Patient Spotlight: Karen Kiernan

In 2016, Karen had just retired from decades of health care service, having served as a registered nurse for 32 years and as a school nurse for 23 years. She should’ve been excited about her well-deserved retirement, but unfortunately, not long after she announced her retirement, she was faced with a number of health problems. She displayed symptoms her gastroenterologist had originally thought to be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

“I was sitting on an examining table waiting for the results of a CT scan of my abdomen. That’s when the Physician’s Assistant appeared and said the words “head of the pancreas” and “mass.” I remember thinking to myself …Can the PA be correct? I have a pancreatic mass? Do I have cancer?” said Karen. “This diagnosis came as a complete shock to me. I always took care of myself and there was no history of cancer in my family.”

In March 2017, just 9 months after her retirement, Karen was given the diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer. The first oncologist she worked with prescribed standard of care chemotherapy treatments, but that (now) former oncologist told her that pancreatic cancer was a death sentence and that there wasn’t any hope.

“At that moment, I knew I needed to start doing my own research to learn more about my cancer and other options. I was 61 years old and was determined to fight “The Beast” as I wanted to experience much more of life with my husband, my family (including my seven grandchildren) and my friends.”

Thankfully, Karen’s determination led her to discover the Know Your Tumor® (KYT) program, sponsored by Perthera and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

“They told me that molecular profiling could identify genetic mutations and protein changes for my specific cancer and that the Perthera Report could provide me with the highest-ranked, targeted therapies to fight “The Beast.” I thought, why should I settle for the standard Stage IV pancreatic treatment when I could have a personalized individual treatment option?”

Karen enrolled in the KYT program as soon as she could, and sure enough, her Perthera Report provided her with a number of matched, targeted therapy options to evaluate with her treating oncologist. Her oncologist, using the recommendations in the Report, selected the molecularly-matched treatment option Keytruda, and within a year of treatment Karen was finally able to start enjoying her retirement.

“Since I opened my mind and heart, 100% entrusting PanCAN and Perthera, my pancreatic tumor has shrunk in size and my CT scans remain stable.  Had I not done my own research and discovered PanCAN’s Know Your Tumor® service and Perthera, along with the support of my family and friends, I don’t believe I would be here today.”

Today Karen continues her treatment, but she is able to live an active lifestyle. She has also accepted a 3-year position on PanCAN’s Survivor Council as a way to give back to the community that helped her discover a new lease on life.