Kristina Baum’s high school track coach didn’t think she was fast enough for his team. He doubted she could handle a 2-mile race, so he put her in one anyway, hoping to weed her out. He wanted her to quit.
She didn’t prove him wrong that day, and that was nature’s fault; the skies opened up, canceling the race. But it takes about 30 seconds in her presence to realize something about Baum: she’s definitely not a quitter.
The 37-year-old communications director for the House Natural Resources Committee has covered more than 700 miles by way of one full marathon, 10 half marathons, half a dozen 5Ks and triathlons, and all the miles her pink and turquoise Topo Ultraflys have torn up in between. Next, she has her sights set on the New York City Marathon in November.
These days “two miles is a light day for me,” says Baum. “At this point, I’ll take all the miles I can get.”
She’ll take “all the miles” she can get because she has cancer. Baum was diagnosed with melanoma back in September 2012. After enduring severe bouts of nausea and fatigue and undergoing surgery to remove her lymph nodes, her body was rid of the disease for nearly four years — until it came back in 2016 in her left kidney, and again in December 2018. Baum now faces her third fight against melanoma cancer and her second against metastatic melanoma. It’s spread to her brain.
The third and latest diagnosis came from a routine check-up and an almost-canceled MRI. After a clean bill of health a month prior, Baum didn’t have any reason to believe she needed another test, let alone one that would take valuable time away from a busy Monday afternoon.
The call “came out of left field,” recalls Baum. “I was training for a full Ironman. I had just hired a coach. I had already planned out … a pretty heavy triathlon season. Work was going well for me. ... It was a complete shock.”
Today, between beams of CyberKnife radiation and training for one of the most enviable feats among runners, Baum hasn’t missed a step in her full-time job on Capitol Hill.
“Media and press doesn’t wait for anyone,” she jokes.
Whether she’s monitoring reporter requests between Johns Hopkins treatments or suffering sleepless nights caused by inescapable skin irritations, she remains grateful for her community of dedicated family, friends, bosses and colleagues who have shown their unequivocal support. Thanks to them, Baum’s just shy of a $10,000 goal to raise money for the Melanoma Research Alliance.
And although Baum’s support system is unmatched, it’s not the only source of hope getting her through her toughest times.
“There’ve been days where I’ve shaken my fist at God wondering, ‘Why is this happening?’” she says. “But I get to a place where ... God is really a big comfort, and there’s going to be things this side of heaven that I’m not going to understand. And I think that’s really OK.”
Baum isn’t just kicking cancer’s ass for her own good, she’s fighting for others too. She’s on a mission to let current and future patients know that, illness aside, they still have a choice to live each day with intent. “You may not feel good, you may feel sick, but you have today, and today is all you need,” she says.
For Baum, that “today” looks like the will to keep fighting — and a tumor that has shrunk to nearly half its size since her last test in March. As for what she expects the moment she crosses the finish line at the New York City Marathon in November, there will definitely be “ugly crying,” she says.
Watch: Three lawmakers share their experiences with cancer