choir, and eventually became captain of the track, volleyball, cheerleading, and dance teams. Honored as my class Salutatorian, I received a scholarship to Parkland Community College where I began my first collegiate sports involvement as a cheerleader. Two short years later I was accepted into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I also had the privilege of being an Illini cheerleader and representing my school as the Big Ten finalist in the Athlon’s Sport Spirit Contest and Sports Illus trated Cheerleader of the Week.
After receiving my bachelor’s degree in Community Health, my next move was to attend graduate school. With family out west and the love for warm weather, I relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. I have just recently completed my second Master’s degree at Grand Canyon University, first obtaining and MBA and this year finishing my MSA. My career goal is to become a CPA and have a solid foundation in all that encompasses running a successful business. Although school has been a crucial part of my advanced knowledge, personal and professional growth, and awareness of social responsibility, it is my experience with ovarian cancer that has truly changed my life.
July of 2013 began a journey with much to be inspired. A regular check-up would ultimately reveal my new life of being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. To make things more terrifying, the cancer was extremely rare and aggressive, signifying a poor prognosis in the minds of the doctors and statistics. I had overcome a lot in my young life and I had my own familiarities with emotional, mental and physical pain, but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced. Although the prognosis was far from encouraging, the people that took that journey with me gave me the much needed hope, faith, and strength I needed to defeat the disease and the statistics.
One of the most frightening processes of being diagnosed with cancer was the struggle I had with my insurance. The oncologist was telling my family how I should have already begun treatment, yet insurance was denying me coverage and the ability to get the care I desperately needed. It was going to take several weeks to initiate the process of being treated due to an inefficient healthcare system, and I simply did not have time to waste. I was told that I’d have to have surgery again to have a port inserted due to the toxicity of the treatment, I’d most definitely lose my hair and it was unlikely that I’d be able to have kids in the future. So here I sit, my life threatened and hearing the most horrific news I’ve received in my young life, and I wasn’t able to get the immediate care that I truly needed. But thankfully, God had his hands right over me and brought amazing people into my life.
The nurses at Dr. Deborah Wilson’s office, where my tumor was initially discovered by an ultrasound, spent several hours speaking with the insurance company advocating for my life. Dr. Wilson had suspicion during the surgery that the tumor was not benign as they previously thought from reviewing images of the ultrasound. Upon confirmation that the tumor was cancerous, the nurses at Dr. Wilson’s office quickly looked into my options for care, already aware of the difficulties with insurance from the prior surgery. When insurance continued to deny me care, they reached out to the connections that they had in healthcare from going on mission trips and the relationships of their daily work environment, and they got me the care I needed. Sandy LeDuke and Shannon Anderson were the nurses that gathered a team of support and saved my life. They contacted the anesthesiologist and surgeon that would insert my port and scheduled appointments that very same day. Days later , I had the port inserted, a PET/CT scan to determine the correct staging of my cancer, an appointment with the oncologist to start my treatment, and the prescriptions I needed to prepare myself for the chemotherapy.
Those two women, nurses, and now lifetime friends, they didn’t know me, yet they made the past five months of my care their priority. Their altruism and compassion saved my life. Their friend, Dr. Chamberlain, added me to his full schedule to insert my port. The oncologist they presented my case to, Dr. Janicek, moved appointments around to review my tests and decided my treatment path. All these professionals worked together to try and help me, and they did more than just try, they undeniably saved my life. Their benevolence and philanthropic sensitivities are admirable and they will never truly know the significance they have on other’s lives.
I was never alone battling my cancer. I had my family, friends, my healthcare team and my entire community fighting the cancer with me. I received several letters, messages, and donations throughout both communities in Illinois where I grew up and in Arizona where I currently reside. Everyone’s kindness and love, it empowered me to get through the appointments, sickness and letdowns. I refused to let the cancer take away my dignity. It was very powerful to see how my story inspired so many people. Truthfully though, they were the ones that were inspirational. From a little seven your old girl selling fruit in her front lawn to raise money for my medical bills, to the communities from my high school, the University of Illinois, and other circuits I was involved in throughout my life raising awareness and funds by selling t-shirts, bracelets, organizing motorcycle rides, auctions, and the list continues. Fighting the cancer by being hopeful and positive is half the battle ; and those around me fought that battle for me.
To help keep me distracted from all that comes with being diagnosed with cancer, I decided to enter the Miss Arizona USA pageant. Although my family was uncertain of my decision to enter the contest, I refused to let the cancer take my youth and all that I stood for. Entering the pageant was a statement to those around me that I was not sick and the cancer would not defeat me or take away my youth, my courage, or my love of life. Everyone that followed my story truly inspired me to be strong, courageous and be a hopeful example to them all. …An example that you can overcome all obstacles with support, faith and strength. …An example that everyone suffers pain, loss and hardship, but you can pick yourself up and turn it into a positive experience to better your life and touch those around you.
Not even three weeks after I finished my last cycle of chemo, it was time to compete in the Miss Arizona USA pageant. Struggling from the last cycle of chemo, I pushed through and made top 15 in the pageant. My hope in entering the pageant was to inspire others to pick themselves up and find the blessings in all that life brings. The truth is though, that those women inspired me. They made me feel loved, supported and equally beautiful as all the breathtakingly women around me. The women in the competition could see how the chemotherapy affected me and encouraged me the entire weekend to smile and be strong. The most touching moment of the pageant was when a nurse that was a contestant in the pageant purchased teal ribbons for all the girls to wear on their sashes.
The very next week after the pageant, I found out that I was in remission. I defeated the odds and it was because of all the love and support that surrounded me. Everyone that was a part of my life and came into my life during my journey, they gave me the inspiration and hopefulness that I needed in order to have the success of overcoming the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, March of this year, I discovered that my two-year mark of being cancer free was not in the cards for me. So I have continued treatment again, finishing 6 months of chemotherapy by the end of September. From there I will then have maintenance chemotherapy to limit the risk of a reoccurrence. This disease is tough, but the most important thing to understand while battling this cancer is that you must make the choice to not let it break you.
Thank you God for making me strong, believing in me, listening to me, hearing me cry, laugh, scream… Thank you God for not giving up on me in moments when I gave up on myself. Thank you God for bringing people into my life that I have no words to describe how incredible they truly are. Thank you God for allowing me to inspire others and experience a journey that brought me closer to you and humbled my heart. I am forever grateful.
Having a positive attitude, your faith and the love from those around you, it allows you to believe in yourself and live fully. It was from my own journey that I wanted to reach out and help others. Sandy and I created Save Her Life to help inform, educate and provide inspiration for other women and families that struggle with this disease. When you are going through treatment and coping with the realization that you have cancer, you need to release any stress and find peace in your mind, and in your heart. When the doctors and statistics show that your prognosis isn’t promising, it is imperative that you remain positive. I thank God every day that he brought amazing people in my life so that I could heal my mind, my body, my faith, and create my own conclusion with my journey of ovarian cancer. Save Her Life was created from pain, hope, support and the determination to save lives. It can be a mother, father, son, daughter, grandmother,etc. that sees our message an d starts that conversation to save a life. Knowledge is power and catching this disease early improves survival significantly.