Katie Doble is a 34-year-old staffing manager. Single and seemingly healthy, she was blindsided by a diagnosis of a rare cancer, ocular melanoma. Refusing to let the diagnosis define her, she learned she needed to be living a far healthier lifestyle if she was going to give cancer her best attack.
Katie sat down with me to tell me her story. ~ Story by Sandi Pearce
I had already been going to an ophthalmologist because of my poor vision. When I went in to see the doc again after noticing a slight loss of vision in my left eye, he noticed a bump on my retina and said he wanted to send me to a specialist. I went to the retina specialist that same morning.
On my way to the specialist, I called my sister, Julie, and told her there was something wrong with my eye. My dad was diagnosed with macular degeneration when he was my age, and my sister and I were both worried it might be that. Instead, I was diagnosed that day with ocular melanoma. I was completely blindsided by the diagnosis.
I called my sister crying—she was at her son’s field day at school—and told her I have cancer. She called my parents and other siblings to let them know the news, and then accompanied me to the afternoon appointment to find out what my options were.
A week later, I had radiation treatment to my eyeball. They left the radiation plaque anchored to the back of my eye for one week and also biopsied the cells during the treatment. The cells came back as 1A, which meant that there was a 98% chance that it wouldn’t metastasize.
I experienced this euphoric state when I got the news that it was a 1A. I was suddenly a cancer survivor only a few weeks after diagnosis. I didn’t lose my hair, I didn’t have to go through chemo, and I didn’t miss any work. I was very grateful. I did lose my vision in that eye, and I’ve had to adjust to a different depth perception. I run into walls and I can’t catch anything to save my life, but that’s a small price to pay. And then, it was just back to my normal, single life.
I met my husband, Nick, that fall of 2013, on LinkedIn. Weeks earlier, I had been on a date with a guy who said that my current situation wasn’t conducive to starting a romantic relationship, but if I wanted to call him when I was all better, we could hang out again. When I met Nick, I let him know what I’d recently been through, but it didn’t faze him at all. I knew right then that he was the one.
For a year after that, I had been getting routine ultrasounds. With ocular melanoma, if it’s going to metastasize, it will spread to the liver or lungs, so I had chest x-rays and liver ultrasounds every six months. After the first one, I got a voicemail from the clinic saying that everything was fine. Then, I had another checkup in November. While I was in a meeting with a client, my phone started blowing up with messages. By the time I got out to my car, I had two missed calls from the doctor’s office and a voicemail from the doctor saying I needed to call her back right away. You know it’s bad when the doctor calls. So, I called her back, and she asked if I was sitting down. My heart was racing. She said there was something suspicious on my liver. She said she didn’t know anything yet, but she wanted to biopsy it right away.
Nick followed through with his previous plan to propose to me on Thanksgiving Day, which just happened to be the day before my biopsy. My dad, a general physician, flew into town Thanksgiving morning to be there with me for my biopsy the following day, and Nick and my sisters also joined us.
When I was 15 years-old, my mom died of pancreatic cancer. She came to me in a dream a couple of years after she died and told me that whenever I saw a hot air balloon, I would know she’s with me. As I was rolling into the biopsy room with my dad at my side, I immediately started crying. My dad asked what was wrong, so I told him to look up. In the ceiling tile, there was a picture of a hot air balloon. I have seen more hot air balloons this year and last than I ever have before. Almost weekly I see one.
We found out for certain a week later that I have uveal melanoma.
After starting in a clinical trial in New York City, I decided to make a stronger effort to clean up my diet. So in the spring of 2015, I met with a nutritionist. She was operating under the assumption that I knew how to cook, which made it difficult to work with her because she would tell me to sauté something, but I had no idea what that meant! I had no cooking skills. All of my dishes involved bison or red meat because I’m from Nebraska. I needed someone to hold my hand and tell me what to do. The drug I was on caused me to become lactose intolerant, so I struggled to find things to eat that didn’t have dairy in them. By July and August, as a result of the drugs, I had no appetite at all. The only thing that I wanted to eat was french toast. It was such a painful thing because I was so hungry; yet, the thought of food was horrible. That’s the only time that I went off wine! I lost 30 pounds. I’m pretty petite, so that was a huge loss.
In August, I was forced to go off that trial because it was not working. We tried another trial in September that also failed. With the break in medications, I finally regained my appetite. From mid-October through the end of the year, I ate horribly. I was drinking milkshakes every day, eating donuts—you name it, I’d eat it. I was just trying to put weight back on. I was really struggling because I knew I needed to gain the weight back, but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t making healthy choices.
I spoke with one of my doctors about my eating habits, and he made me promise to call another doctor he recommended. He’s a general physician who specializes in nutrition. Up until this point, none of my doctors had talked with me about diet.
Dr. Ed, the nutrition doc, is also a cancer survivor. After practicing medicine for some time, he went back to study integrative medicine to combine Eastern and Western medicine. He talked about meditating and asked me where I see myself in 10 years and asked me to start to meditate about that. That’s something I do every day now. I picture being in Ireland with my husband and future family. That’s my happy place. He wanted me to put positive thoughts in my head instead of living in fear. I stopped doing things like thinking of songs for my funeral. It’s a lot easier to get through the day thinking happy, positive thoughts.
Dr. Ed gave me a homework assignment: read The China Study. That book gave me the science and facts I needed to start making healthier choices. He also has me taking a number of supplements. I tell people who are wary of supplements, “I know that taking extra vitamin D or magnesium is not going to hurt me. It might not help me, but it’s certainly not going to hurt me.
Since I started taking the supplements and changed my diet, I have eaten very little red meat at all. You’re talking to the girl who used to eat meat three meals a day. I don’t struggle as much with not eating meat as I do with no dairy.
Nick has been so supportive. He used to do most of the cooking, but now I do most of it, and I cook a lot of vegetables and salmon now. My doctor is 90% vegetarian, a plan I also adopted. Just eating 10% meat is helpful because I don’t feel as restricted.
I used to be in this huge struggle between my willpower and my food. I needed the doctor to explain the science behind it so my willpower could rise above my cravings. The China Study was the exact tool I needed to finally learn how to change and take this seriously. I don’t cut myself off from everything, but I make much better decisions now. It talks about the correlation between animal proteins and cancer, and dairy was a big piece of it, too. And, it’s in everything.
I have a habit that helps me. I use lists. I have a daily checklist. On it, it says: Meditate, fruits and veggies, juice, bedtime pills, dinner pills, lunch pills, breakfast pills and 30 minutes of exercise. In the beginning, I looked at that list every day so I wouldn’t forget anything. That’s something that really helped me mentally cope.
Someone else suggested this mantra: “I am healthy, I am young, I am light, I am love.” And I added, “I am surviving.” That’s one that I say when I drive to work or when I am rolling down that CT scan tube.
My advice to people is to take it one step at a time. Everyone just has to figure out their own go-tos to get through whatever they’re dealing with.
I have literally never felt this good before. I feel the healthiest I’ve ever felt. That gives me hope. This cancer can’t take me.