Kim’s Story

Kim expected plenty of changes and surprises on her first day as the manager of a nonprofit gift shop in a children’s hospital in July 2021. But Kim, who was 58 at the time, didn’t expect to receive a call from her doctor’s office telling her that a routine stool-based screening test had come back abnormal and she needed to schedule a colonoscopy.

Kim’s Journey to Diagnosis

Kim immediately scheduled her colonoscopy, but the results were inconclusive. Her doctor told her that he found no cancer in the part of her colon that he could see with the colonoscope. The trouble was: he was unable to reach 25 percent of her colon, likely due to the fact that Kim was born with 36 extra inches of colon. He told her he would try again the next day, and that’s when he located her cancer. 

“He biopsied it, took pictures of it, and measured it. The biopsy was benign, but the doctor said the cells he saw during the colonoscopy didn’t look benign to him. So he ordered a PET scan and referred me to a surgeon. On September 1, 2021, a surgeon removed 18 inches of my colon and 32 lymph nodes.” 

Kim waited two-and-a-half weeks for a post-surgery pathology report. During that time, she went back to work. Even though Kim was still new in her job, her boss supported her and held her job open for her while she took time for surgery and recuperation. 

Waiting to find out whether she had colon cancer tested Kim’s resilience. 

“I was scared. I sometimes cried all the way to work. But as soon as I got to work, I put a smile on my face and just let my day evolve and transform me. I had this new dream job, and I believed there was a reason for me to be there. I didn’t think it was time for me to go yet.”

When her pathology report finally arrived, Kim learned she had stage 2B colon cancer. The six-centimeter-large tumor extended beyond her colon walls, which concerned her oncologist, but it had thankfully not spread to any of the 32 lymph nodes her surgeon had removed. The surgeon had also gotten clean margins around the tumor. 

Creating a Colon Cancer Treatment Plan 

When Kim and her husband met with her oncologist after surgery to discuss a treatment plan, he laid out her options. Her chance of survival was high, he told her, and it would only be about 2 percent higher if she had chemotherapy. He explained that chemotherapy carried various potential risks; for example, it could affect Kim’s hearing, and she was already hearing-impaired. After thinking it through, Kim felt the risks of chemotherapy outweighed the potential benefits, so she opted instead for careful surveillance. 

Every three months, Kim’s oncologist asked her how she was feeling and performed a panel of bloodwork. One of the things it checked for was her level of a protein known as carcinoembryonic antigen, or CEA. CEA is a protein produced by some cancer cells, and a rise in CEA can indicate that cancer has recurred. But Kim had little confidence in CEA testing, because her CEA levels weren’t even elevated before her cancer surgery. 

A New Outlook on Surveillance

At Kim’s next appointment, however, her CEA was slightly elevated. She had no worrisome symptoms, and her oncologist didn’t seem concerned about her CEA. But Kim remembers having an instinctive sense that something wasn’t right; it wasn’t anything she could quite put her finger on, but it was just a feeling in her gut. It was around that same time that Kim’s husband, Mike, found a new job. Looking back, Kim is deeply thankful for Mike’s employment change.

“Mike and I were about to leave the oncologist’s office when Mike said, ‘I recently got a job with Guardant Health, and we make a test that can help patients like Kim. Would you consider giving Kim that test? She’s worried, and maybe this test would give her peace of mind.’ And the oncologist said, ‘Now that you mention it, I was just thinking maybe we should do that, because I’m not sure the CEA test is very reliable for Kim. Let’s do it.’ ”

That test was Guardant Reveal™, a liquid biopsy intended to detect circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in a patient’s blood and look for any residual or recurring disease after surgery or treatment. After Kim took the Guardant Reveal blood test, her oncologist called her with the results: The test was positive. 

Kim’s oncologist explained that she appeared to have cancer DNA circulating through her body, waiting for a place to land, such as her liver or lungs. He told Kim that without additional treatment, she ran the risk of developing metastatic cancer. In light of this, he recommended that she have chemotherapy. Kim was stunned—but also thankful, because without this information, she may not have learned about her recurrence until it was too late. 

Kim underwent an aggressive regimen of oral and IV chemotherapy that was very hard for her body to tolerate—in fact, it sent her to the hospital several times. Kim says that she experienced nearly every possible chemo side-effect. 

After three months of chemotherapy, Kim had a second Guardant Reveal test. Once again, it showed the presence of ctDNA, so her oncologist made the difficult decision to continue a longer course of chemotherapy. She took his advice and endured more treatment, which she also had trouble tolerating. 

“I was so isolated during this time; I didn’t know if I was a patient or a survivor. I didn’t know where to find hope, and I was scared to death. I essentially was just waiting for something bad to happen.”

But instead, something good happened. Not only did Kim find support and connection from a few patient advocacy groups during this difficult time, but in December 2022, Kim’s Guardant Reveal test – along with other surveillance tools – came back negative, which gave Kim hope.

Today, Kim continues to have close monitoring every three months. And although chemotherapy was one of the hardest challenges she’s ever faced, she believes it was a small price to pay to reduce her risk of developing metastatic colon cancer. 

“I wouldn’t have ever known I needed chemotherapy if it weren’t for Guardant. I’ve never forgotten this. I attribute Guardant with saving my life.”

Celebrating Her Life and Her Purpose

Although it took a while for the good news to sink in, Kim eventually began to feel ready to celebrate her colon cancer survivorship. She also started to reflect on what she could learn from her colon cancer journey, as well as the serendipity that led her to the Guardant Reveal test and her potentially lifesaving treatment. 

As time has gone by and Kim has continued to feel well, she has begun to recognize that the series of events that happened to her—including her husband being hired by Guardant and Kim getting a job with a charity-based organization where 100 percent of the profits go toward helping patients—all had a purpose: To show her how to live.

During her treatment, Kim received a job promotion, and she now works as the project coordinator for all of the nonprofit gift shops affiliated with the large hospital system that employs her.

“Two of my gift shops are cancer-related, and when appropriate, I share my story with cancer patients I meet at work. And I listen to their stories. I remember cancer survivors sharing their stories with me, and their joy of living rubbed off on me. Now, if I can somehow use this experience to help someone else, even if it’s just one person, then I’m serving my purpose. I’m doing what I was meant to do.”