Crystal Stophel had just turned 40 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2019.
A single mom and professional career woman who had worked with both breast and OB/GYN surgical specialists, she understood the inner workings of the medical world. When she became sick with what was thought to be a common stomach virus, she immediately visited urgent care to have it treated.
Crystal was fortunate to have been treated by an ER doctor who was on call, who suggested additional tests to determine exactly what was going on. On recommendation of the ER doctor, she went to the ER, had a CT scan, and was admitted to the hospital with a mistaken case of pneumonia. The following day, the hospitalist (doctor on call) said that she suspected cancer but wanted further tests.
She spent 7 days in the hospital in efforts to get the pain under control and was released with an appointment with an oncologist.
Simply from the hospital CT scans, the oncologist expected to find his patient to be frail and extremely sick but instead, Crystal appeared well, other than the stomach pain she was experiencing. Further tests indeed confirmed cancer in both lungs, around her windpipe, and in her lymph nodes. She was given a 17 to 19-month window of survival with a treatment plan to simply prolong life.
Crystal sought a second opinion, which confirmed the same diagnosis with the exact same recommended treatment plan, so she moved ahead with treatment; pemetrexed and carboplatin plus the immunotherapy Keytruda. She endured this treatment every 3 weeks for 2 ½ years. (surpassing her initial window of survival) In an incredible testimony to resilience, Crystal also completed a master’s degree while undergoing treatment.
While the treatment did prolong life, unfortunately, the side effects had become unbearable and left her with a poor quality of life. She was unable to stand for long periods of time or even walk up a flight of stairs. And she longed for quality time with her 2 sons and granddaughter with the time she had left. In a bold move, she opted to STOP the treatment altogether. Under her oncologist’s advisement, she had one last round of chemo. Her last chemo to date. This, in turn, shut down her bone marrow and her body stopped producing red blood cells. Her hemoglobin was at 5 and her platelets were at 16. (Normal platelet levels are 64,000)
Once again, Crystal was hospitalized and after 14 days of having around-the-clock blood and platelets in hopes of rebuilding, there were other complications, she was in stage 4 kidney failure. The Chaplain was called in and it was recommended that she be sent home on hospice. Crystal prepared to say her goodbyes.
But a miracle happened. Having 24-hour supervision, waiting to die, somehow Crystal miraculously recovered. Under no treatment, in her own environment, and within a month of being sent home to die, she began to regain strength, and began to think of her future. Thanks to her strong faith in God, Crystal never really lost hope because she knew that no matter the outcome, things would be ok.
Crystal is now 3 years with NO treatment, with clean scans and all tests show NO evidence of disease. Doctors are surprised, suspecting that the immunotherapy continues to be effective.
Although she has not returned to work, Crystal has turned her attention to helping others. Because of her unique experience of being both a medical provider and patient, as well as being a caregiver/mother to her son while undergoing treatment, she truly knows what is needed to make it through. She creates beautiful chemo baskets filled with comforting and uplifting gifts and personal notes of inspiration and love for those in active treatment.
Crystal just celebrated her 46th birthday.