“This is genetic. It’s not random.”
“After my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I lived a normal, active childhood. But along the way, we lost a lot of family members to cancer. My dad’s dad, my Poppy, he passed away when I was almost eight years old. Then we lost my dad to cancer when I was 16. Then my dad’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. So, finally somebody, a geneticist, did some digging to find out—this is genetic, it’s not random.”
Christa Childers’ family medical history can sound daunting: multiple family members with cancer diagnoses. Too many cancer-related deaths. It’s tragic—but it’s also a clue. It took a chance review of her family’s history by a geneticist to reveal that Christa and several members of her family have Li-Fraumeni Syndrome: a rare hereditary disorder that makes them more susceptible to a variety of types of cancer.
That revelation changed the course of Christa’s life. Knowing she was more likely to get certain types of cancer in the future, she and her family worked with her doctors at UK HealthCare to put together a protocol of increased testing and surveillance to help catch future cancers early. It’s an approach that’s already caught additional cancers in the early stages.
“It can be really overwhelming and scary,” said Christa. “But I had this before I knew about it, so that hasn’t changed—it’s just now we know, which is a good thing. It is a good thing to know and be aware and do these screenings. The colon cancer that was found very early a few years ago—I had no other symptoms. I would have not known if I had not got the colonoscopy.”
“What we’ve done for Christa is develop a plan that’s very personalized,” said Dr. John D’Orazio, Christa’s doctor and Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Pediatrics. “By the time I met her, she had already had bilateral mastectomies because of the risk of breast cancer. She had already had colonoscopies that found an early-stage colorectal cancer. We’ve just continued the enhanced cancer surveillance to [stay] on top of things so that if she does develop another cancer, we catch it early to improve her outcome.”
Despite her increased caution and screenings—which includes annual MRIs and bloodwork and bi-annual colonoscopies—Christa hasn’t allowed Li-Fraumeni Syndrome to slow down her pursuit of her goals. She completed her undergraduate degree at UK and currently works at UK HealthCare.
“Some of the people who took care of me when I was little, they’re now my coworkers. I am privileged to help provide care to patients in the way that they provided care to me. That’s a really special relationship—working with people that took care of me, and knowing that I’m able to provide care to my community because my coworkers provided care to me.”
Christa is a part of an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, and many others who help manage all aspects of patient care, both in the hospital and once they return home. While she’s completing her third year of pharmacy school and serving as a Pharmacy Intern, she’s also continued her career as a dietitian—a role she felt drawn to when she was a teenager, watching her own father battle cancer.
“Because of his treatment, my dad’s nutrition status declined pretty quickly. That was definitely a contributing factor to fulfill my desire to give back as a health care provider in the role of a dietitian, and just being in health care in general: being able to help other people that have gone through what I’ve gone through, what my dad went through, what my other family members have gone through.”
That desire to help others is leading Christa down her next path. Even as she continues her protocol of regular screenings, she’s currently studying to become a pharmacist at UK’s College of Pharmacy.
“Being an academic medical center, the passion that people have to do better and make sure that we are ahead of the curve and providing the best care that we can offer really inspires me and makes me want to stay here. The College of Pharmacy follows some of those same values—integrated research and learning and teaching. I want to continue learning, and I know that you’re not promised tomorrow, so if you have a dream, start planning and go for it.”
All photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.