Christina Duhon: Hook, Line and Sinking Cancer

Christina catches a fish on her first Casting for Recovery fly fishing retreat. (Photo: Christina Duhon)

By Drew Carr

Statesman Content Marketing

It’s probably safe to say that most cancer patients are not introduced to their oncologists standing waist deep in a flowing Texas Hill Country river while fly fishing. But Christina Duhon’s cancer journey is not like others.

In 2010, during her pregnancy with her second child, Christina noticed a lump in one of her breasts. Believing it was related to her pregnancy, Christina waited until after delivering her son to have the lump removed. After the surgery, she learned that the lump was cancerous and was referred to Texas Oncology, where a CT scan revealed she had stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

“I really wanted to be put on a clinical trial,” said Christina. “I know it can be scary for others, but I wanted to be part of an innovative treatment, even if it wasn’t fully developed. I asked Texas Oncology to find one for me, and they did.”

Christina stayed on the clinical trial for almost two years before switching to maintenance therapy in July 2012. The research attempted to offer improvement in disease control by adding a novel targeted inhibitor agent to the standard chemotherapy-Herceptin combination. Christina eventually went on to standard hormonal therapy and Herceptin treatment, which had better side effect profile.

She says that the team at Texas Oncology has worked to support and comfort both her and her family through the years of treatment.

“I love Texas Oncology,” said Christina. “The nurses, front office staff and my oncologist all mean so much to me. They were always right there to hold my hand, to comfort me and my spouse. It means a lot to have a supportive organization like Texas Oncology while you’re going through this.”

Christina is under the care of Dr. Lakshmi “Bala” Balasubramanian at Texas Oncology—Cedar Park, whom she met at a Casting for Recovery retreat, where Dr. Bala was volunteering as a medical facilitator. Casting for Recovery is a national nonprofit organization that hosts fly fishing retreats for women with breast cancer.

Lakshmi “Bala” Balasubramanian, M.D., Texas Oncology

After participating in a Casting for Recovery retreat that served women in any stage of breast cancer, Christina and another participant lobbied Casting for Recovery to create a retreat exclusively for women with metastatic disease. The two women felt it was important to have a retreat that focused solely on aspects of metastatic disease.

“Casting for Recovery is an amazing organization,” said Christina. “It’s really special that they host retreats here in Texas for women who have a metastatic disease, and it means a lot to us that this organization recognizes our unique challenges.”

Christina also said she’s thankful for Casting for Recovery’s work in helping support women in all stages of breast cancer.

“It felt like we were all on the same page. We could relate to each other’s emotions, so it was a super special retreat. It was just a beautiful family of women.”

It was on that trip that Christina says she first experienced Dr. Bala’s kind and genuine personality as well as the physician’s love for her work.

“I really just fell in love with Dr. Bala’s openness, kindness and passion for helping people who have cancer,” said Christina. “She’s very knowledgeable and really enjoys what she does.”

According to Dr. Bala, Christina is doing very well and thriving against the odds. Christina also has a positive outlook, thanks to considerable progress in oncology research.

“There have been significant strides made in the HER-2 positive breast cancer arena that Christina can and will benefit from in the future, both on and off clinical trials, if it is necessary,” said Dr. Bala.

As an advocate for breast cancer survivors, Christina gives hope to many women, volunteering with various organizations and support groups including Casting for Recovery and the Breast Cancer Resource Center.

Dr. Bala says that Christina’s advocacy has positively impacted other women in the same fight.

“I have witnessed Christina’s efforts first hand,” said Dr. Bala. “There are several women who have benefited from her sharing her story, and her championing breast cancer survivorship.”

Christina and her family soak up the sun in a field of blooming Texas bluebonnets. (Photo: Tic Tac Toe Photography)

For other women diagnosed with breast cancer, Christina said that it’s okay to feel the emotions that come along with the journey.

“It’s okay to be sad and angry,” said Christina. “Cancer is terrible and horrible, and there’s no fault. It’s okay to feel all those emotions and to seek people who can help you through it.”

In the end, Christina says her cancer journey has taught her to focus on the things that mean the most.

“It’s taught me how to better balance my life,” said Christina. “I’m not going to miss my kids’ activities. I understand what’s important, and I’m not going to overlook the moments as pivotal as watching a child grow up.”

Women of all ages are encouraged to check their breasts monthly in addition to annual examinations with their physicians. Women with a family history of breast cancer should also discuss genetic testing with their physicians. For more information on Texas Oncology, please visit www.texasoncology.com.