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Kristina Traughber's Identity Isn't In Her Cancer

Posted Oct 14, 2017

Traughber, with a theoretically zero percent chance of survival, is here three battles and five years later

“I’m stage four. I’m treatable, but I’m not curable.”

Through five years of standing up to cancer, 54-year-old Missouri-native Kristina Traughber, a daughter, mother, grandmother, friend, and bank assistant manager who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012, refuses to let it be her identity.

Dr. Julia Chapman, Traughber’s gynecological oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center, started her aggressive treatment with a radical hysterectomy in December of 2012.

During the surgery, Chapman removed 20 lymph nodes and discovered that 15 of those had tested positive, which meant the cancer had moved to her lymph nodes.

“She took everything you could take,” Traughber said.

But through this process Traughber would come to realize, with the help of her son and grandson, there was one thing no one could take, and that was her will to fight.

“My grandson’s the one who reminds me every day that there’s a reason to fight,” Taughber explained. “He’s the one that I can look at and think I want to see you when you’re 16, I want to see you graduate high school.”

While her son has always been her will to fight, there’s another reason her grandson had instilled that fortitude. 

“He lived through 121 days in the NICU fighting for his life. He was born three months early and was only 16 ounces when he was born and had to fight all odds,” Traughber explained. “So, if that little guy can fight for his life and didn’t even realize what he was doing, I can surely fight for mine.”

And it wouldn’t be easy with the daunting battle that laid ahead.

For the next five years, Traughber would battle cancer not one, but three times.

Traughber entertained her third and current battle with cancer in February of 2016, and has been on treatment ever since.

“To me, attitude is 99 percent of the battle,” Traughber said. “Is it easy? No, every day you’re reminded you’re a cancer patient.”

During her second battle, she would discover the depth of her inner-strength.

“I’ve been through some really hard times with being sick from chemo and living alone,” Traughber said. “My husband left me during my second battle, so that probably in the last three years is the hardest thing to do—living alone with it.”

But Traughber is far from alone.

Outside of her home, she is draped in the support from her family, friends and support groups.

For most, their support system is the sole key to their success, but for Traughber, it’s also finding solace in providing support to others. 

“I can count five friends right now that have cancer that I help mentally because it’s just constantly a mental game,” Traughber said. “I try to keep them upbeat and I guess that’s my therapy because you have your bad days and it gets really discouraging.”

Traughber has lived through cancer long enough to realize the ranges of emotions people go through, but also the advancements that have been made in cancer treatments.

“I tell them just because you’ve been told the ‘C-word’ doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world,” Traughber said. “It’s not the end of your life, it’s just a chapter.”

And social media has become a way to facilitate support and connection in support groups for women diagnosed with a form of a female cancer.

“No matter how my family tries to understand, how much they want to understand, sometimes they just can’t,” Traughber explained. “That’s when I reach out to my support groups. They know exactly what I’m feeling.”

That complete understanding has empowered these women to be each other’s outlet when seeking strength and a hiatus from their thoughts.

“Like I said living alone, sometimes you wake up at three o’clock in the morning hyperventilating because you’re in a panic,” Traughber said. “That’s just part of it and you have those people to talk to.”

Luckily for Traughber, her friends and family are there for the day-to-day life, helping her focus on a life outside of cancer.

“My main goal every day is to get out of the house, whether I go to a friend’s house, meet friends somewhere or just something to get out of the house,” Traughber said.

“I think that creates stronger relationships,” Chapman added. “How do you talk to someone living with cancer? How do you make it not part of your daily conservation with the patient? How do you make it so that they can be your friend?”

And that’s exactly what Traughber has done.

By allowing her support system to be a part of everything she is going through, cancer isn’t her identifier with them.

“She never expressed a negative thought, she never blamed anybody and she never thought she was going to die,” Chapman said. “And in this situation where, realistically, we ask ourselves, why is she still here? Why is she still alive?”

It comes back to her attitude.

“She just took it in stride. She has a lot to live for,” Chapman explained. “She has friends, she has family and she considers herself lucky and I think that’s what really made the big difference for her.”

“Don’t fear cancer,” Traughber said. “You have to have the attitude that cancer needs to fear you.”

Traughber is an advocate for taking responsibility in early detection and sharing the same message that is the heart of the Crucial Catch initiative. 

“I try to tell young girls just because you’re 20 to 25-years-old don’t ever ‘fear the smear,’ and don’t miss your [papsmears] because I’ve seen girls as young as 27 leave us because of cervical cancer,” Traughber said.

“I tell my story to everybody,” Traughber added. “It’s humiliating, and not everybody wants to talk about it, but you have to because it’s all about awareness.”

And for those who hear her story, it’s a tale that emulates resilience.

“She’s a woman who, in the face of overwhelming odds, continued on,” Chapman said. “And this is a woman who focused on, ‘Okay, I have cancer, but it’s not going to define me. It’s not going to limit what I do.’

“She’s gone out and lived her life, and that’s what we want to see.”

It was a battle Traughber didn’t choose, but it was also one she refuses to back down from. 

She shares her story to raise awareness for early detection, and fights in hope that others won’t have to follow the same path.

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