Cancer patient comes through the other side with a new appreciation of life

Kim Davis was ready to start a family. It was 2016, and she and her husband, Michael, had moved to Seattle (Kim’s hometown) from Philadelphia. They were shopping for a home, and Kim was rising in the ranks at a large local company.

Kim knew the path to parenthood could be challenging, so she took steps to prepare. She started working out with a trainer, and she changed her medical coverage to Kaiser Permanente.*

A year later, Kim was in the best shape of her life, and she and Michael were closing on their first home in Washington. Then, on a family trip to Hawaii in January 2017, Kim felt uncharacteristically tired. And it stuck with her. By March, not only was she tired, but she’d also developed a constant cough.

“It was weird,” she says. “I didn’t have a fever. I wasn’t sick.” She chalked it up to stress. There was a lot happening around her: Her brother-in-law died unexpectedly and her father-in-law was terminally ill.

But then, inexplicably, she started to lose weight. She couldn’t finish a sentence without coughing. And she couldn’t take a deep breath. At work one Thursday, she carried the trash outside and felt so faint, she had to lean against the dumpster for support.

She called the Consulting Nurse Service. Since Kim had recently flown, the nurse encouraged a trip to urgent care to rule out a blood clot.

That was life-changing advice. Kim and Michael went to Kaiser Permanente’s Capitol Hill Campus, where she had a chest X-ray.

It wasn’t a blood clot. A large mass filled the entire left side of Kim’s chest cavity. No wonder she was coughing, they told her, the mass was pressing on her trachea and heart and had completely deflated her left lung.

Kim was transported to the hospital late that Thursday evening. On Friday, she had a biopsy. Richard Ancheta, MD, a medical oncologist, told her it was most likely cancer, but they wouldn’t know what kind until the biopsy results came back.

Soon, Dr. Ancheta broke the news: Kim had B-cell lymphoma, a fast-growing cancer with a 90% cure rate. They’d start the first of at least 6 rounds of chemo the next day. Each round would take 5 days of continuous infusions, and the first would happen in the hospital so specialists could monitor her body’s reaction.

“I’m so thankful for Dr. Ancheta,” Kim says. “He was straightforward, honest, and understanding. He even walked to the hospital to check on me during treatment.”

The first round went well. Kim and Michael left the hospital to spend their first night together in their new Sea-Tac home. Her care team set her up with a fanny pack and pump so she could have chemo at home.

“My infusion nurse, Lori, was warm and light-hearted.” Kim recalls. “She kept it real.” Lori educated Kim about side effects and what to do if she encountered a problem.

Every 3 weeks for the next 4.5 months, Kim had chemo. There were bumps in the road. And she experienced her share of side effects. But through it all, she felt well prepared and supported by her care team.

“Dr. Ancheta told me it would be hard,” she says, “but that this treatment protocol was very successful. I felt assured right away. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be healthy again.”

When treatment ended, Kim was essentially cancer free. The tumor is gone – there’s nothing at all abnormal on her scans now. Even her left lung is functioning at full capacity again. It took months for her to regain her physical strength and overcome the other side effects. But, with the help of a therapist recommended by Kaiser Permanente, her mind is in a good place.

“I’m not thankful I had cancer,” Kim says. “But I appreciate where I am now compared with before. Cancer forced me to be selfish. It made me recognize there are only so many days in my life, and I’m going to live each day how I want to.”
 
*Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, formerly Group Health Cooperative
 

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