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Close call with cancer

A native of New Mexico, Christine Trujillo-Greengrass first came to Phoenix to attend school and pursue her dream of becoming a semi-truck driver, a career that took her cross country many times and led her to meeting her husband-to-be, Bruce. She left the profession when Bruce’s health began to fail, caring for him until he passed of cancer in 2018. At the time, she had no idea the disease was lurking in her own kidneys.

Christine remembers a small cyst was detected on her kidney in 2016, but on subsequent testing, it appeared stable. “As it turns out, cancer was just hiding,” she says. Fast forward to February 2021: Christine went to nearby hospital two times with a severe coughing. Both times she was misdiagnosed with pneumonia. “I was finally sent to St. Joseph’s by ambulance,” she recalls, “but by then, I couldn’t breathe anymore.”

We were able to remove the tumor

“She was on a ventilator and in a very tough situation,” says Ali Saeed, MD, the Medical Director of lnterventional Pulmonology at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute. Christine’s right lung was completely collapsed and her airway was blocked by a large mass that had broken away from a tumor on her kidney. “We were able to remove the tumor and she has responded well to the treatment given by her at the Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph's. I believe Christine’s outcome is no less than a miracle!”

"The removal of the tumor from Christine's airways facilitated us to start immunotherapy. She has an outstanding response, and we need additional research to identify patients like Christine," adds Vamsee Torri, MD, a cancer expert who specializes in gastrointestinal and genitourinary malignancies at the Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph's.

If it weren’t for St. Joseph’s, I wouldn’t be here

For Christine, a mother of four, the most difficult part of her cancer journey was the response of her adult children, who knew they almost lost her before the surgery and follow-up treatment. “We were already close, but this has pulled us even closer. My kids have had to be there for me now, and they’ve been amazing.”She also has some advice for other cancer patients. “If there’s a chance to have immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy, it’s the best way to go,” she says. “If it weren’t for St. Joseph’s, I wouldn’t be here. I just love my doctors and nurses!”

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