Life's most extraordinary stories are born from the courage to defy the odds and the strength to embrace every moment. Today, we have the privilege of hearing Angel Flight passenger Christine’s survival journey. Ten years ago, Christine received a life-altering diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer, and the doctors gave her just two to three years to live. Against all expectations, Christine not only surpassed her prognosis but also found renewed hope and support in her battle against the disease. Christine shows her unwavering faith, determination, and the incredible support she received from Angel Flight East helped her navigate the complex world of medical treatments and care. Listen closely as Christine shares her favorite flight experiences with the dedicated pilots who went the extra mile, including a touching detour over a cherished landmark. Christine’s story is a reminder that every day is a chance to celebrate life. Tune in now.
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In this episode, we have our passenger, Christine. Hi, Christine.
Christine, I feel like we've talked to you so many times that we've never seen you face to face, though. We've only ever heard your voice.
Yes, or email.
All the electronic forms of communication.
If you are comfortable, can you tell our audience about your medical journey and how you found Angel Flight East?
I'd be happy to. A little over ten years ago, I was diagnosed with a somewhat rare form of brain cancer. I was given 2 to 3 years if I was lucky, I was told, to live. That was here in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I live. I did, but I'm not going to say the hospital where I started my treatment for the first year. At the end of that first year, I wasn't doing very well. At that time, I kept seeing these commercials for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Even the doctors where I was going said that I should probably look into going somewhere else that was more specialized with brain cancer at that time.
At that time, they were playing this commercial a lot. One of the many times I saw this commercial, I thought, “What are the chances that they would take my insurance or I could get there because the Cancer Treatment Centers were only in five states?” Now, it's even less states in the United States. I thought I might as well try. I called and it was incredible. They were so gracious and nice. They got me in the next week to come out and get me a consult. I was there for about two weeks and all that. That's that part of it.
I started going there. At that time, I still had my insurance through work even though I couldn't work because of the effects of the brain cancer and the brain tumor, but my employer was still providing me insurance. I was able to fly out there to Chicago. After a year or two, that ended. I had to go on disability. It made it very hard for me to be able to afford that travel. It made it almost impossible because I had to go numerous times a year. The Cancer Treatment Center, the financial department told me about Angel Flight East. I can't remember if it was you, Jess, that I talked to first. I'm not sure.
"Having cancer makes it very hard to be able to afford to travel."
I think it was Dom.
It could have been. I don’t remember a lot of things around that time. My memory is not good, so I will let you know that I forget names very easily. There are a lot of things that go with brain cancer that you have to deal with. Anyways, you guys were so gracious and you were such a godsend because without you, I would not have been able to continue to go there. It would not have been possible. I would not have been able to afford the commercial flights being on disability, Medicare, and a fixed income. I've been using you ever since as much as I can and as much as you can help me. I can't thank you enough. I've said to the cancer center that they truly have saved my life and so have you.
Christine, we are not allowed to cry here because we get sweaty eyes all the time doing these and we always say, “Not today.”
Yeah, but it is true.
The fact that you've been battling cancer or a brain tumor for ten years, I can't even imagine. I'm so happy we've been a small part in helping you get to the treatment that saved your life.
I'm way past my expiration date. When they told me that, I let it go in one ear and out the other because I have a very strong faith and maybe I'm too stubborn to die. By the grace of God, I'm still here. I'm going to keep fighting as long as I can.
"By the grace of God, I'm still here and I'm just going to keep fighting as long as I can."
That's all we ask for. Can you tell us a little bit more about where you are on your journey now? You've been here for 10 years, you're only given 2 years to live, and where are you now?
You could say I am in partial remission. I still go to the center every three months and I get brain MRIs, but they also treat me for other health issues that are related to cancer and some that have been brought on by cancer. I see a neurologist there. I started getting severe migraines when I got the brain cancer. I never had any of that stuff before. I started getting Botox injections all over my head and the back of my neck. I get that every three months. That has been a godsend too. I started doing that years ago. I forget. I think that's part of the disease or whatever you want to call it. I have a hard time remembering dates. It's weird.
We just forget.
It could have been 9 or 6 years ago. I don’t know, but I know it's been a long time. It also has caused me to have seizures. I have to take a heavy-duty seizure medication, and I still have to take it. Even with the seizure medication, I still get some seizures. I started having these seizures, and it's not the type of seizure that you would see on TV where someone would be on the ground and foaming from the mouth. It's nothing like that.
My seizures are partial seizures. That's also what I see the neurologist for and take medication for. My seizures are like a temporary loss. It's hard to explain. I get very confused. I don't know where I am. I can't talk. It's very strange and it only lasts for maybe a minute, but that's the type of seizure I have. It's scary because it just comes on. I don't know when it's coming on.
