Medical Hero Spotlight: Katie Hill, Appendix Cancer Clinical Trial Participant

Diagnosed with Appendix Cancer

Like most patients diagnosed with appendix cancer, Katie Hill had no idea her body was battling a deadly disease. Her diagnosis story began in 2021, when she made the decision to undergo a partial hysterectomy after struggling for years with pain caused by fibroids. At the hospital, her care team provided her with consent forms to read through and sign off on before the procedure. These forms gave her doctors permission to make other decisions as medically necessary if needed, a standard practice during surgeries.

“Because of COVID-19, I went in for the procedure by myself, and when I woke up in my recovery room, my surgeon let me know that there was an unexpected discovery they had made while I was under,” Katie recalls.
Her doctors had noticed an unusual spot on her appendix and decided to remove it just to be safe. Katie was informed that the team had also found some excess tissue near the appendix and abdomen, which they thought might be from endometriosis. With her appendix and tissue sent to the pathology department for testing, Katie was released from the hospital to recover at home.

Two days later, Katie noticed an email from her patient portal about her test results.

“Assuming it was nothing, I opened the email and started reading the pathology report from testing my appendix and tissue,” Katie says. “It was from that email that I learned I had Stage 4 metastatic mucinous adenocarcinoma of the appendix.”
“I remember sitting in my living room in complete shock. I didn’t know what else to do but to start Googling my cancer. It felt like a lifetime, but it was only about 5 minutes of reading before my surgeon called, interrupting my research. I could tell immediately by his voice that there hadn’t been a mistake, that this was real. Before he could say anything, I cut him off and said, ‘I know.’”

That afternoon, her surgeon had been desperately trying to prevent the hospital’s patient portal system from releasing the pathology report to Katie so that she would not learn of her diagnosis in such a clinical and shocking way. On their phone call, Katie learned a team at the hospital had been in discussions all day about her rare cancer and were researching treatment options for her.

Finding a Treatment Plan

Some patients might pull back from researching their cancer, but Katie jokes that research has always been a part of her DNA. “I needed to understand everything I could about my cancer.” 

She started by finding online resources and support, through groups like the Appendix Cancer Pseudomyxoma Peritonei Research Foundation (ACPMP), and patient support groups on Facebook. On patient forums, Katie quickly learned that it is critical for appendix cancer patients to select a specialist at a high-volume cancer center, or someone who has treated hundreds of patients with this disease.

“It used to be said that the chances of getting appendix cancer was 1 in a million. Now it’s about 2.5 in a million, so there are still not many doctors who have a lot of experience treating it,” Katie shares.

Katie spent the next week going to consultations in her home state of Pennsylvania and traveling to several appointments in New York. Within 2 weeks, she had selected her cancer specialist at Memorial Sloane Kettering.

“Part of my selection process for a specialist included finding a high-volume cancer center. I wanted a surgeon who has seen at least 100 or more cases of this a year, and I was also interested in finding a cancer center that had clinical trials available,” Katie explains. “If I have a rare cancer and have the opportunity to participate in studies that further care for other patients, I feel a duty to help.” 

Katie began treatment with chemotherapy to shrink her tumors. Her next step involved a procedure called cytoreductive surgery (CRS), which involves scraping the cancer off and, in some instances, removing organs. 

“My cancer is unique because it’s not a solid tumor, which is how most people visualize cancer. My cancer is like a jelly that spreads out across my insides, making it hard to detect on scans and then to remove.”

Joining a Clinical Trial

For Katie, clinical trial participation was a major consideration in her treatment plan, and she was fortunate to qualify for the ICARuS study. “It’s standard practice for most surgeons to use a heated chemotherapy agent as a wash to kill cancer cells. The ICARuS study is a randomized trial comparing two different methods of administering chemotherapy,” Katie explains. The purpose of the trial is to determine if outcomes for patients are different when using different types of chemotherapy.

As a rare disease patient, Katie has also had the opportunity to enroll in an observational study, called the Genetics of Appendix Cancer, or GAP study. “Right now, many appendix cancer patients use the same treatments as colon cancer patients because there is very little awareness or funding for research for this disease,” Katie explains.

“Many surgeons who run into this disease have never seen it outside of medical textbooks and oftentimes will misdiagnose or begin treatment, which could be detrimental to patients. They assume they’re doing good, but don’t realize that this is a different disease that needs to be treated differently.”

Appendix cancer was previously not considered curable, but we now know that some patients are making it for long periods of time with no evidence of disease (NED). Katie is currently 18 months NED! She hopes to be one of the patients who goes for a long time with NED but shares that she will be happy to get a couple of years without recurrence. “Our industry is moving so quickly that there will be new treatment options waiting for me down the line, which I am thankful for.”

Katie the day she arrived home after surgery, completing her treatment journey.

A Career Rooted in Life Science Collaboration

Katie has spent the last 20 years of her career working in different roles at the Drug Information Association (DIA), an organization dedicated to improving outcomes for patients through industry collaboration. Most recently, as Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Learning and Digital Solutions, Katie oversaw the development of DIA’s Patient Engagement eLearning Program, which helps to train professionals on best practices for integrating the patient perspective into the full medicines lifecycle. 

Unlike others fighting cancer, Katie wasn’t hesitant about sharing her diagnosis with her colleagues who were all incredibly supportive during her treatment. “My diagnosis was just another affirmation that the work we do at DIA is important. My colleagues and I come to work every day because of patients like me living with diseases, waiting for breakthrough treatments,” Katie shares.

For others navigating a difficult diagnosis for themselves or a loved one, Katie emphasizes that there is no ‘right’ way to move through your medical journey. “Everyone has different experiences and setbacks when dealing with a disease. I tried to maintain a positive attitude throughout my treatment, but that might not work for everyone,” Katie explains.

To newly diagnosed patients, Katie compares their upcoming medical journey to riding a rollercoaster.

“Everyone who has been on a rollercoaster knows that the scariest part is the slow climb to the top. In healthcare, most patients experience this immediately after their diagnosis, when there is so much uncertainty, fear, and often waiting. Once you’ve established a plan and found your care team, your treatment begins, and things really speed up. I know that for me, it was scary, but I felt secure knowing I had a top-notch medical team by my side and that I was making progress,” Katie says.

Additional Resources: 

View an overview of the ICARuS study here.

To search for medical conditions in a specific location, visit our Search Clinical Trials page.

To stay informed about clinical trials, visit our Resources page.

For volunteer opportunities with CISCRP, visit our Volunteer page.

Written by Lindsey Elliott, Marketing & Communications Manager, CISCRP |

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