Kim's Story: An Unplanned Event Becomes a Celebration of Life Colorectal Cancer

Head shot of Kim Hall-Jackson, colorectal cancer survivor
Kim Hall-Jackson, colorectal cancer survivor and advocate. Image Courtesy of Colin Lenton.

With a successful career, six children, devoted husband, Kim was a perfect example of an active woman. As a professional event planner, Kim built a reputation of excellence and leadership when planning events. She reveled being in control of details—the scheduling, the catering, the organization—overall satisfying the needs of the client. Abruptly finding herself in a situation outside of her control proved more difficult than any event she could ever plan; this situation literally meant life or death.

Kim was getting ready for work one day when she noticed blood in her stool. She disregarded it at first since it was a small amount. With no family history of colorectal cancer, Kim did not suspect anything and at her next cancer screening she expected to receive a clean bill of health. She was in shock to hear that the doctors had found a tumor located in her rectum. They performed a biopsy and unfortunately Kim was diagnosed with Stage 1 colorectal cancer. Surgery was scheduled, the tumor was removed but the cancer had reached her lymph nodes. Kim would then be upstaged to a Stage 3 colorectal cancer diagnosis and needed to begin combined chemotherapy and radiation immediately.

Finding the Right Venue

Cancer wasn’t in the foreseen details of her life. Not colorectal cancer. Not Stage 3. Not Kim. But she knew she had to fight and she would need the right medical team to fight with her. She began researching and interviewing several cancer treatment centers in the Philadelphia region. Though she didn’t quite know what she was looking for, she knew she needed to have a connection with her doctor and the whole care team. 
 
Kim found the connection she was looking for with Dr. Ursina Teitelbaum at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. Of all the oncologists who Kim interviewed, Dr. Teitelbaum was the only one willing to say that she and Kim were going to fight for a “cure”. With a fervent desire to beat cancer and a shared passion for motherhood, Dr. Teitelbaum and Kim made a pact to fight together. Not only did she have the medical expertise to treat her, Kim also had the latest cancer-fighting tools at her fingertips, including proton therapy, should she need it.

The Reception

Dr. Teitelbaum, a medical oncologist who treats GI cancers exclusively, put Kim’s concerns to rest by explaining the multidisciplinary care that would care for Kim. Each medical personnel on her team came to greet her and Kim was gifted with a $50 gift certificate that a former cancer patient left for the next fighter. This act of generosity warmed her heart and inspired her to find a way to give back.

It’s Show Time

While working full-time, Kim received high dose chemotherapy every other Friday and the combined chemoradiation followed. She says the hardest part of the treatment was when the two treatments were combined. She would go to the hospital, endure radiation treatment, go home and have chemo pumped through her port round-the clock. Kim says every time a dose was delivered it sounded like a Polaroid camera taking a picture. Eventually, her kids learned to just say “cheese” each time they heard it. 

It took a lot of encouragement to support Kim and her family through the healing process. To achieve the goal of cure required a lot of aggressive therapy with culmulative side effects. The Penn team worked hard to keep Kim comfortable from a symptom’s perspective and hopeful in terms of the long term goal of cure. We would often say that we actually wanted more than just a cure - we wanted to maintain her bowel function and global quality of life, both in the short term and for many years to come. 

Kim had a wonderful village of family, friends and colleagues that supported her through. Her positive spirit and humor made her quite the fan favorite in the chemotherapy suite as well as in radiation. Everyone that encountered Kim – be it caregiver or nurse or technician or fellow patient – felt hopeful and empowered in the fight to cure cancer.

After Hours

Kim finished her treatment and although there was no trace of cancer in her body, Dr. Teitelbaum said she would not declare Kim cancer-free for another five years, although she remained optimistic about her prognosis. As of this post, Kim has earned the title of “Cancer Survivor” and has been declared cancer-free. She has become an advocate for colorectal cancer awareness and prevention in the African-American community holding events and spreading information. 

For both African American men and women, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death. “If I can convince one person to get a screening, then I know my voice is making a difference.” To those facing a cancer diagnosis, Kim wants to say, “Be easy on yourself. Love yourself. You will get through it. It’s not your fault.”