February 03, 2015
Pediatric follicular thyroid cancer survivor celebrates opportunity to give back
BY MD Anderson
In the summer of 2005, after her pediatrician noticed a lump on her neck, Krista and her parents went to see an endocrinologist near their hometown of Chicago. That's when they learned she'd need surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor in her neck.
Krista, who was just 11 years old at the time, barely understood the diagnosis. But she knew it was serious. "I went onto my dad's lap and cried because I was scared," she recalls.
A couple days after the surgery, doctors confirmed the diagnosis: follicular thyroid cancer.
Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for only about 10% of thyroid cancers, and most cases occur in adults, not children like Krista. In fact, according to Krista's doctor, Steven Waguespack, M.D., only about seven cases of follicular thyroid cancer are diagnosed in children ages 10-14 each year.
Krista wondered why this happened to her. "I felt normal and healthy," she says.
The diagnosis was a complete surprise for her parents, too. "We didn't know anything about follicular thyroid cancer when we got the phone call," says Krista's father, Jim. "I was devastated, but I could not let Krista see how scared I was."
Making the decision to come to MD Anderson
Ten days after Krista's first surgery and confirmed follicular thyroid cancer diagnosis, she had a second surgery to remove her left thyroid lobe.
Shortly afterwards, Krista's family learned that the second surgery had been an incomplete thyroidectomy and that she'd need another delicate surgery.
That's when the family started looking for hospitals with experience treating follicular thyroid cancer in children. The family researched and saw countless doctors and wrote many letters before deciding to make the 900-mile trip to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
"Ultimately, the entire medical staff convinced us that despite the distance, MD Anderson was the best medical facility in the country to cure and heal our little girl," says Krista's mother, Jane.
Krista's follicular thyroid cancer treatment
Just three days after Christmas, Krista underwent a third and final surgery at MD Anderson. Krista also received radioiodine therapy, a type of radiation treatment that required her to stay in isolation for nearly 30 hours.
During this time, Krista met another girl undergoing the same treatment. "When we both went into isolation after receiving the radioactive iodine, we were able to talk to each other over the phone," Krista says. "Having her there made the time pass much easier."
Krista and her parents made return trips to MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital for several years following her treatment.
After each visit, she started to view herself more and more as a survivor.
"By my sophomore year of high school, I stopped wearing choker necklaces to cover up my scar," Krista says. "I didn't want others to pity me. I wanted to move on and have a normal life again. I never defined myself by my disease, so I didn't want others to either."
Krista says it was a combination of friends, family, faith and time that helped change her perception of herself.
"With time, I have become more willing to open up about my history," Krista says. "This illness taught me that we all have weaknesses and difficulty in life, but sharing our experiences helps to overcome them."
Giving back to raise childhood cancer awareness
Today, Krista is 19 and a healthy, happy college sophomore, majoring in actuarial science.
She's also the latest cancer survivor featured in Jason's Deli's Strike Through Cancer campaign. Throughout the year, Jason's Deli will donate 10 cents to cancer research at MD Anderson from every specially marked water bottle it sells. Krista's photo started being featured on the bottles in January.
She's excited to participate in this campaign because it provides her the opportunity to give back to MD Anderson and increase awareness for childhood cancer.
"It's been nine years since my initial diagnosis, and I'm a college student who thinks much more about my coursework, playing tennis and baking than about cancer," Krista says. "I want kids currently enduring cancer to be able to also enjoy a normal life, and I'm thankful that organizations, like Jason's Deli, are doing their part to help make this a reality."
I never defined myself by my disease, so I didn't want others to either.