Please Help Kristi Defeat Cancer

At the age of 14, I developed, literally overnight, an acute case of Rheumatoid Arthritis, a potentially fatal autoimmune disease that left me essentially crippled, running a fever of up to 103 degrees, and 35 pounds lighter, within a month. I was prescribed numerous powerful and toxic medications, which relieved my symptoms somewhat, allowing me to once again (after several years) walk, bathe and dress myself, etc. Unfortunately, many of the side effects of these medications had yet to be discovered, and turned out to be worse than the symptoms of the disease itself.

Against the odds, and despite significant pain and disability, I survived. Actually, I thrived. I graduated high school and college, traveled the country and the world, took up hiking and painting, thrilled at the births of my nieces and nephews, and loved every minute of a too-brief career as an educator. When my RA became too severe for me to continue teaching, my heart crumbled, but I remained determined to live the fullest life that I could. I accepted the likelihood of spending the rest of my life on Disability, but found enjoyable and fulfilling activities that I was able to participate in, nonetheless.

About two months ago, my fiancé Charlie and I, along with our dogs, Sadie and Topanga, set off on our latest adventure, moving from Atlanta to rural North Carolina. That same day, I began feeling ill, and my joints became inflamed. I assumed I was just having a typical RA flare, but when, a few weeks later, I was feeling worse instead of better, I decided to return to Atlanta and see what my doctors thought.

Immediately on returning to Atlanta, I was rushed to the ER, and had surgery that night to remove a softball-sized abscess from my left buttock. Complications during the operation required a second surgery the following day. I was admitted to the hospital with a staph infection, sepsis, and septic arthritis. During the three weeks I spent in the hospital, I was treated with at least five intravenous antibiotics, and had several joint aspirations, and two more operations.

All of this I accepted with very little complaint. But when I was informed that the initial abscess had been biopsied, and had tested positive for squamous cell carcinoma, specifically anal cancer, I must admit that I broke down a little. When I learned that RA, as well as some of the stronger drugs used to treat it, significantly increase your chances of developing anal cancer, I was livid. I'd never been informed of the risks associated with the biologic drugs and mild chemo drugs that I had used to treat my RA for over 25 years.

After my release from the hospital, I spent another three weeks in a sub-acute rehabilitation facility, regaining my strength. I had to relearn to walk, to feed myself, to bathe and dress myself - this time, with the added complication of the tumor, and the looming fear of the cancer and its treatment. I've since been discharged from rehab, but I still feel very sick and weak. I am grateful beyond words to have Charlie by my side, to help me with all the daily activities that I am still unable to complete by myself.

Charlie and I had spent all of our savings moving to North Carolina, renting a U-Haul and storage unit, buying gasoline, and covering several weeks of basic living expenses. Charlie started working shortly after our arrival in North Carolina, but used the earnings he'd made there to return to Atlanta, to be with me. Thankfully, Charlie's dad was able to come meet him and follow him back to Atlanta when our car broke down on his way. Sadly, the car is now essentially totaled, and is worth much less than it would cost to repair it.

I spent a total of six weeks as an inpatient at the hospital and the rehab center. Since then, Charlie and I have been staying at a relative's home in Cumming, a little over an hour north of Atlanta. We are currently living on a family member's sofa, with no reliable transportation. I've already missed a few appointments, simply because I was unable to make it to the doctor's office.

My oncologists are eager to start chemotherapy and radiation, but, due to the proximity of the abscess wound and the tumor, we can't begin the cancer treatment until the wound from my initial abscess has completely healed. I will continue receiving daily wound care until all of my physicians are in agreement that the infection is healed. Also, since I will need to receive radiation at the hospital five days a week, and it is imperative that I not miss any treatments, we are all hesitant to start treatment until we are assured that I will have reliable transportation every day. All of the specialists who will be involved in treating the wound and my cancer are located in Atlanta or in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta much closer than Cumming.

Charlie and I need assistance paying for lodging closer to my doctors, and the hospital where I will receive my treatment. We also need a reliable vehicle to get me to my appointments, and Charlie to work, not to mention, for immediate transportation in case of a medical emergency. A lot of the medical supplies that I need aren't covered by Medicare, and will have to be paid for out of pocket. There are also natural and alternative treatments, prescription co-pays, healthful foods, and other daily expenses that I will be unable to afford without assistance. We have already paid several hundred dollars for needed supplies, and we have barely started down this long road. Having never been in this situation before, I'm sure that there are plenty of additional expenses that haven't even occured to me yet.

Charlie has been working near the home where we have been staying, but he will have to find other employment as soon as we relocate to Marietta. That lapse in Charlie's income leaves nothing to supplement my meager Social Security benefit, which is my only source of income, and is not enough on its own to support even one person, in good health.

Any help that anyone is able to offer will be appreciated without end. I've fought so hard, and beaten so much... I don't want to lose my life to cancer, simply because I couldn't financially afford what it would have taken to win. If you are unable to contribute financially, please share my page with your friends and family, through your social networks, email, or face to face. Every dollar, every mention on your Facebook page... Every bit of help means the world to me, and will go to a great cause - helping me to stick around, and to continue finding and fulfilling my purpose.
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Organizer

Kristi West 
Organizer
Cumming, GA
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