Kate Crawford

News | 2 months ago

Palliative Medicine Helps Stage IV Melanoma Survivor Reclaim Her Life After Treatment

After a stage IV malignant melanoma diagnosis, brain surgery, radiation therapy and immunotherapy, Kate Crawford, 45, has reclaimed her quality of life thanks to palliative medicine at Atrium Health Levine Cancer.

A cancer diagnosis and treatment can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. That’s why Atrium Health Levine Cancer’s team works hard to ensure patients have support every step of their journey. In the case of Kate Crawford, this approach to whole-person care helped her thrive after her diagnosis of advanced stage IV BRAF-positive malignant melanoma in 2016.


Kate, now 45, has been through brain surgery, radiation therapy and immunotherapy to help control her disease. While she has a vibrant, positive energy, the cancer treatments and disease itself led to numerous side effects and symptoms that drastically affected her quality of life. But thanks to palliative medicine at Levine Cancer, Kate says she feels more clear than she has in years. And her family says: “Kate is back.”


Kate’s stage IV melanoma diagnosis and treatments


In 2016, Kate’s work as an aerodynamic engineer took her to Italy. One night in Rome, she developed a headache so severe, she left dinner to retrieve ibuprofen from her hotel room. But as she got up to leave the restaurant, her husband Russell noticed she had difficulty walking and navigating where to go next. When the couple returned to their hotel room, Kate lost consciousness, so Russell called for an ambulance.


In an Italian emergency department, Kate learned she had tumors in her chest and brain. The tumor caused bleeding in her brain, which led to her sudden onset of symptoms. The medical team warned Kate’s family that it was unlikely she’d ever be able to talk or walk again — if she even survived the surgery.


Fortunately, the surgery was successful in removing the tumor. Kate didn’t recognize her husband when she woke up from a medically induced coma, but she was eventually able to walk and talk again. When she recovered enough to travel, Kate and her family flew home to Denver, North Carolina.


“When I was first diagnosed, they gave me three to six months to live,” says Kate. “I said, ‘I don’t accept that.’”


A family friend who’s a surgeon connected Kate and her family with the team at Atrium Health Levine Cancer.


“I’ve been with Atrium Health ever since,” says Kate.


She then began radiation therapy, followed by immunotherapy with Dr. Asim Amin, a medical oncologist at Levine Cancer.


“Dr. Amin is the melanoma wizard,” says Kate. “He’s amazing.”


Palliative medicine at Levine Cancer


While the surgery, radiation therapy and immunotherapy helped control the advanced form of melanoma, Kate began to experience side effects, including nausea, anxiety and central pain syndrome. Central pain syndrome is a condition caused by damage to the central nervous system that leads to chronic pain. Kate was referred to the palliative medicine team at Levine Cancer.


“At Atrium Health Levine Cancer, we recognize that battling cancer involves more than just addressing the physical symptoms,” says Dr. Declan Walsh, chair of the Department of Supportive Oncology at Levine Cancer. “We emphasize our commitment to holistic care — an approach that nurtures not only the body, but also the emotional, social and spiritual well-being of our patients and their families."


The multidisciplinary team at Levine Cancer, comprised of oncologists, palliative care specialists, nurses, social workers and spiritual counselors, collaborates to provide personalized care that respects the dignity and needs of each patient. This team approach is central to the team’s philosophy of patient-centered care.


Kate has utilized supportive resources like palliative care, counseling, acupuncture and reiki/healing touch to improve her quality of life. Her palliative care treatment focuses on medications to manage her central pain syndrome, nausea and anxiety.


“At Levine, they’re so good about introducing you to different therapies to help cope with treatment,” says Kate. “They do anything they can to help you feel better and be a whole person again.”


"Our innovative supportive oncology program is at the forefront of integrating palliative care with cancer treatment,” says Walsh. “We ensure that our patients receive comprehensive care that includes advanced symptom management, psychological support and initiatives aimed at enhancing their quality of life."


Kate’s improved quality of life


Though she’s still managing side effects from cancer and treatments, Kate has no evidence of disease recurrence and is under surveillance with her medical team. She and her husband still enjoy traveling and spending time with family and friends. Originally from New Zealand, Kate plans to return to the country to visit loved ones who still live there.


“The fact that I can speak, walk and read is incredible,” says Kate. “I can travel and be with people and not always be in my bed. It’s amazing, considering my prognosis wasn’t that good. Cancer and treatment have taken a toll, but the palliative care team has done everything possible to help me with my symptoms.”


Kate is grateful for the care she’s received that gives her more time to live life to the fullest.


“Palliative care isn’t just for people at the end of their lives,” says Kate. “It’s treatment to enhance the life you’re living. It makes my life more comfortable. I want to enjoy the time I have while I’m here — I’m so happy when I get another birthday.”


"Our supportive oncology program is more than a medical initiative; it's a beacon of hope and comfort,” says Walsh. “By offering counseling, support groups and wellness programs, we strive to lighten the emotional burden of a cancer diagnosis, ensuring that our patients and their families do not walk this journey alone."


Learn more about palliative medicine at Atrium Health Levine Cancer.