Thankfully, with the medication, it doesn't happen very often, but I'm on pretty much the maximum dose of Keppra, which is heavy-duty. My neurologist has also added another seizure medication. Occasionally, I'll still get that. I wish I could start over because I don't want to portray myself as a victim. I'm not. I am so blessed to be alive. My life is different than it was, but I have so many blessings and I'm grateful. I don't want anyone to think that I'm a victim. I'm not a victim. I'm a survivor. Every day that I live, I'm surviving.
We think you’re an inspiration.
I am a miracle and I know it. Because of the medications, I've been on steroids ever since the onset for inflammation and all that kind of stuff. The long-term use of steroids that I'm still on and I'll always have to be on has caused problems for me. It caused a problem with my teeth. It caused problems with my bones. I never knew that I had mild scoliosis, but now I have osteopenia from bone loss which is one step lower than osteoporosis.
I also have degenerative back disease which is something that the Cancer Treatment Center also helps me with. Every three months, I get a surgical procedure where they give me a pain block in my back which helps me a lot. It helps me from having to take a lot of opioids or a lot of pain medication. I do still have to take minor pain medications once in a while at times, but it helps me a lot from not having to take a lot of opioids like a lot of people do who have cancer.
I still have cancer, but it's stable. The tumor is stable. I have done chemotherapy. I have done radiation treatments. I'm not doing any of them anymore. When I first went to CTCA, they told me that if I did any more chemo, it was going to kill me. That my body couldn't take it anymore. That's why I said that they saved my life. My brain tumor is inoperable. They said that here but also at CTCA. It is now called City of Hope. They've taken it over, but we still call it CTCA too. They sent me to a specialist in Chicago for brain tumors and he's one of the best in the country. He also deemed it inoperable.
I was not able to get it surgically removed or anything like that, but at the same time, before I did any type of chemo or radiation, that's here at home in Harrisburg, they did have to do a cranial surgery. The reason it's inoperable is because the tumor is very deep, but they had to do cranial surgery to get a biopsy of the tumor to determine or to take a piece of the tumor. They sent it to Johns Hopkins to make sure that it was cancer, what type of cancer it was, and make sure it wasn’t malignant. In that process, I've been told by my oncologist at CTCA that a lot of the problems that I've been having are from that initial cranial surgery, because of how far they had to cut down. It caused some damage.
Now that you've gone with us from Harrisburg to Zion, Illinois. You went to see a different specialist in Chicago. What would you say has been either your favorite flight or your favorite pilot?
John Greco comes to mind.
We love him. He calls us the daughters.
He is awesome.
He's the best.
Another great one.
You’re naming all of our favorites too, Christine.
I can't even believe I remembered their names because I have a hard time remembering names. Those are two that just popped up. Scott Miller, I know he should have done this. I shouldn't even say it.
Say it. What did he do?
Spill the beans, Christine.
I will spill the beans. I hope you don't get in trouble.
He won't get in trouble. Who would only get in trouble with us?
I am a huge Notre Dame fan. Notre Dame is very close to where I was picked up at the airport in Waukegan. He went a little bit out of his way to fly me over the stadium.
I love him.
How can we get in trouble for that? He would've never told us that he did that.
It was amazing. That was something I will never forget. I was born a Notre Dame fan. I've come from an Irish Catholic family. We had to be Notre Dame fans.
You are lighting up talking about Notre Dame. I need you to know that.
I know. I can't even believe he did that. He circled it.
He's the best.
Touch down, Jesus. It was funny.
What is one final thought you would want to tell our audience?
I can't say enough about the service that you provide for anyone who meets the criteria of your services and is in need of it. I can't say enough about how wonderful your organization is, your staff, and your pilots. Everything about you guys. You go so far beyond what you need to do. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don't know what I would have done without your help all these years. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here.
Christine, you can't cry.
You give me goosebumps. What did we say about no sweaty eyes?
I mean it. I'm not saying that all care is bad in smaller cities or anything like that, but it doesn't compare to places like CTCA, especially if you have cancer or need specialized services. I can't even tell you how many people that I've met at CTCA who have said the same thing that mimics my story. They've come from all over the United States. They were told one thing where they come from, they get there, and they're like, “We're going to take care of you. Don't worry.” It's like night and day. They treat you like family. It's not like you're going into a hospital. I can't explain it. It's so different. You’re not just a number. It’s the same with you guys. You know me by name and it makes a difference.
We're so lucky to be a part of your story, Christine. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of our audience.
Take your time. We'll be with you until you need us forever.
You can't get rid of us. You got to break up with us.
That sounds good.
Thank you again, Christine. We're so happy that you could share your story with us and our audience.
I'm very happy to, anytime.