Looking for help for Heather Kornick

Heather Kornick

Heather Rose Kornick

In the early hours of June 2008, Helen Kornick surfed the Web to find help for her daughter Heather, who had recently been diagnosed with adrenal cancer. The 20-year old was originally misdiagnosed and left untreated for a year and a half. Now, the cancer had metastasized and her mother was desperate for information.

On a website where patients, caregivers and medical professionals share information about this devastating disease, Helen posted Heather’s story. Almost immediately, she received an e-mail from Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Endocrine Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“He left his phone number and said to call him immediately,” Helen recalls. “It was 6:30 in the morning.”

And so, the scared mom from Lake Zurich, Illinois, picked up the phone and called Dr. Hammer as he drove through the rain in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through this unlikely connection, Heather began treatment at the Cancer Center the following Tuesday.

Today, Helen Kornick remains profoundly affected by her first exposure to the University of Michigan.

“Dr. Hammer was so passionate about wanting to personally help us walk through this,” she says.

Looking back

Helen remembers her daughter as a powerful, determined, and organized personality. At Indiana University, Heather took on a double major: Jewish studies and political science. It was after freshman year that some troublesome symptoms sent Heather to her primary doctor. After the results from ultrasound, blood tests and examinations didn’t seem to add up, she was referred to a specialist in reproductive endocrinology. Without performing a physical exam or any further tests, the specialist diagnosed her with polycystic ovarian syndrome/insulin resistance, non-diabetic.

For the next year and a half, Heather was treated for a disease she did not have.

At the end of her junior year, her symptoms worsening, Heather sought a second opinion. Her new endocrinologist took a thorough family history, performed a complete physical exam and ordered multiple tests including the CT scan that found a 14-centimeter tumor on her adrenal gland. The diagnosis: adrenocortical carcinoma that had already metastasized.

Heather’s tumor had compromised one of her kidneys and it had to be removed. Soon after the surgery, the Kornick family drove to Ann Arbor. They met with Dr. Hammer, Frank Worden, M.D., a medical oncologist who specializes in endocrine tumors such as adrenal cancers, and a host of other medical professionals associated with Michigan’s multidisciplinary Cancer Center team.

Heather’s treatment at Michigan, which included stereotactic targeted radiation, IV and oral chemotherapy, and a great deal of support and encouragement, gave her five years of life.

Heather graduated from college and for a while, despite many health challenges, she lived independently. She worked as a youth advisor and teacher, had a cat and enjoyed entertaining. She also traveled with family and friends, including two trips to Disney World and three to Las Vegas where she loved roulette – donating her winnings to cancer research through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program.

In fall 2012, Heather’s medical team – doctors in Illinois and Michigan, once strangers, now united in her care – told her there were no more options for treatment. They could only treat the symptoms and not the disease.

Heather Kornick passed away on April 3, 2013, just three days after the family returned home from a trip to Las Vegas.

Heather’s legacy

In September 2013, Philip and Helen Kornick returned to Ann Arbor to meet with Hammer and Worden and talk about creating a powerful legacy in Heather’s name.

As a result of that meeting and prompted by Heather’s wishes – the Heather R. Kornick Adrenocortical Cancer Research Fund was established to advance innovative research in adrenocortical cancer, including, but not limited to, early detection and targeted therapy.

Hammer, who is outspoken about the need for physicians to remain engaged with their patients in regards to their experience with illness, says he will never forget Heather Kornick or her family.

“Helen and Phil Kornick are some of the fiercest advocates I’ve had the privilege to know,” he says. “Their love for their daughter drove them to push us hard to learn more and treat Heather with new regimens. Their efforts helped give Heather five additional years of life. And in their work with us, they made me a better doctor; I’m forever grateful for that.”

Take the next step:


Gary HammerGiving to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center helps further our mission to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. You can have an immediate impact by using our online form to make a gift today. Or visit www.mcancer.org/giving to learn more.

 

 

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.

Exercise physiologists: not your average personal trainers

These health care professionals can help cancer survivors improve everyday function and feel better

exercise physiologistsWhen recovering cancer patients want improved everyday function, reduction in fatigue levels or help controlling the side effects of lymphedema, a clinical exercise physiologist can help. mCancerPartner recently discussed the role of exercise physiologists in patient recovery with Chrissy Parker, a certified exercise physiologist on staff at the University of Michigan Health System.

What is exercise physiology?

Exercise physiology is the study of Continue reading

A New Lease on Life after Esophageal Cancer Treatment

Resources from Thoracic Surgery at U-M helped Mike McFarlane and his wife get back to the things they enjoy--like riding his motorcycle.

Resources from Thoracic Surgery at U-M helped Mike McFarlane and his wife get back to the things they enjoy–like riding his motorcycle.

In October 2010, I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer by doctors here in Saginaw. They referred me to the University of Michigan for further evaluation and treatment. The treatment plan involved a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, which I received in Saginaw, followed by surgery at the University of Michigan.

I tolerated the chemo and radiation well. I went in for treatment in the morning and then to work. I work in the tent rental business and the winter is our slow time, so it was mostly answering phones and office work, but I was happy to be able to continue working through my treatment. On February 17, 2011, Dr. Reddy removed most of my esophagus. During the procedure, called a transhiatal esophagectomy, he pulled my stomach up and reattached it to the remaining top of my esophagus.

