Kristie's Story: “Crossing that finish line was like my way of fighting the tumour”

Kristie's Story: “Crossing that finish line was like my way of fighting the tumour”

For 23-year-old Kristie McMillan, a neurosurgery nurse, the past year changed life as she knew it. It’s almost as though her two worlds, the professional and the personal, collided.

It was January 28, 2013 and Kristie was at her local gym. Wrapping up her workout, Kristie began to stumble and collapsed on the gym floor, having a seizure. She was then taken to the hospital, where she had three more seizures overnight. “I’ve had to piece together what happened that day through friends and family. I just don’t remember a thing.”

In the hospital, Kristie was given an MRI and CT scan. The results showed something the new neurosurgery nurse couldn’t believe: there was a large brain tumour pressing on her left frontal lobe. “Being a nurse, I kind of guessed what might have caused the seizures, especially since I had no other symptoms before that. It was still so tough, though, to process those words, ‘You have a brain tumour’,” she recalls.

Surgery was the next step for Kristie, to resect the tumour. “One good point in all this was that I knew my surgeon had an excellent reputation, and I had seen how much he cared for his patients,” Kristie adds, as the surgery was booked for February 1, 2013 at the same hospital in which she worked.

The eight-hour operation Kristie underwent removed most of the brain tumour, and then came the pathology report. “It was a long week, waiting for those biopsy results. When they did come, I was devastated to hear it was cancer,” explains Kristie. The official diagnosis was a grade III anaplastic oligodendroglioma. Further genetic testing proved the tumour to be resistant to chemotherapy. Despite the news, Kristie powered ahead with radiation and chemotherapy to treat the remaining tumour.

During Kristie’s treatment, her mom went online to search for brain tumour information and support. Discovering and reading stories from the community helped the family cope with Kristie’s brain tumour journey. That’s also when they found out about Spring Sprint (now Brain Tumour Walk) and immediately signed up for the April 2013 Toronto event. Worried that no one would support their Spring Sprint team, Kristie was blown away when loved ones came together to pledge over $17,000 to the cause. She also took part in the 5km walk and remembers feeling triumphant crossing that finish line. “It felt really good to do the walk. Crossing that finish line was like my way of fighting the tumour.”

Shortly after the Spring Sprint, Kristie completed her radiation and got the news she’d been hoping for. “I had my regular MRI and on May 8th – it’s a day I remember so clearly – I was told there was no more tumour left.”

One year later, Kristie and her loved ones plan to once again take part in Spring Sprint. Reflecting on all that’s changed, Kristie says she learned how to turn a negative situation into something positive. “When I look back on the brain cancer, I absolutely see it as the worst moment in my life. But now I understand I have an opportunity to turn my experience with cancer into something positive, for both myself and others who may also be diagnosed.”

To find out more about Brain Tumour Walk events, visit for event details and locations 

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Story posted: March 2014

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