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With help from CU Cancer Center Adrenal Cancer Multidisciplinary Team, Grace Krenrich is racing ahead with life

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Written by Cancer Center on July 2, 2019
Grace Krenrich NASCAR
Grace Krenrich (background), photographs NASCAR

Grace Krenrich is a NASCAR superfan and photographer for racing sites like Catchfence.com and Motorsport.com. “I always go to Daytona for two weeks and to Talladega,” she says. “I’ll be going to Charlotte in the fall, and I usually go to Bristol but my son-in-law races dirt cars, so I’ll probably go to New York this year instead.” 

When pressed, Grace says that she especially likes young drivers Austin and Ty Dillon, but, “When I walk into the garage and say hi, they all say, ‘Hey Grace!’” she says. “I know all the drivers, so I try not to pick favorites.”

When Grace went to the Adrenal Insufficiency United Conference a few months ago in Charlotte, “It wound up being right across the street from NASCAR Hall of Fame, so I knew right where it was!” she says.

The reason Grace Krenrich was at a conference about adrenal insufficiency is that after she was diagnosed with adrenal cancer that had metastasized to her lungs, surgery left her constantly low on hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

“I told my primary care provider that it felt like I was sleeping on a softball,” Grace remembers. MRI confirmed it: An adrenal tumor had grown so large that on the MRI it obscured Grace’s liver, spleen and pancreas. Her surgeon at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, Christopher Raeburn, MD, told her there was no guarantee she would survive the surgery. After eight-and-a-half hours on the operating table, everyone breathed a sigh of relief… until two years later when Grace’s team found that the cancer had spread to her lungs.

“They took two wedges from my left lung and just like that my diagnosis went from stage II to stage IV,” she says.  One year after the first lung surgery she was back for a second surgery.

Suddenly, in addition to surgery, Grace needed the help of the entire CU Cancer Center Adrenal Cancer multidisciplinary team, which includes endocrinologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and many more.

“In the meantime, I found out how rare and underfunded Adrenal Cancer Research is,” Grace says.

Adrenal cancer affects about one in every million people in the United States. Unlike other cancers, there are no immunotherapies or genetically targeted therapies approved to treat adrenal cancer, and the backbone chemotherapy against the disease, mitotane, is a derivative of the pesticide DDT. Surgery remains the best chance for curative therapy, but the propensity of adrenal cancer to grow into surrounding organs means that many patients are not surgical candidates. Even with successful surgery, the 5-year survival rate is only about 20 percent.

While the American Cancer Society currently funds 160 studies related to breast cancer, it funds only 3 related to adrenal cancer.

“My husband gives a couple thousand dollars a year,” Grace says. “That sounds like nothing, but, you know, you do what you can to find a cure.”

In addition to helping research efforts, including through participation in clinical trials, Grace hopes to raise awareness about the condition.

“The awareness part is so important because many patients are adrenal insufficient – we’re very dependent on prednisone and other drugs. You can’t live without cortisol and when it’s low, it feels like your blood sugar drops, you get weak and sweaty. It can almost feel like a stroke coming on. My problem with that is in most states there’s no protocol for EMTs to give cortisol. I would have to do it, or my husband would have to. Some people need shots for it right away. People really need to know more about it,” she says.

Grace also founded and runs the Facebook support group Adrenal Cancer Warriors…Stronger Together, a tight-knit community of about 500 patients and their families. This January, about 40 members of the group will take a 5-day cruise together.

“I’ve been telling people, ‘go see Dr. Leong, go see Katja, go see the rest of the team at CU Cancer Center.’ I trust them with my life, I feel like they saved my life,” Grace says.

Grace with her husband and daughter

After living in Colorado for 12 years, Grace recently moved to North Carolina to be closer to her kids and grandkids, but continues to travel to Colorado for treatment, including continued maintenance therapy with mitotane.

“I’ve been on it for six years – I’m probably the longest taker of mitotane at the hospital,” she says. “For whatever reason, I don’t have the bad side effects. I’m in the mindset, it’s not killing me, I will continue to take it.”

In addition to her daughter and two grandsons in North Carolina, Grace has two more grown children, both of whom are getting married in the next year.  And she’s going to Germany this fall.

“My cancer is pretty stable right now, but it’s great to know that someone 3,000 miles away in Colorado is willing to pick up the phone in the middle of the night to help with care if needed,” Grace says. “I am with the right doctors and I honestly believe their hearts are 200 percent in this.”