Christine Chisholm wants, at the very least, to stay in this world for the next year and a half, until her son, Grant Krosnicki, turns 18.
After the 47-year-old Waunakee woman was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in April, she set goals, just as she does in her sales job with Waste Management, and this became a major one.
She also began to treasure life and embrace the lessons cancer can teach.
“This is not fun. This sucks,” Chisholm said. “There’s a reason why, and we’ve just got to go with it and we’ve got to find happiness in life and cancer in general.”
She seems to derive happiness from acts of kindness, like paying for coffee for the person in line behind her or holding a heavy door open for an older person.
“All of the sudden your brain goes into help mode, and what can I do to help before I can’t help anymore?” she said.
The Stage 4 diagnosis came as a complete shock to Chisholm. In May of 2019, she suffered health issues. Along with jaundice, she had little energy and pain in her side. After several rounds of blood work, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 pancreatic cancer.
She underwent what she called an “absolutely horrible protocol of chemo five hours every week.” All the while, the single mother kept working.
In December of 2019, Chisholm had Whipple surgery to remove the cancerous tumor from her pancreas.
Her first scan afterwards was in April, rescheduled one month later due to the emergence of COVID-19 in Dane County. Chisholm said she felt great at that point.
“You would have thought I could run a marathon. I wanted to tell him thank you for saving my life,” she said, referring to her physician. “We get on this video call but he’s not looking at me.
“He said, ‘You’re feeling great? You’re feeling no pain?’” Chisholm remembered. “I looked at him and said, ‘Is there something wrong?’”
“And he said, ‘I’m so sorry. Your cancer has metastasized into your liver.’”
The doctor told Chisholm she would need to talk to her oncologist, but without chemotherapy, she would have six months to live.
“That was May. We’re in January,” Chisholm said.
She did undergo chemotherapy treatments for the first six months, but the tumor seemed to be growing. She was losing her hair and felt worse.
“I started to go downhill because that chemo-brain stuff is for real. The chemo doesn’t just kill the cancer, it’s doing damage to all kinds of stuff in your body,” Chisholm said.
She asked if the chemotherapy would assure her a 5% chance of living but the answer was no.
Chisholm noted that research into gastrointestinal tract cancers is underfunded, with the same protocols for every patient.
She began a new form of treatment working with The Family Holistic. Chisholm said knew without chemotherapy, her body would feel better.
She told her family, “I want to live the rest of my life laughing and giggling. We’re going to travel.”
She and her two sons had never taken a vacation other than camping trips, she said.
She changed her eating habits and began to stay away from those who caused her stress.
“You have to get rid of all the negative crap in your body, and you’ve got to learn to live life happy because if you don’t, you’re going to destroy yourself,” she said.
Chisholm said many find this practice easier said than done, but she adds she never thought she would have to plan her own funeral, do a will, and ensure that her son would be cared for.
Community members helped and supported her along the way. Mary Hoffman at Sweet Pea Floral delivers eucalyptus, and other business owners and friends check in. Grant’s high school principal, Brian Borowski, often asks how he’s doing and reaches out to her. Her holistic medicine practitioner calls daily, and her best friend stops by twice a day to ensure she is taking her medications at the right times. Chisholm also mentioned the stylists at Hello Gorgeous and others who have been caring.
“The outpouring of care and concern has melted my heart. I feel assured that my boys are going to be OK,” she said, referring also to her grown son, Garett Chisholm.
Christine Chisholm, who has lived in Waunakee for 27 years, said she is proud of the community, and in a day and age when hate is readily expressed, she finds in Waunakee, “love is quicker than hate,” she said.
“It takes a community for everybody — not only to raise kids. I hope Waunakee stays a strong community and is there for our neighbors and friends,” Chisholm added.
Her older son, Garett, has begun a GoFundMe page to help offset the cost of a trip to Florida in April, helping to fulfill another of her goals.
Chisholm’s will to live astounds her doctor and hospice nurse.
“They’re looking at me and they’re shaking their heads,” she said.
Her oncology nurse is amazed that she continues to work. Most of the time, Chisholm works remotely, as many continue to during the pandemic. She’s proud of her work and her achievements with Waste Management, and says her co-workers keep her going.
Chisholm said the cancer has taught her to look at life from a different perspective. She had always wanted to go Christmas caroling and achieved that goal with family and friends. A local realtor supplied the hymns, and each had a copy to sing from.
Her family also adopted a family through the Waunakee Neighborhood Connection during the holidays, and she and Grant delivered food to the homeless on State Street over the holidays.
“I’m trying to live and show him as much as I can as fast as I can. I’m having fun doing it,” she said. Chisholm would also like to support others fighting cancer or other illness, she added.
While she accepts the sadness cancer has brought, she refuses to allow it to dominate her life.
“I told the kids, we can get mad, we can get sad, but we’re not going to park our cars there. We’re throwing it in drive, and we’re going to take off,” Chisholm said.