A Gratitude Story - Kristen
It was March 2019 and Kristen Contarino had the flu. But this bout of influenza was different.
“The vicious cough that developed shortly after was like nothing I’d ever experienced,” she recalls. “Forgive the graphic details here, but during one of the more intense coughing fits, I felt a large hard chunk of something come up.”
The something was hardened blood.
After some nudging from her husband Joe, Kristen, a 36-year-old busy mom, agreed to call her primary care doctor. Her doctor said if Kristen had a similar episode, she should go to the emergency room as soon as possible. Just 30 minutes later, Kristen again coughed up blood.
The kindness and reassurance I received from The Miriam care team was comforting, and their early detection of my cancer helped to save my life. I am beyond grateful.
“They were worried I might have a pulmonary embolism,” Kristen says. So, she and Joe quickly headed to the emergency department at The Miriam Hospital. There, she underwent a CT scan of her chest, which concluded that she did not have a pulmonary embolism. But they did discover a mass.
“The absolute gut punch that you feel in that moment is hard to describe,” Kristen explains. “It’s a weakness like none other, a pain and sickness all at once.”
Kristen says her first thoughts were of her children and what would happen to them if anything happened to her. And then she started to cry.
“The nurse took my hands and hugged me. Her kindness settled me,” Kristen says. “She asked about my babies. Of course, they weren’t really babies, but they will always be my babies. Talking about them always brings me joy and calms me down.”
A bronchoscopy was performed on Kristen to scope the mass and pull tissue from it to determine exactly what it was: a carcinoid tumor in the right middle lobe of her lung. It had to be removed as soon as possible, because the quicker it was removed, the quicker it could be contained and, hopefully, no further treatments would be needed.
In the days and weeks that followed, Kristen would learn firsthand what The Miriam’s mission of “delivering health with care” was all about. She was seen by a pulmonologist, underwent a Pulmonary Function Test and PET scan, met with a surgeon, an oncologist, a social worker, went for pre-op testing ... In her words, “the list never ended.”
“Despite all of my doctors assuring me that we caught this early, it was curable, and the surgery was something they do all the time - I was not convinced,” she says. “To me, this was a major procedure. Remove a part of an organ? This was not normal.”
But it was necessary.
Kristen underwent a video-assisted thoracoscopy, where the right middle section of her lung was removed. The surgery was a success. She would lose a minimal amount of lung and breathing capacity and would not need any chemo or radiation.
Today, Kristen is back to her healthy, active lifestyle and credits her entire care team at The Miriam—especially Medical Oncologist Hina Khan, MD, and Pulmonologist Peter Karczmar, MD—with helping her achieve a full recovery.
“The kindness and reassurance I received from everyone was comforting,” she says, “and the early detection of my cancer helped to save my life.”