APPLETON, Wis. – Four years after Kathryn Schmid was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer, she isn’t giving up or giving in.
“I was originally diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer that spread into my liver,” explained Schmid, the 76-year-old Wild Rose resident. “Since then, I’ve undergone surgery, chemotherapy and recently the insertion of radioactive beads into my liver.”
Through all of that, she’s still smiling, laughing and enjoying life with her husband, four children, 20 grandchildren and soon-to-be seven great-grandchildren.
She credits much of her success to the teams at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center, and the treatments she’s received there.
“Everyone was just amazing,” she explained. “They make you feel so comfortable and make it easy to go through your treatment. They do an excellent job of explaining what the procedures involve and what medicines you’re receiving. I felt there was complete care at all times.”
Schmid’s journey began in March 2017 when she lost consciousness one morning at home, and was taken to ThedaCare Medical Center-Wild Rose. There, Dr. Chandler Caves, a family practice physician, ordered several tests and scans to determine why she fainted. One of the scans showed lesions on her liver.
“After that, I was referred to specialists who treat conditions of the liver, pancreas and bile ducts,” Schmid said. “They did a procedure to block off blood flow to the diseased side of my liver so the good side could grow. The liver is the only visceral organ that can regenerate. I always like to joke that I was lucky enough to get cancer in an organ that can regrow.”
In August 2017, after teams felt the good side of Schmid’s liver had reached an appropriate size, surgery took place and 75 percent of Schmid’s liver was removed. She was then referred to the ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center for follow-up treatment. An MRI three months later showed a few of lesions returning, so Schmid began chemotherapy.
She recalled that end-of-life counseling was suggested, and her family was brought in to discuss her illness and prognosis.
“I had to make my funeral arrangements and prepare a living will,” she recalled. “I was given a bracelet saying, ‘Do Not Resuscitate.’ Well, I’ve never worn that bracelet! I did not feel like that was the end of my life.”
It was her will to live that helped her survive. At the Regional Cancer Center, Anthony Eclavea, MD, an interventional radiologist with ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton and Chair of the ThedaCare Gastrointestinal Cancer Center of Excellence, along with Shannon Schmidt, MD, a hematology and oncology physician, have managed Schmid’s treatment. She has undergone chemotherapy off and on for three years.
“I’ve lost my hair four times,” she said as she smiled. “Every time the doctors give me a break from chemotherapy, my hair will begin to grow back. Then when I begin chemotherapy, it falls out again. I can tell you this – hair is overrated! It’s so easy in the morning to take a shower and just dry your head.”
Last fall, Schmid’s team reviewed her care plan, and decided she should have an extended break from chemotherapy. It was then that they recommended a newer procedure to help her continue her success, the placement of radioactive beads in her liver.
“During the minimally invasive procedure, called Y90 radioembolization, microscopic glass or resin beads filled with the radioactive isotope, Y90, are inserted into the areas of the liver where the cancer is present,” explained Dr. Eclavea. “Those beads deliver a high dose of radiation directed at the cancerous lesions while not affecting normal tissue as much.”
In January of this year, Dr. Eclavea performed an initial surgery and mapped Schmid’s liver to block off and pinpoint the focus of the treatment. Then, he inserted radioactive beads, targeting them to the areas of her liver where the lesions are located.
“It was amazing,” Schmid said. “I never had any pain. As I understand it, the beads will emit radiation for a couple of months to kill the cancer cells or at least limit their growth, but the beads never come out.”
“Y90 radioembolization allows high intra-tumoral radiation dose with significantly less dose to the normal liver,” said Dr. Eclavea. “Mrs. Schmid is a perfect example of why I am in medicine. It is rewarding to see teams embrace multidisciplinary care, while utilizing cutting edge therapies that improve overall survival for our patients.”
Her first MRI after the radioactive beads were inserted showed the two larger lesions had decreased in size, while other smaller lesions had also decreased or stayed the same. There were also no new lesions detected.
“We all hope this unique procedure works, but whatever comes, I’m good with it,” she said. “I’ve been so blessed. I’m grateful to the teams at the Regional Cancer Center. I’ve been treated so well, in all aspects of my care. The doctors, nurses, technicians – everyone is attentive. They just want to make you feel comfortable. And, I know the doctors are always reviewing my case and looking for other treatments to help me fight this battle. After four years, they are like family to me.”
Schmid will now have an MRI every three months to assess the lesions on her liver. For others who might be facing cancer, Schmid offered some advice.
“Trust in the Lord, trust your care teams and stay positive,” she said. “If you are positive, it just helps all the way around. You feel better and people around you feel better. That outlook can go a long way.”
As for that ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ bracelet, Schmid said she has no plans to wear it anytime soon.
“As long as my family and care teams are fighting for me, I’m going to keep fighting,” she said.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care
Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.