Focusing on the Positive Amid Cancer
- "Real Housewives of Nairobi" star Lisa Christoffersen, 59, bravely battled stage 4 cancer years before joining the cast of the popular reality TV show. The mother of two first experienced symptoms when she noticed abnormal bleeding and pain near her uterus.
- Endometrial cancer begins when cancerous cells form in the tissues of the endometrium or lining of the uterus. Symptoms typically associated with this type of cancer include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.
- Christoffersen's cancer spread to her lungs which led to hemorrhaging. The impact her advanced cancer had on her lungs prohibited her from undergoing any surgery. Instead, her treatment involved chemotherapy.
- The reality TV star experienced hair loss while undergoing chemo. Fortunately, hair loss is usually temporary and once chemo treatment concludes, your hair will begin to regrow.
- Christoffersen's cancer journey left her with a renewed outlook on life that's filled with positivity. Her advice to other cancer patients is to "stay positive."
"Real Housewives of Nairobi" star Lisa Christoffersen, 59, is an adventurous woman that focuses much of her efforts on women's empowerment as her social media posts suggest. However, the popular African-born housewife star overcame adversity filled with a tough cancer battle that brought out the resilience we see today.
View this post on InstagramRead MoreChristoffersen is one of the original housewives on the newly launched "Real Housewives of Nairobi" reality TV show which showcases the lavish lifestyles of women living in Nairobi, Kenya. The show mirrors other variations of the popular TV format with an added twist. Christoffersen regularly gives fans of the show a peek into her latest adventures. It’s quite common for her to go on a safari and come up close and personal with the African wildlife. She also hikes mountains and rides dirt bikes in the countryside. However, years before joining the cast and showcasing her zest for life amid lavish functions, Christoffersen had what she describes as a near-death experience while battling cancer in 2006.
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The mother of two said she knew something was amiss when she started experiencing pain in her pelvic area and bleeding a lot.
"The pain was too much and I could not walk 50 meters without coughing and I thought that my uterus was going to fall off," she described to the Kenyan-based news outlet "The Star."
Despite her predicament, the reality TV star said when she first went to the doctor, her symptoms weren't taken seriously.
"Many women have fibroids which can irritate lots and after four months, my doctor said to me, 'You are a hypochondriac, I cannot see anything wrong with you' yet I was getting weaker, I was also bleeding like crazy. I was about 49 kilos and anemic. I was extremely white," Christoffersen said to Nairobi News.
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Not taking no for an answer, Christoffersen pushed for a more solid diagnosis. This is something SurvivorNet experts recommend other patients practice as well. When you see a doctor about a problem, don't hesitate to make sure that your questions and concerns are fully addressed. From a doctor's perspective, every problem should have a diagnosis, a treatment, a plan for follow-up, and a plan for what happens next if the treatment doesn't work.
WATCH: Being your own biggest advocate.
"Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn't work, what the next plan is," Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
"And I think that that's totally fair. And me as a health professional that's what I do for all of my patients."
After being further examined, Christoffersen said she underwent "10 hours of checks" which included blood tests, X-rays, and CT scans. After the tests were completed, the TV star learned she had stage 4 cancer.
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"First thing at 9 am he tells me 'Girl, you've got stage 4 cancer, we are giving you ten days to live' Two massive tumors in my uterus that the other doctor could not see one was 12 centimeters and the other 14 centimeters two tumors that were pushing each other, that's why I was feeling like my uterus was about to fall out," Christoffersen said.
She then described her lungs also had tumors which caused her difficulty breathing and coughing blood.
She said she needed "seven blood transfusions" due to her hemorrhaged lungs.
"They managed to revive me, I was on life support for five weeks," Christoffersen described.
While we don't know Christoffersen's exact cancer diagnosis, symptoms of uterine cancer include vaginal discharge or bleeding according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fortunately, Christoffersen went for a second opinion to get solid answers that led to her cancer diagnosis. Seeking out multiple opinions is another means of advocating for your health.
"If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care," National Cancer Institute chief of surgery, Dr. Steven Rosenberg, tells SurvivorNet.
"Finding a doctor who is up on the latest information is important, and it's always important to get other opinions so that you can make the best decisions for yourself in consultation with your care providers."
WATCH: The value of a second opinion.
Christoffersen's treatment involved chemotherapy rather than surgery because of her weakened state. The side effects of cancer treatment impacted her hair.
"I only lost my hair, and it grew back dark, thick, and curly," she described.
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss. It usually begins about three to four weeks after beginning chemotherapy and continues throughout treatment.
It happens because this treatment targets quickly dividing cells throughout the body. That includes cancer cells, but also hair cells.
Fortunately, hair loss during cancer treatment is not all bad news. Most people can expect regrowth around four to six weeks after they complete treatment. However, when your hair grows back you may notice some changes in its color and texture.
Since battling cancer, Christoffersen's outlook on life has shifted a bit to become increasingly positive. Her advice to others diagnosed with cancer is to "stay positive and just embrace it."
More on Uterine Cancer
Understanding Endometrial Cancer
Uterine cancers include endometrial cancer (which is more common) and uterine sarcoma (which is rare) according to the National Cancer Institute. This type of cancer begins when cancerous cells form in the tissues of the endometrium or lining of the uterus.
Dr. Diana English, a gynecological oncologist from Stanford Medicine, explains more about the disease to SurvivorNet.
"I think one of the challenges with uterine cancer is that it can also happen in younger patients that have certain conditions that might predispose them to cancer," Dr. English explains.
"These patients might not be thinking about this, their primary care providers might not be speaking to them about this," Dr. English added.
WATCH: Uterine cancer risk factors.
After a woman has been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, her doctor will stage the cancer based on its spread within the body. A pelvic exam and imaging tests help your doctor learn if the cancer has spread, or metastasized.
Some common risk factors for endometrial cancer include:
- Taking estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy after menopause
- Having never given birth or starting menstruation at an early age
- Having a family history of endometrial cancer
Some of the important signs and symptoms women may experience with endometrial cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Finding it difficult or painful to urinate
- Experiencing pain during sexual intercourse
- Experiencing pain in the pelvic area
Treatment for endometrial cancer includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment method.
During radiation therapy, high-energy beams such as X-rays are aimed at cancer cells to kill them. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells by using drugs designed to stop the cancer cells from growing. Chemo drugs are usually taken orally or intravenously.
Treating endometrial cancer with hormone therapy involves removing hormones or blocking their ability to help cancer cells grow. Targeted therapy treatment uses drugs designed to target specific cancer cells.
Each of these treatment methods can come with side effects. Depending on the treatment type, the impact on the body may differ. If you are moving toward treating endometrial cancer, talking with your doctor about potential side effects and how to minimize their impact is important.