On a Monday morning eight years ago Kristie Naines was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. That Friday she had a bilateral mastectomy. Nineteen of her lymph nodes were removed, 18 were positive.
When she went for the follow-up pathology report, she was told she had a 30 percent chance of surviving.
"And what are my chances with chemo?" she asked the oncologist. "That is with chemo," was the answer.
"I went home and held my baby daughter and cried and cried," says Kristie.
"The next day I determined I didn't like that answer," says Kristie. "My goal was to see my little girl go to kindergarten, to watch her walk through that schoolhouse door."
Kristie was 32, her daughter was 16 months, her diagnosis was Stage III invasive HER2+ breast cancer.
In an anguished week, Kristie sought second opinions, encountered physicians who couldn't look her in the eye, and was told there was nothing more that could be done. Finally, she was referred to Edith A. Perez, M.D., professor of medicine at Mayo Medical School and internationally renowned breast cancer researcher.
"Dr. Perez gave me the first message of hope I had received," said Kristie. "She said, to me, 'You've been cancer-free since your surgery, Kristie. And I intend to keep it that way.'"
Dr. Perez invited Kristie to enroll in an international clinical trial at Mayo. Dr. Perez was the principal investigator of the trial testing the effectiveness of the drug Herceptin, a specific medication for patients with an abnormal amount of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a protein that helps drive the cancer's growth. As part of the trial, Kristie received Herceptin infusions weekly for a year, along with 12 weeks of chemotherapy and 47 days of radiation. She had no side effects from the Herceptin.
And she is alive today. Eight years later. With a daughter in third grade.
"My daughter loves Dr. Perez. She's her hero," says Kristie.
"The Herceptin trial was so successful the FDA closed it early," says Kristie. "This was Dr. Perez's goal: To get the drug out quickly to women who needed it."
"Using Herceptin with chemotherapy, instead of after, clearly improves treatment of women with HER2+ breast cancer, and should be the new standard of care," says Dr. Perez.
Today, Kristie is a principal gifts officer in the Department of Development at Mayo in Jacksonville, Fla. "I understand the importance of Mayo's research firsthand," says Kristie. "Mayo research saved my life — and I need to tell people that. It's incredible that our benefactors can make such a huge difference. Their gifts help us fund the clinical trials and the cancer research that saves lives."
Mayo's clinical trials, such as those at the Breast Center in Florida, include experimental treatments, often unavailable elsewhere, which frequently lead to improved patient care for people worldwide.
Kristie is happy to share her story, whether it's with a magazine promoting Breast Cancer Awareness month, with an interested benefactor, or with supporters of the national marathon to finish breast cancer, called the "26.2 with Donna" marathon, the only U.S. marathon dedicated solely to raising funds to end breast cancer. Kristie has run in the Jacksonville, Fla., marathon for four years.
"There were 7,500 runners this year," she says. "Thousands of people on the beach cheering you on, writing messages of hope and inspiration on banners on the beach."
"My daughter signs the banner every year," says Kristie. "This year she wrote, 'This is for you, Momma.'"
Kristie's voice catches. Then she continues.
"I'm here today telling this story because of Mayo," says Kristie. "Mayo made sure my daughter would have a mother."