Caregiver Highlight: Krista Markell
Did you know November was National Family Caregiver Month? Parents, siblings, spouses, and partners become caregivers to the ones they love in the face of health challenges. They are so often our unsung heroes, give selflessly, bringing comfort, social engagement, and stability in times with day-in and day-out compassion and dedication. In honor and admiration of all caregivers, we would like to introduce you to Krista Markell and daughter Kyla. Their story offers insight into the lives of the many incredible caregivers that it has been our privilege to know at DHOH.
At 18, Kyla had just graduated high school and was working at the end of June at the local pool. She began experiencing flu-like symptoms. She rested, hoping to feel better, but then had a seizure one night. In the emergency room, doctors found a brain tumor, which was a tremendous shock to the family.
The Markells had some options for treatment in Colorado. Still, they decided to take Kyla to experts who worked specifically in brain surgery, because of the size of the tumor. Luckily, the insurance they had then covered going to MD Anderson.
After a plethora of tests and diagnostic procedures, surgery was scheduled for early July. The procedure went well—surgeons were able to take out the tumor and minimize damage to surrounding tissues. Kyla was released soon after surgery and returned to Colorado to recuperate.
The next phase of Kyla’s treatment involved returning to Houston for six weeks of highly focused proton radiation therapy. This targeted therapy kills cancerous cells while preserving healthy adjacent tissue.
Krista felt part of her job as a caregiver was to find the best place for their extended stay in Houston during Kyla’s radiation treatment. They had stayed at Hampton Inn during the surgery, using up all their points as well as Krista’s parent’s points. But being at a hotel was very isolating.
Kyla was eligible to stay at Ronald McDonald House for a small fee, and they stayed for a week. The Ronald McDonald House is a great place and often provided free meals, but it wasn’t a good fit for Kyla personally. Many survivors there were young children, and Kyla wasn’t interacting with anyone while staying there.
MD Anderson had information about various hospitality houses in Houston, and Krista applied for free housing at DHOH. Krista says, “Being at DHOH is just like being at home. If you can’t be at home, DHOH is where you’d want to be. It’s comfortable and close to everything, like our proton therapy appointments. You can’t beat that kind of convenience.”
The people at DHOH were older and more mature. Kyla could interact and join the monthly support group, which was a really positive experience. She didn’t know any other cancer survivors her age back home in Colorado. Being in a house where others were going through a similar situation made them feel less alone.
In addition to the supportive environment available at DHOH, Krista felt it was important to make being in Houston an enriching experience for her daughter. She felt it important that their time in the city not be all about medical appointments and treatments.
Krista made sure they ate out and enjoyed the area. They took field trips to the zoo (but oh my gosh it was SO HOT!) and took advantage of free museum days. Krista bought a membership to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the ladies would go in little doses (also because of the AC). Mother and daughter might go to the IMAX one day and then visit another exhibit a few days later. Krista hoped that when Kyla looked back on her time in Houston, she would have some good memories.
After radiation treatment, Kyla went home and did chemo in pill form. She also began college; she had missed orientation, and the first two weeks of classes, so transitioning was a process.
How to be a learner and take tests while dealing with some short term memory loss has been a struggle. Kyla has accommodations through the Offices of Disability and also has the option of alternative testing, such as verbal exams. Kyla has been working with an occupational therapy group on campus that has helped with study and life skills that work specifically for Kyla’s needs.
Now, Kyla is taking classes part-time in addition to working to save up for the apartment she wants. She has MRIs every six months and follows up with her doctor in Colorado. All of her scans have been good!
Krista credits her faith in helping her as a caregiver. She figures things out as she goes along and works towards making things better. As long as her feet are going in the right direction, Krista feels she can make situations more positive than negative. She says, “Open yourself up to connecting with other people at DHOH. Find out about their stories and be a resource to them if possible. Doing things with others and getting to know others will enrich your experience.”
Mother and daughter started group coloring sessions at DHOH. They enjoyed interacting with others while being engaged in a relaxing, creative activity.
Krista compares connecting to other cancer survivors and caregivers to joining puzzle pieces together, with each person offering their gift. In gratitude and with profound respect, thank you, caregivers, for all you do.