Although the surgery sounds awful, I feel I personally handled it well. I was in the hospital for a total of seven days and was able to walk the day following surgery. I had a feeding tube, but only used it during my stay in the hospital. Dr. Reddy’s team and everyone at the hospital prepared me and my wife for the surgery and what to expect afterwards. This made my recovery easier to handle.

The first week at home was pretty rough, but my wife really helped me that week with things that were too hard to do myself. I adjusted to the new way of eating. I had to eat smaller portions and really chew up my food well. I only had a few eating restrictions including bread, carbonated beverages, etc. Only by trying different foods after the surgery did I learn what was tolerable for me. And now, as long as I can swallow it I can eat it.

In May of that year, I started to have trouble swallowing. We went to see Dr. Reddy who told me I had a stricture (a tightening) from where the surgery was healing. He put a tube down my throat to stretch the stricture and break up the scar tissue. He taught me and my wife how to do that at home. Putting a tube down my throat isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it helps keep the new passageway to my stomach open, so I do it. At first, I did it every day for 30 days, then I tapered off. Now I do it about once every five weeks.

Resources from Thoracic Surgery at U-M helped Mike McFarlane and his wife get back to the things they enjoy--like spending time with his family. Because we live in Saginaw, I wasn’t able to participate in some of the patient support groups at the University of Michigan, but I did connect with a videoconference support group once. It was interesting to hear other people who were dealing with a similar situation. It was helpful to hear other people talking about the issues they faced and how they dealt with them. It gave me comfort to know I was not alone.

Three years after my surgery, I’m healthy and grateful to Dr. Reddy and his team for their expertise. When he told me back then that I’d be fine and things would get easier with time, it was hard to believe — but he was right, things really do get better! My wife and I enjoy riding my motorcycle, working in the yard, and spending time with our children and grandchildren. As previously stated, I eat much smaller meals now. Also, I try not to eat or drink after 8 p.m. I’m much healthier now.

For anyone facing a similar situation, my advice is to go into it pumped up with a good attitude and follow the doctor’s orders. It’s worked for me!


 

Take the next steps:

Mike McFarlane

 

Mike MacFarlane lives in Saginaw, Mich. with his wife of 37 years. They have three children and four grandchildren. They enjoy riding Mike’s Harley-Davidson on trips around Michigan. His experience as an esophagectomy patient relied heavily on the support services and insight available from U-M Thoracic Surgery.

 

Thoracic surgery at U of M

 

Thoracic surgery at the University of Michigan is a nationally recognized leader in the surgical treatment of patients with diseases of the esophagus, lung, mediastinum, trachea and diaphragm. We are dedicated to providing patients the type of supportive care they need to regain their lifestyle after a  serious procedure, including esophagectomy. 

Early onset prostate cancer brings out a fighter

Prostate cancer patient Peter Rich holds his granddaughter Sage

Peter Rich with his granddaughter, Sage

When Peter Rich was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer at age 59, he asked a tough question for one very distinct reason.

“I said, ‘Doc, am I going to die from this?’ When she said yes, I asked how long. I want to talk in terms of that so I can prove you wrong,” Rich says.

He has. Despite the 30-month average survival time for metastatic prostate cancer, he’s now been living with cancer for six years.

Rich has been through a number of different treatments – radiation, chemotherapy, abiraterone, PARP inhibitor, and numerous clinical trials, all under the care of Kathleen Cooney, M.D., his oncologist at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. He currently takes Xtandi (enzalutamide), which is designed to interfere with the hormone androgen. It’s four pills a day, and it makes him tired so he takes two naps each day.

Continue reading

What does personalized cancer treatment mean?

personalized cancer treatmentAs our understanding of cancer and its treatment advances, scientists have discovered the critical role that our individual genetic make-up plays. People are not the same (except for biological twins), and no two cancers are the same either – so why treat them as such? These genetic differences can help explain why one person responds to a treatment and another person with the same type and stage of cancer does not respond at all or even has progression of their disease. Personalized cancer treatment is a promising strategy in the fight against cancer.

One type of personalized medicine that is getting a lot of attention lately is called targeted therapy. This type of therapy “targets” certain receptors and proteins on the cancer cell. It is a hot area for new drug development: so far this year seven of the Continue reading

Regaining sexual intimacy after urologic cancer: four steps you can take now

intimacy after urologic cancerFor patients diagnosed with cancers of the prostate, bladder, penis or testes, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be lifesavers. But while these therapies are stepping stones to survival, when it comes to sexual intimacy after urologic cancer, they can leave patients and their partners with lasting physical and emotional obstacles, and lots of questions they may be reluctant to ask.

Fortunately, the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center is one place where patients can look for answers and support as they rebound and reconnect after treatment. mCancerPartner recently discussed intimacy after cancer with Daniela Wittmann, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a clinical assistant professor in the U-M Department of Urology and one of the leaders of the Cancer Center’s Jan and Dave Brandon Prostate Cancer Survivorship Program. Although Dr. Wittmann works primarily with prostate cancer patients, her advice applies to patients facing other urologic cancers, beginning with these four steps:

Start the conversation right away.

As early as possible, start talking about sex after cancer. Continue reading