One life at a time.
2016-17 No Time To Waste (Sep-Mar)
When Kristina S., 37, accepted a new job offer last spring, she blocked out a few weeks between positions to visit her native Lithuania. It was a well-needed break. Kristina's sister Monika V., a mother of two and the beneficiary of a Halina Foundation fundraising drive last summer, recently succumbed after a vicious struggle with gastric cancer. Kristina's family needed time to circle the wagons and heal.
While abroad, Kristina visited a local doctor for a checkup on what she thought were stress-related ulcers. She received instead a staggeringly cruel diagnosis. From deep in her stomach tissue, biopsies revealed a coven of cancerous cells. It was gastric cancer, the same disease that ravaged her sister. Physicians suspect a genetic connection.
Kristina knew from bitter experience there was no time to waste. Within two days of the diagnosis she began her first chemotherapy cycle. Between jobs and without benefits, she had no choice but to undergo a full round of treatment in Lithuania. She plans to move back to the U.S. as soon as she becomes eligible for enrollment in the health insurance marketplace.
The Halina Foundation recently corresponded with Kristina about life, illness and the durability of the human spirit.
Could you sketch out your personal and professional background?
I moved to the U.S. at 20 and have lived here ever since. I remember feeling as if I were on the adventure of a lifetime, as if I had this one chance to rise to my potential. I was a second-year philosophy student at the time, but switched to nursing after arriving in the U.S. That transition was a leap of faith. My background was in the humanities, and I didn't know how I would do in the sciences. But when you are twenty years old you are not afraid of making bold decisions. You think you have an eternity in front of you.
What titles or achievements make you proud?
I am proud to call myself daughter, friend, significant other. I am proud to be the only aunt and godmother to my sister’s two daughters. As for achievements, finishing school in a foreign country with no outside financial aid can be viewed as a success. I received a degree with honors in a field I never thought I could be good at. My job as a nurse gave me the chance to impact the lives of many people who were hurting and hopeless. I know I can achieve so much more if I conquer this disease.
How did your sister Monika's experience inform your response to the diagnosis?
One gift Monika gave me was to impress the need for a quick response to symptoms. I hope by acting quickly I saved some time that will increase my chances of survival. And Monika was a big believer in nontraditional methods of treatment. I'm trying to combine both conventional and alternative methods to achieve the best results.
Do you have an escape that offers some relief from your present challenges?
When I feel well enough, I spend time with people I love. I try to enjoy one day at a time. I read a lot. I'll go for walks in my hometown, and good movies are always an escape. I talk to my American friends on Skype or Viber. And of course good food is a comfort, especially since I've experienced what it means not to be able to eat normally.
Maybe you have heard what people say about the difference between surviving and thriving. With your diagnosis, is it possible or advantageous to thrive?
When I am in pain, all energy is directed toward survival. But as soon as I feel better, I cannot stop dreaming and planning what I'm going to do when I get well. Life at 37 still feels like an adventure, complete with surprises and challenges and joys. I have big plans and believe I will have a chance to accomplish them. The key is not to give up, to believe in the chance that every human has, no matter what the doctor says. Everyone is unique. Everyone has a chance to beat the statistics.
Donations to offset medical expenses and cost of living.
In the summer of 2015, Rose P. got a stomachache that wouldn't respond to treatment. It turned out to be stage three colon cancer. Funds raised by the Halina Foundation 2016 Gut Punch campaign offset the cost of her medical intervention.
What price would you put on a summer day? For Monika V., 39, a single intravenous injection of a new gastric cancer drug cost $12,000. A family statement read: “Cancer chose her, but hope truly dies last.” The Halina Foundation 2015 Summer Days campaign rallied to support her cause, but tragically, Monika succumbed six weeks into the campaign.
The Halina Foundation 2015 Kickoff Campaign culminated in the Silent Auction & Fashion Show, sponsored by Rodan+Fields and HMD Trucking, with proceeds benefiting breast cancer patient Vida D.
Our soft launch 2014 Holiday Campaign raised money through donations and sales of Santa Hats to offset the cost of medical intervention for Regina J., 66, who at the time of the campaign underwent treatment for colon cancer that metastasized to the breast.