From Surviving to Thriving

There was a time when everyone who saw Kristin Erickson knew that she was a “fighter.”

The 42-year-old mom, with two teens at home, had lost her hair due to treatments for breast cancer. When she would run errands or stop at the grocery store, people saw her hat without any hair underneath and often reached out with inspiring words.

“People came up to me who were survivors and they would ask me, ‘What are you fighting?’” says Kristin. “It touches you to have so many people out there who care.”

Her team

From the moment of her diagnosis, to her life today as a survivor, Kristin says she has been supported, educated and healed by her team at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center. From treatment to survivorship services, she has had a network of support and expert care.

Today, Kristin is living her life with joy and hope. And her transition into life after cancer is due to Sanford Health, she says.

“Everyone you meet from the nurses to the doctors are so kind and caring,” says Kristin. “They got to know me and cared about me. It was very well-rounded care from the very first moment.”

Kristin has always been vigilant about her breast health because she knew she had a family history of breast cancer. When she found a lump last year, she had it checked out immediately.

After her doctors discovered she had breast cancer, she underwent genetic testing, discovering she tested positive for a gene that makes her highly likely to get breast and ovarian cancer.

The testing confirmed her plans for a bilateral mastectomy, to lessen the chance that she’d face cancer again. She also made plans for chemotherapy and radiation, followed by a hysterectomy, to reduce her chances of ovarian cancer in the future.

Kristin even took part in a clinical study, helping advance treatment for other women in the future, like her 15-year-old daughter Kai. Throughout every step, nurse navigators made her appointments and answered questions. The busy mom tried to keep life normal: making it to the kids’ basketball and soccer games and even working out.

“I was in fighter mode. I knew I was going to beat this,” says Kristin. “I was not going to let it get me down.”

A system of care

Cancer specialist Dr. Preston Steen says Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center takes a team approach to helping patients like Kristin. Everyone involved communicates to make sure that treatment is coordinated and cancer patients get expert, compassionate care.

“There’s a lot of decisions that need to be made and the nuances of breast cancer change so rapidly,” says Dr. Steen. “We’ve found that taking a tailored approach to each patient’s specific situation is the best method. Information is key to reduce the number of sleepless nights for patients.”

Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center takes patient care to the next step after the treatments are over, the oncologist says. embrace Survivorship Services are offered to help patients make the transition from active treatment to life after cancer.

The embrace Survivorship Clinic and drop-in survivor sessions are all part of the way Sanford Cancer makes sure patients get their questions answered and have a solid plan for good follow-up care after the chemotherapy and surgery are done, Dr. Steen says.

“It’s about coordination of care and consistency of follow-up care,” says Dr. Steen. “We provide those details with depth and take the time to help them in planning for a future.”

What next?

When the surgery was done and the treatments were over, Kristin said she realized she had more questions than ever. Her body was different. She had thoughts about whether her cancer could possibly come back. She needed help figuring out what was next.

“Initially it was, ‘yeah I’m done!’” she says. “But in reality, you realize it’s never done. I’m bald and my fingernails are cracking and my body is deformed. You realize that even when you’re done with treatment, it’s a lifelong thing.”

Her team at Sanford Cancer referred her to Sanford’s embrace survivorship clinic, to help her make new plans for the next phase of life. She sat down with doctors, physical therapists, social workers and dieticians, to figure out what needed to happen in the coming weeks and months.

embrace helped Kristin continue her “seamless” experience of taking treatment into recovery and survivorship. She continues to follow up with doctors for regular checkups and is planning for a breast reconstruction surgery next summer.

Getting support during cancer is essential. And Kristin says she knows where she can go with any question that would arise in the future. “If there’s ever a need for anything, it’s nice to know my team is there,” says Kristin. I know they can help me with my long-term goals for follow-up care. If I have a question or a concern, I know I have my team. I’m not alone.”

Posted Date: December 2013

From Surviving to Thriving

Kristin Erickson knew how to be a fighter. Sanford’s Roger Maris Cancer Center was the team that took her from her diagnosis of breast cancer to a life as a survivor.