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Cancer patient quarantined on cruise ship fears she won't make it back in time for chemotherapy

60-year-old Kari Kolstoe just wanted a short break from her deadly diagnosis. Now, she's afraid she may not make it off of the cruise alive.

Cancer patient quarantined on cruise ship fears she won't make it back in time for chemotherapy
Image Source: Slavica / Getty Images

Kari Kolstoe, 60, joined the Grand Princess cruise ship as a break from her "cancer world." She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer 18 months ago. Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, she has been quarantined within the ship until its captain and crew can decide where to dock. This means she may not be able to make it back in time to undergo her chemotherapy treatment. Meanwhile, her cancer is only growing. At present, she is on the ship with her husband Paul. She has since filled in a form with the Grand Princess in order to request immediate medical assistance, but it is unclear if she will be released any time soon, CNN reports.

 



 

 

The patient was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, a form of cancer that begins in the digestive tract and subsequently spreads all over one's body through forming carcinoid tumors. Ever since Kari was first diagnosed, she has already received four rounds of chemotherapy. In addition to this, she has had her ovaries removed. Despite all this, the cancer has not stopped spreading. It has now spread to her lower back. In order to manage her pain, the doctors have given her medication. However, this medication does not attack the cancer itself, therefore, it does not inhibit its growth. Soon enough, she is bound to run out of her medication as well.

 



 

This is why it is so pertinent that Kari gets off of the Grand Princess. She stated that while she has the utmost sympathy for patients with coronavirus and cares about protecting public health, her body will fail her if she does not receive the proper treatments. "I have rights, too," she affirmed. "And if I don't have the coronavirus, I need to get that found out sooner rather than later because every day we argue about where we (the ship) are going and what the protocols are going to be, my cancer is growing." Her liver is presently covered in tumors. According to Kari, both lying down and sitting upright have proven difficult. She is trying to manage her pain with her medications, but it is challenging. She added, "It's not helping to be cooped up in this tiny, little room."

 



 

Meanwhile, she has tried to keep in touch with her family and friends back home in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Though cell service and Wi-Fi on the cruise have been intermittent, she has been doing her best while under quarantine. Her daughter Liz Mackowick said, "She is the toughest woman I know. We are trying to hold to some hope that something will happen today to get her off that ship and someone out there realizes her medical needs and can provide some assistance." In order to alert the crew about her condition, Kari filled up a medical assistance form upon the request of the Grand Princess.

 



 

 

The form, which asks passengers to rank their conditions on a scale of urgency from one to five (one being urgent, life-threatening assistance to five meaning not needing any regular medication for the next seven days), is supposed to be a method through which the cruise can understand who needs immediate medical assistance. As per Kari's self-assessment, she believes she belongs under the number two category: someone with "urgent pre-existing medical appointments scheduled within the next 7 days." Unfortunately, after filling out the form and submitting it, she has not been contacted by anyone from the crew. She said, "It does make you feel like no one cares in here... I know that rights for the common good trump everything else, obviously. But we are people too, and we all have lives and people who love us, and we love them. Days really make a difference."

 



 

 

Kari and Paul had been excited about the trip for almost two years. They were encouraged to go on the trip by Kari's doctor. After careful consideration, they decided to take the leap. The patient explained, "[My doctor said], 'We think you should go on the cruise and then come back, and we'll be ready to start this treatment.' So, it kind of looked like the doc opened a little window for us." The couple had heard about the coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan a month prior to their trip. "We had trepidation to do it, but it was going to be this great time," she said. All we had been doing is living in our cancer world. Paul's dad died seven weeks ago, his mom has pretty severe cancer at 92, so we just had all of this stuff going on, and we thought this would be a break from this cancer world... My first thought when we got that letter underneath our door on Wednesday was 'Oh my goodness, we're not going to be able to get back.'" Kari should not be punished for simply wanting a short break from her tumultuous diagnosis. Hopefully, she will soon be able to disembark from the cruise and receive treatment.