Crystal’s Story: Crystal is so many things…a wife and mom, a runner and swimmer and she plays in a rock band - she is also a breast cancer survivor!


Crystal is so many things…a wife and mom, a runner and swimmer and she plays in a rock band—she is also a breast cancer survivor!

An athlete since childhood, Crystal played soccer up until high school and then switched to rugby in college.  As an adult she still kept a regular exercise regimen by teaching spin classes followed by taking up long distance running and swimming.  In addition, Crystal is also a healthy eater, avoiding meats and sticking to a vegetarian diet.  Yet even with all of this at the early age of 37 she was hit with a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis. 

Crystal was shocked that someone like her that ate healthy and exercised regularly could get cancer, “I was literally the healthiest I have ever been in my life.  So part of my mission is to educate people that cancer doesn’t discriminate against age or background.” 

Ironically, her cancer diagnosis was sparked from pain in her hip for which she thought was due to running.  At this time Crystal was doing a 100- day running challenge where she had to run at least one mile every day.  So when she started noticing a constant pain, her immediate thought was it must be a torn ligament from daily runs and over using her muscles.

Having spent the last 11 years as a practicing physical therapist, Crystal started doing her own at home exercise plan to start rebuilding her strength back.  But after four weeks of the pain not resolving and her even losing the ability to do anything with her right leg she decided to see her primary care physician. And just like her, he also thought it was a torn ligament.  But when Crystal said I have been doing several weeks of physical therapy exercises and the pain hasn’t subsided, she literally saw her physicians face and posture change and at that point she knew that something bigger was going on.

“My mind started running wild with thoughts of what is going on with me?” Crystal was sent for an X-ray that showed something was abnormal followed by an MRI that showed lesions.   Her physician didn’t have a lot of answers but said he has suspicions of it being cancer related.  Choking back the words, Crystal said, “When he said CANCER, I felt like the air got sucked out of me.” 

Making matters worse this was during COVID so she was all alone hearing this devasting news without the support of her husband, Rory.  They just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary this past June.  They have known each other almost their entire lives.  They were in first grade together and in the fourth grade Rory kept asking her to be his girlfriend.  Crystal had no interest at that time, life as it happens though, continued to make their paths intersect.  They even attended the same college, Western Carolina University.  It wasn’t until after college when she finally realized they should be together. 

“I’ve always been really good about doing self-exams and I never felt anything but when the next step was to send me for a CT scan, this is when the layers started peeling off and I knew it wasn’t going to be good,” Crystal explained. The scan showed tumors in her breast as well as the lymph node in her armpit.  “Everything started unraveling really fast at this point.”

When the mammogram and biopsy results showed breast cancer she had to decide where to go for her oncology care.  Initially her thought was Duke University because this is where everyone in her family went if there was something major going on.  After another biopsy it was determined it was stage IV breast cancer and that her hip was also involved, which is where her pain began.

At her second appointment the oncologist asked her how far away she lived.  After responding it’s a three-hour drive, he asked her why she is driving this far. With a little confusion in her voice Crystal replied, “I live in a small town and I don’t want to die.”  He said well I know a doctor in that area, stating that they went to school together and he was even top in their class.  

He pulled up his old classmate, Dr. Skiver on his computer and said he practices in Marion at Messino Cancer Centers.  Excited, Crystal said “I know that place, its literally down the street from my house, three miles compared to a three-hour drive just makes sense when thinking about having to continually go for treatment.” Crystal continued, “Dr. Skiver is mild mannered and very smart, I immediately got good vibes from him.”

“I have been impressed with Crystal’s courage and strength throughout her treatment course. Despite her diagnosis, she decided early on that was not going to stop her.  Though her treatment has hampered her ability to run, which was her first passion, she instead discovered swimming as an alternative sport.  I am proud of her accomplishments in the pool and how she chose to use this opportunity to raise awareness for metastatic breast cancer in an incredible display of strength by swimming a marathon. She truly is a motivated and inspirational person,” said Medical Oncologist Dr. Brent Skiver.

With no family history of breast cancer and being so young, Crystal really wants to get the word out about self-exams, yearly exams with your physician and making sure you don’t delay a screening if something doesn’t seem right.  “With so many young women getting diagnosed with breast cancer that are the first generation in their families to be diagnosed, it’s now part of my mission to educate that cancer doesn’t discriminate against age or background.”

Crystal said this was actually the healthiest she had ever been, having her running workout schedule and training for marathons and she ate healthy, living mostly a vegetarian lifestyle. “Even if you eat well and exercise, cancer still might affect you, like it did me.”

“Everyone at Messino is very attentive to my needs, I’ve never waited longer than 10 minutes for anything at the practice and all the staff are phenomenal,” stated Crystal.

Knowing there is no cure yet for stage IV breast cancer, Crystal said her plan with Dr. Skiver is to stay one step ahead of the science. “I am a firm believer that your mind can determine a lot of things and I will do whatever it takes to be here with my daughter.”

With everything she has been through this past year Crystal has an amazing attitude and says she will focus on living her life, “I am not tied to tubes or bed ridden, I am able to do things with my family like continuing to play bass guitar in a rock band with her husband and father-in-law and coach my daughter’s soccer team.”

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Note:  Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment.