CANCER is a disease which causes uncontrolled cell growth. The cells break up and form tumors, and it spreads to various parts of the body. Although, some tumors are not related to cancer. They are benign and do not have the characteristics of cancer tumors, and they do not spread to other body parts and the tumor is controlled. There are at least one hundred different kinds of cancers, which affect people. Cancer is mainly caused by things such as over exposure to the sun, a poor diet, a lack of exercise and exposure to harmful chemicals, but there are other causes of cancer that are unknown.
Carcinogens are chemicals that have been known, through the years, to cause cancer. Cancer is also cause by a weakened immune system and the immune system becomes weak from a poor diet lacking in nutrients. This tends to lead to infections such as cancer. The key to a strong immune system, which prevents or heals cancer, is a good diet that is rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Food chains like McDonalds and KFC are part of the problem. They are set up to maximize their profits and little in the way of proper nutrition. Although just about everyone knows of the health benefis of fruits and vegetables, few people actually live by it. The American society cathers towards junk food and many people simply go with the flow. A good, sound, diet is essential for healing almost any illness, especially cancer.
When someone first develops cancer, they will probably have no symptoms, but as the cancer continues to develop they will experience some symptoms. Cancer symptoms are not specific to cancer alone. There are other illnesses in which people show the same symptoms.
PREVENTION: You should not wait until you get cancer or any other disease before you eat and live properly. And the best time to begin is now. In life, we get alot of good advice that we do not use. It does us no good if we do not put it into practical use. When it comes to cancer, it is largely preventable just by following some basic rules. The key is definately a healthy lifestyle. Even if you get cancer after living a healthy lifestyle, you have a greater chance of total recovery. A healthy lifestyle is key. That is why in Japan and China, with their much better diets, they have far less cases of cancer and cancer deaths per 100,000 people.
For example, having a steak and cheese sandwich with a soda is not a good way to eat. Foods that are heavy in fat and meats and drinks that are made with processed sugars, wreck havoc on the body and digestive system. Also, milk products are really not healthy foods, because they clog the digestive system and the hormones in milk are meant for a baby cow to grow from 90 pounds to 2000 pounds in two years. The hormones are not meant for humans. These hormones lead to many cases of early puberty and other health issues.
The best cancer-prevention foods will always be fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They have vitamins and minerals that repair the body’s cells and tissues. Foods that don’t do that are the meats, cheeses, sodas and etc. Trade sodas for juice and you have taken a big step forward towards a healthier you and the prevention of cancer.
Whole foods are foods that are natural, like peanuts , oats, rice, and corn. It is best to eat them in their natural state, without the chemicals, added sugars and preservatives. Processed sugar is a cancer in itself. These sugars have been linked to diabetes and other issues. It is added to many foods and drinks, including bread and peanut butter. Yes, sugar is added to peanut butter. Even dried fruit has added sugar to it, although fruits already have their own sugar and dried fruit is already quite sweet because the water is extracted. They use sugar as a preservative and are not concerned about our health.
Many food companies do not use common sense when they produce their foods. A typical candy bar may have five times more sugar than a food that size should have. And a 12-ounce soda probably has enough sugar for a half gallon drink.
Natural foods are harder to transport than packaged foods, that is why it is less available on the shelves. And again, many companies really do not care about the health of the consumer. They are simply in the business of making money. Make a commitment to live a lifestyle that prevents cancer and that begins with what you eat.
RADIATION: Cancers can be removed completely from the body, however when it is not possible to do so because cancer often spreds to other parts of the body, then in some cases, surgery is needed to control the cancer or control obstruction to the body. In other cases, radiation or radiotherapy is used to kill cancer cells and reduce cancer tumors. The radiation can be external or internal. It essentially destroys the cells being treated, not allowing them to divide or grow further. Radiation, however damages cancer cells and non-cancer cells also, but the healthy cells are usually able to recover. Radiation targets and destroys the cancer cells, whiles trying to limit the harmful effect on the normal, non-cancer cells.
Cancer radiation uses strong radiation to destroy the cancer cells DNA and eventually kill them. Most people understand that cancer radiation is administered from a machine. However, a radio active material can be placed inside the patient, which radiates energy to kill the cancer cells. This material can also be injected into the bloodstream. Even after the tumor is removed, a cancer patient may still receive radiation therapy.
CHEMOTHERAPY uses drugs as cancer treatment. The drugs are supposed to halt cancer-cell growth and cancer-cell division. Chemotherapy, like radiation, has the possibility to damage good, non-cancer cells. However, healthy non-cancer cells usually recover after chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses any one of the cytotoxic drugs as a cure for cancer or simply to prolong one’s life. Chemo maybe done along with surgery and even radiation treatment. The chemo is supposed to kill the harmful cells that divide out of control. However, it also does harm to normal cells, such as the ones in the hair follicles. This is why many people who have cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy lose their hair.
IMMUNOTHERAPY is the boosting of the bodies own immune system and allowing it to heal the body from the cancer. Patients are given antibodies that help boost the patient’s immune system and conditions the immune system to destroy cancer cells. This method of treating cancer works better on some kinds of cancers but other forms of cancer require multiply methods of treatment. After understanding the make up of cancer cells, medicines were developed to treat cancer. One of them is the monoclonal antibodies.
STRESS AND A LACK OF SLEEP breaks down the immune system but this is prolonged stress which lingers on, this is the most damaging. A good way to counteract stress would be exercise and a different way of dealing with problems. It is well understood that emotional issues can lead to illnesses and cancer and many of them have.
A lack of sleep also stresses the body and affects hormones which promote cancer cells. The amount of sleep you get has alot to do with how your body is able to fight an illness, like cancer. A good amount of sleep is six to eight hours per night. It also depends on the person. When you sleep well is it always better for your body.
Certain chemicals are produced during sleep, like melatonin, and in women this lowers their estrogen levels. A lack of meltonin raises estrogen levels too high and increases the risk of breast cancer. The body is out of balance with a lack of sleep , thus a good amount of sleep is essential for proper health and cancer prevention.
EXERCISE is a must for anyone to stay healthy and prevent cancer. Even longs walks count as exercise. It ought to be done on a regular basis, like everyday or every two days, because long periods of inactivity is not beneficial for the body. People who lack exercise grow weak bodies that are subject to illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.
Regular exercise will control weight gain by burning fat, calories and increasing your metabolism. Exercise also lowers blood pressure and decreases the chance of getting many other diseases, not just cancer. Another benefit of regular exercise is it improves your mood, along with increased muscle strength. Your cardiovascular system, such as the heart and lungs, also become more efficient.
THE BENEFITS OF VITAMIN D is underutilized. Vitamin D fights infections and a lack of it factors into many people getting cancer. You can get vitamin D naturally by getting exposed to sunlight. Sun light hits the skin and the body turns it into vitamin D. People who live in northern, cold, climates oftentimes do not get enough vitamin D during the winter months. This can be solved by taking vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D3 is far better than vitamin D2, it is a natural form. Vitamin D, when taken to fight cancer, gets the white blood cells to produce antibiotics. It plays a major role in combating infections and cancer. It also controls the body’s blood pressure levels, muscle strenght and progammed cell death. Programmed cell death is the killing of cells that will harm the body, such as in the case of unwanted cancer cells. It keeps damaged cells from growing and reproducing and this is essential for destroying cancer cells.
The vitamin D in milk and Cod liver oil contains minimal amounts, which are only good for preventing rickets. Supplements for fighting cancer must be the right dosage, which is up to 5000 IU. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to more than 15 kinds of cancers. Rectal cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer lung cancer and more. You can get vitamin D naturally by absorbing sunlight, but the taking of supplements is a more consistent way of getting it.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Randy K. ” I had enjoyed 50 years of nearly perfect physical health and chalked up 29 years of perfect attendence with my current employer. But at 2 a.m. on Jan 2, 2010, I found myself in the fetal position on my bedroom floor in paralyzing, excruciating pain. My wife, did her best to comfort me, but there was no relief. Two days later, she wheeled me into a urology clinic for a diagnosis for what was suspected to be kidney stones. During the evaluation, I receieved a non-contrasted CT scan of my lower abdomen, within minutes, the urologists began to explain the size and oriention of my kidney, methods for treatment and short term expectations. But in the same breath, he told me I had a serious issue with my right lung and I needed to see a primary care physician immediately.
Over the next several weeks, I went to see multiple physicians and went through many tests, including xrays, blood work and a contrasted CT scan. Radiologist reports clearly described the suspicious image noted by my urologist as multilobar pnemonia. As a result my PCP prescribed strong antibiotics, quarantined me as a precaution to avoid contagion and continued with more blood work and saliva tests. The problem was that I was not coughing and I had no fever or irregular bloood counts, none of the things normally associated with pneumonia. Uncomfortable with these findings, my PCP referred me to a pulmonologist for more testing. At the pulmonolgist’s office, I received a pulmonary function test, which indicated I had only 60% breathing capacity. The pulmonologist reviewed the blood work and finally indicated he needed to do a bronchoscopy to sample the lung tissue. On Jan 29, we went back to see the pulmonologist for the final dignosis. Non-Hopgkin-lymphoma in my right lung. My cancer journey began.
News of my diagnoses spread quickly. My name went on countless prayer lists and was given to prayer teams in churches literally around the globe. The elders in my church laid hands on me and anointed me with oil, and my family, co-workers, friends and I began praying for healing. I was immediately referred to a local facility where I under went traditional work ups for staging my disease, including a bone marrow biopsy, blood work, x-rays and CT scans. While waiting on numerous appointments and test results, over the next few weeks I became a student of my newly found condition. I read books I searched the internet and talked to other medical professionals. Quickly realizing the critical role proper diet and exercise would play into the overall treatment plan. I made significant life changes to better prepare me for what lay ahead.
Finally, the time came to meet with the oncologist to review my complete cancer test results. The evaluation confirmed the cancer was restriced to my right lung and I was encouraged to begin treatement right away. Since I am naturally the analytical, inquisitive type, I asked many more detailed questions regarding the proposed treatment plan. The oncologist told me I had been reading too much and that I should leave it up to him. We respectfully petitioned for a second opinion in hoped of finding an oncologist and cancer center that would offer a more supportive, integrated and inclusive treatment plan. The oncologist referred us to another center, but we encountered a waiting list while trying to determine the correct course.
We contacted Cancer Treatment Centers of America in March. After readig information on the net about them and talking with one of their representatives over the phone, we decided to set up an appointment for a consultation at the Cancer Centers hospital in Tulsa. Less than a week later, we made the visit to meet with a team of doctors and other care providers at Cancer Centers. When we walked through the door of the hospital, we had a sense of a peace and relief. We were warmly greeted, shown around the place and given a detailed schedule of our appointments. Cancer Centers staff walked us through every step of the way.
Each doctor and care provider I met with came into a clinic room to speak with us one at a time . We first met with Dr. Altshuler, an intake doctor. All the members of my cancer care team asked us questions and asked for our input. They invited us into the decision-making process of developing my cancer treatment plan. It was a collaborative team effort focused on my needs. Granted, it was a long, two-year journey, I received multiple chemotherapy treatments but I made it through as strong and fit as anyone would hope for. I am confident I would not have come out of this as healthy as I am today had we not gone to Cancer Treatment Centers of America for a second opinion.
Recovering from cancer is a powerful experience. It is very difficult to explain, but there is a newness in life. I’m seeing and hearing things much differently. Its been an exciting time to think about the future. I have had a lot of enjoyment in helping and encouraging others who are fighting cancer. It is wonderful to see someone’s countenance chance and see hope in their eyes.”
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Audrey A. ” My journey with breast cancer started in Nov. 2004. I was devasted, scared and numb when I found out I had cancer. At the time, I was 48 and thought that I was healthy. Immediately I started researching doctors and treatments. I found a surgeon near my home outside of Savannah, Georgia to remove the cancer tumor. After the cancer surgery, I consulted with a local oncologist and radiologist but the doctors were so impersonal. They didnt want to listen to a word I was saying. They wanted to put me in one of those cookie-cutter scenarious. There were no other options for me. They just wanted to cut, radiate and do the chemo. I felt with the way they were conductiong business, I had to get a second opinion. I remember reading about Cancer Treatment Centers of America in health magazines. I also saw a Cancer Centers commercial on tv. I liked that they treated the whole person, not just the cancer. At Cancer Centers, I would have a naturopathic provider, dietition, psychologist, massage therapy, acupunture and access to an onsite fitness center. All in addition to conventional treatment I needed to fight cancer and all in one location.
So I called Cancer Centers for information. I spoke with a representative who told me about Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospitals and their overall approach to treating breast cancer. The representative also checked to see if my medical insurance provider would allow me to treat at Cancer Centers. Once I learned my insurance was okay with Cancer Centers, I scheduled a consultation at the Cancer Center hospital in Tulsa Oklahoma. Within a week, I was on my way to visit the hospital. I appreciated that Cancer Center gathered my mammograms, x-rays and other tests form the doctor’s office I had been in Savannah. My tests were sent to the hospital in Tulsa for my Cancer Centers doctors to review before I arrived.
A friend traveled with me to Cancer Centers for my consultation. We flew to Tulsa and were greeted upon our arrival at the airport. A gentleman from the Cancer Centers transportation team picked up our luggage, carried it to a town car and then drove us to the hospital. For my first visit and every trip there after to Cancer Centers, I have used their transportation service. At Cancer Centers, my doctors and other care theam members listened. They sat down with me and put together a treatment plan that was personalized to me. They gave me options, which they explained and were open to talking about with me. I knew then I made the best decision for me to go through breast cancer treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
My doctors did their due diligent research. They didn’t make quick judgement calls. Every person is different and every situation is different. They understood this and truly looked to me as a person, including all aspects of what was going on in my life. After they evaluated me and talked to me in detail, then they recommended the treatments they believed were going to be right for me. My medical oncologist was absolutely wonderful, she sat down and talked with me, and truly listened to me. Something we discussed for my treatment was that I needed to become post-menopausal. At the time, I was not, and my cancer was related to hormones. My medical oncologist felt it was critical that we stop the hormone that was manifesting the cancer. So my treatment plan called for me to first have surgery to remove my ovaries, and then breast cancer radiation.
My radiation oncologist was wonderful too. We talked in detail about my cancer-radiation therapy options. We decided HDC branchy therapy was the best choice for me. My radiation oncologist explained that in comparison to the standard cancer radiation therapy my doctors at home were recommending, HDR branchy therapy would cause less damage to the healthy tissue and organs near my breasts, including my heart and lungs. Also, standard cancer-radiation therapy is given five days a week for about six weeks. I received my HDR branchy therapy treatment in a matter of days.
At Cancer Treatment Center, my care team included a dietition and a naturapathic provider. My dietition talked to me about what foods were best for me to eat because of the type of cancer I had. For example, she explained that cruciferous vegetables are very important for women fighting breast cancer. She did a great job making me aware of what I needed to eat to keep myself healthy and keep my strength. The natural therapies he prescribed pertained specifically to my needs because of the breast cancer.
I think what I really loved about Cancer Treatment Cencers is that my doctors and other care providers talked to each other. They say down together and talked about my case to come up with a plan just for me. That was huge, knowing that I didnt have just one doctor. I had a whole team of care providers, all of whom knew my situation and what they needed to do for me. And I appreciated that my doctors were aggressive with my treatment protocal and on top of my care.
I’m also grateful that everything I needed was within the hospital. When I go there for my checkups, I get my MRI’, mammograms, all of my tests done right there. I have my tests done one day, and the next day, I meet with my medical oncologist and get my results. I can also see my naturopathic provider and my dietician in the same appointment. I did not have to go from room to room. They all come to me in one room. Over the years, Dr. Ross Taylor, at Cancer Centers, has helped to keep my health in check too. When I have returned for checkups, he has performed colon scopies to remove polyps in my colon. Praise God, the polyps were benign, but we all know can turn into cancer.
Dr. Sarah Land, at Cancer Centers, has also played an important role in my life. Because of my cancer being hormonal, after having my ovaries removed and years of taking the arimidef, my blood work showed I had no hormones. This leads to a side effect that no one wants to deal with, which is depression. She convinced me to take some medicine, which helped to turn my life around. I am happy today. The cloud that hung over my body is gone, and I am in love with life again.
Whenever I return to Cancer Centers, I feel like I get a royal welcoming. It is like visiting my second family. It’s as though everyone there knows me, and yet while I have been going to Cancer Centers in Tulsa for a number of years, I am now moving my care to the brand-new Cancer Centers at SouthEastern R. Medical Center. Because I travel by myself, it is a lot of work. So having a Cancer Centers hospital within a shorter driving distance from my home or a 45-minute flight is going to simplify my life.”
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Jimmy G. In November of 2010 I went to see a doctor after months of experiencing a health problem. I had quite a bit of testing done, including a test for PSA. My PSA level at that time was 14.o. I was immediately sent to have a biopsy and that is when I received my second cancer diagnosis. I had stage llb prostate cancer. I wanted to look into treatment options other than what my doctor had recommended. In particular, I did not want to have surgery. I thought if I could do anthing to take care of the cancer without surgery, that is what I wanted to do.
I know a number of people from our village that had gone to Cancer Centers and liked it. I had also seen some ads in a magazine. I thought it was worth looking into. Also, because we live in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a rural resort community that is 7,000 feet in the mountains, we are a good three-hour drive from the nearest big city. I had already been driving many miles and hours back and forth for radiation treatment for lymphoma.
I met with medical oncologist, who walked me through my treatment options. I then met with my radiation oncologist. They recommended hormone therapy and radiation treatment. I made my decision right then. I was confident my Cancer Centers doctor could take care of the prostate cancer without surgery. My doctor explained to me how calypso worked and I was amazed. I started treatment that month. I receieved radiation treatment five days a week for three months. In total I had 40 radiation treatments. I also had hormone therapy for six months. Overall, I felt pretty good during my treatment when I was not at the hospital.
People were friendly at Cancer Center. The staff knew me and called me by name everytime I was there. I never had a doubt that Cancer Treatment Centers of America was where I needed to be for prostate cancer treatment. I successfully completed my radiation treatment in July 2011. I will continue to go to Cancer Centers for checkups to ensure the cancer does not return.
EATING TO PREVENT CANCER. Populations that eat a so-called western diet generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains, invariably suffer from high rates of so-called western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Virtually all of the obesity and type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of the cardiovascular disease and more than a third of all cancers can be linked to this diet.
Populations eating a remarkably wide range of traditional diets, generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases. These diets run the gamut from ones very high in fat to ones high in carbohydrates to ones very high in protein. There is no single ideal human diet but that the human omniverse is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets. Except for the relatively new western diet that most of us now are eating. What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick and increases the risk of cancer. While it is true that we generally live longer than people used to, most of our added years owe to gains in infant mortality and child health, not diet.
There is actually a third, very hopeful fact that flows from people who get off the western diet. They see dramatic improvement in their health. We have good research to suggest that the effects of the western diet can be rolled back and relatively quickly. In one analysis, a typical American population that departs even modestly from the western diet could reduce its chances of getting coronary heart disease by 80 percent, its chances of type 2 diabetes by 90 percent and its chances of colon cancer by 70 percent.
The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes. The health-care industry makes more money treating chronic diseases and cancer than preventing them. So we ignore the elephant in the room and focus instead on good and evil nutrients, the identities of which seem to change with every new study.
These days it is easier said than done, especially when seventeen thousand new products show up in the super market each year, all vying for your food dollar. But most of these items don’t deserve to be called food. I prefer to call them edible foodlike substances. They are highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and they contain chemicals additives with which the human body has not been long acquainted and promote cancer. Today much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding these industries novelties.
People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier and have less cases of cancer, than those of us eating a moder western diet of processed foods. Any traditional diet will do. If it were not a healthy diet, the people who follow it would not still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies and some of them travel better than others. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, for example, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy as much as their food habits: small portions eaten at leisurely communal meals; no second helping or snacking. Pay attention to the combinations of foods in traditional cultures . In latin America, corn is traditionally cooked with lime and eaten with beans; what would other wise be a nutritionally deficient staple becomes the basis of a healthy, balanced diet.
Cultures that took corn from Latin America without the beans or the lime wound up with serious nutritional deficiencies, such as pellagra. Traditional foods are more than the sum of their food parts. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard to make treats so cheap and easy that we are eating them everyday.
The French fries did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting and frying the potatoes. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them less often, if only because they are so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies and ice cream. Enjoy these treats as often as you are willing to prepare them-chances are it won’t be everyday and you reduce your risk of cancer.
ENCOURAGING TESTIMONIALS CONT.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Terrece C. My journey with cancer began when my dad died from cancer soon after I turned 5 years old. He was a physician and a wonderful man. He saved other people’s lives. He saved my best friend when she had spinal meningitis at the age of 4. We’ve been best friends ever since.
Right before I found out I had breast cancer, I had just completed my Master of Education degree in Creative Arts at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was May 2007. My life during that time was so busy. I was a single mom, teaching full time, and going to Carthage two nights a week. The news of cancer made my life come to an abrupt halt.
I was diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer on August 11, 2007. I was alone, sitting in my living room with the phone, waiting. The doctor called around 9:15 a.m. I was devastated with the news. I remember feeling numb and wanting to deny the truth. I started to think of all of the reasons why I probably got cancer—blaming myself. I sobbed and prayed at the same time. I pleaded with God to not let me abandon my children from cancer like my daddy, who I still missed dearly.
Then I decided to use my energy in a positive way and learn about breast cancer. I went online. That’s when I saw a link to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) website. I remembered their commercials and the message “you’ve got a reason to live.” So, I clicked to chat and got Diana Previs, an Oncology Information Specialist.
Diana was SO wonderful. She calmed me down and told me that I should not blame myself for getting cancer. She was my first glimpse of HOPE. She told me about Cancer Centers. While I would have had to wait weeks to have surgery with my current doctor, I was able to get an appointment right away at Cancer Centers.
When I said I wanted to go to Cancer Centers for my breast cancer treatment, Diana scheduled me with Dr. Dennis Citrin. I could not wait to get there because I knew there would be answers.
My mom came with me on August 16, 2007, my first day. When we arrived at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, I was scared and anxious. Yet, as we walked into the building, it was like a wave of peace just came over us. I immediately began to feel like my burden was being lifted by the friendly, sincere and compassionate people everywhere I looked.
I went to the second floor for my appointment with Dr. Citrin. The waiting room was full. I sat there and realized that I was in a room filled with other people who had cancer as well, but I still felt alone and anxious. However, I kept hearing other patients around me talking about how wonderful their experiences had been and how they were getting good reports.
I met Dr. Citrin and through his kind, gentle manner, he reassured me. His voice was calm yet authoritative and confident. He explained the type of breast cancer I had—he is a great teacher. He also assured me that there was HOPE. I knew I was in the right place and I trusted him.
That following week I also met with Dr. Edgar Staren, who was just as wonderful, gentle and calming. He thoroughly and simply explained the partial mastectomy and lymph node dissection. He said a pathologist would do an initial biopsy in the operating room to make sure they got all of the cancer—which he did in my case!
Right before chemo began, I brought a self portrait with exaggerated hair to show Dr. Citrin. He was so happy to see me with artwork because he knew it gave me a positive outlet in dealing with my situation. Dr. Robert Bloom also graciously analyzed my artwork. He helped me realize that I had been able to grieve for my daddy through my own grief of losing my hair.
Since the beginning of this cancer journey, artwork has been therapeutic for me. It has helped me express my thoughts and feelings and understand myself. There were moments when I felt like I was in a dark, deep pit and could not climb out. However, kind words and prayers from my doctors, nurses, family, friends, and other cancer patients, helped guide me back into thinking positive, hopeful thoughts.
At Cancer Centers, I have so many doctors who have all cared for me with compassion. They are lovely, kind men and women of all ages and backgrounds. I came to find that they are real people at CTCA, and they really do care about the patients. They understand that everybody is different and they treat you as an individual. Since coming to Cancer Centers, I have not just healed from cancer, but I have healed emotionally and spiritually as well.
I owe my healing to so many people at Cancer Centers—doctors, chemo nurses, radiation staff, physical therapy, naturopaths, pastoral care (who came to see me during every chemo treatment!), food service, survivorship support, other patients—I can’t name them all.
My sister was impressed with Cancer Centers too. When she visited over Thanksgiving, she came to my appointment with Dr. Staren. After meeting him and others that day, she wrote a poem about Cancer Centers called “Hope,” which I was inspired to use in my artwork.
I believe that what we go through in our lives shapes our character for the people we become, if we let it. I think it helps us be stronger for whatever will happen in the future. Just as God knows the beginning and end, I trust that His ways are beyond my understanding and to daily let Him direct my life.
Although I would not have chosen cancer, it has been a blessing. Along this cancer journey, my life has been enriched with beautiful people and experiences. It has taken on new meaning and a new direction.
I am so grateful to have come to Cancer Centers. This truly is a special place. I feel like I “get to” come here, not like I “have to” come here. The doctors and other personnel have been so wonderful, helpful and sincerely compassionate, not only on the first day, but throughout my entire journey. Cancer Centers really is a gift to cancer patients and a hospital unlike any other.
I want to encourage everyone who faces cancer to come to the Cancer Centers for their treatment and that there is HOPE along their journey, to never give up, and to hold on to their faith in God.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Marie B. When I found out that I had cancer, I decided that I was going to make cancer the best thing that ever happened to me, not the worst. At 39 years old I was diagnosed with stage IIIB breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. I’d been told the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and bloodstream, and I had a 49 percent survival rate. I was not about to accept those odds!
My husband, Michael, had lost his dad to colon cancer two years earlier and he was determined it wasn’t going to happen to me. He went online and learned about the integrative care offered at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). He spoke with an Oncology Information Specialist about the program at Cancer Centers and within a couple of hours, he had set up an appointment for me and announced that we were flying to Chicago. It was more than 2,000 miles from my home in Vernonia, Oregon, outside of Portland, but the distance didn’t faze me in the least. I wanted to live, and I was going to do what it took to make sure I survived.
My first day at Cancer Centers at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, I knew I was in the right place. They offered me so much more than my local doctors had. I underwent a variety of diagnostic tests to help my care team determine where the cancer was in my body and how we needed to treat it. When I met my oncologist, Dr. Citrin, he told me we were going to attack my cancer from every direction possible. My treatment plan consisted of three different chemotherapy drugs delivered in fractionated doses every three weeks, eight weeks of radiation that included TomoTherapy® radiation (given by another one of my favorites, Dr. Eden), and two final doses of chemo. A complete hysterectomy was recommended and performed by Dr. Williams once these treatments were completed.
Not only was my cancer treatment program designed to kill the cancer, it also nurtured me and prepared me for life after cancer, with things like nutrition support, massage, and acupuncture to fight my disease on all fronts. Sharon Day, my nutritionist, re-educated my family and me about how to eat and what to eat. She even grocery-shopped for us and told us what to look for in our foods. My naturopath, Lise, recommended supplements to help me cope with the side effects of chemo and radiation, and helped me establish a long-term supplemental regimen to stay healthy.
Being away from my family and friends during treatment was hard at times, but a blessing as well. I missed them and worried about them, but it gave me time to reflect and heal the cancer. The time I spent alone really put things into perspective and I addressed some anxiety issues I had struggled with long before my cancer. I felt strongly that my stress and negative thoughts had contributed to my getting sick. I wanted to take responsibility for how I got this sick, and then change course.
I also appreciated the support of my family and friends. My husband Michael was at every chemo round, and we included my daughters and Mom on a visit so they could be reassured that I was in the best hands possible, which was important for them to feel good about the care I was receiving. During my nine-week stay for radiation, my mom was able to spend a few weeks with me and a very dear friend, Mary, also spent a week with me.
Today, I still travel more than 2,000 miles for my yearly checkups at Cancer Centers. Each visit, I see my entire care team and get the full deal, from a massage, to physical therapy, acupuncture, nutrition, naturopath, and of course my primary cancer-care doctors. During my last visit, it was wonderful to hear Dr. Eden tell me he never needed to see me again! Of course, I will stop by every year to say “hi” but I am happy to no longer be his patient.
I appreciate the ongoing care I’ve received at Cancer Centers because when you’re fighting cancer, you sometimes forget that life goes on after cancer. I have learned ways to deal with my lymphedema as a result of my cancer treatment. My physical therapist, Stanislav Maravilla, taught me techniques for massaging areas that swell and he also updates me on the latest products to help breast cancer survivors. I was custom-fitted for a pump to drain excess fluid, and he was able to arrange for custom sleeves and garments to help with the compression I need to keep my swelling under control.
In June of 2009, I went back to Cancer Centers for my annual check up and to celebrate my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free with other survivors at Cancer Centers Celebrate Life event. While there, I was able to visit my cousin’s husband Jack, who was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. I gave him my HOPE pin during Hope RoundsSM, in which survivors like me share our stories of healing with patients who are actively fighting cancer. I told Jack I’d see him back there in five years celebrating his five-year and my ten-year anniversary of being cancer-free!
There was never any doubt for me that I would be here to celebrate. I had worries and fears, but I practice every day to be the kind of person that I want to be. I’ve seen a lot of life in the five years since my diagnosis. I’ve been able to see both of my daughters graduate from high school; I’ve watched my daughter Larinda get married to a wonderful young man who serves our country; I’ve built a successful business with my husband; and I’ve traveled to Alaska, Ireland, Vegas and many places in between. I’ve watched both my daughters and my husband successfully graduate from the Fire Academy and become firefighters; I’ve raised chickens (something new for me); and I’ve begun compiling our family history. I have only scratched the surface on all of the things I still want to do, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity.
There are many truths I have learned along the way of my cancer journey. It hasn’t always been fun and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but I feel that I am a better person for it. I never could have made it without the support of my family, friends and all of the people I met during my cancer treatment. I believe that modern medicine truly is a miracle. Recovery does not happen in a day, a week or sometimes even a month. Listen to your body and your gut—and you will find the care you need. There are wonderful doctors and nurses out there. Find them!
I have never been happier. I have faith in myself to be and do more. I find new ways every day to remind myself to live. From the beautiful surroundings I call home, being blessed with the opportunity to be treated at Cancer Centers, and the love of my family and friends…it’s all just one big hug from the universe for me! Thank you!
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES . Pam L. It was during December 2007 that I first realized something wasn’t quite right. I was going through a stressful period of time as my dad’s health was rapidly declining. But I chalked the symptoms I was feeling up to stress. December rolled into the New Year, and by the end of January, dad had passed away. By the time of his memorial service in March, my problems of a strange kind of constipation with diarrhea still persisted. That’s when I realized it was time to make my routine colonoscopy appointment. Up to this point, I had been one of those anti-colonoscopy people and had put off having that dreaded procedure.
On May 12, 2008, I had my first colonoscopy at the age of 55. I knew in my heart they would find something. The doctor told me after the procedure I had what he believed to be a cancerous polyp in my rectum. He also told me he suspected it had metastasized to other parts of my body and suspected it was a late stage cancer. He had nothing to back this up other than the colonoscopy. He ordered a PET scan and blood tests.
I sent out emails with the news to all my friends. One of my friends suggested I call a cancer hospital in Southern California, which was about 1½ hours from our home. Another friend called me about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I took the number and called. The representative told me about Cancer Centers and their hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She explained how Cancer Centers would fly us out to Tulsa for a consultation with doctors. They would also make arrangements for us to stay in a nearby hotel. I stopped the representative and asked her what the “catch” was. She told me there was no “catch.” I started to cry and told her no one does that for anyone! I told my husband we needed to check this out and to just humor me by going to see what Cancer Centers was all about.
I first went to the appointment at the cancer hospital in California. They wanted me to have another colonoscopy with rectal ultrasound at another facility across town. We do not know our way around the Pasadena/L.A. area, so this was going to be a challenge.
A couple days later, we flew to Tulsa to Cancer Centers with my PET scan in hand and the blood tests I had. We could not believe Cancer Centers. It was like a resort with a focus on cancer – unlike any cancer facility I had been to. And clean! Everyone was so compassionate and caring. Something I hadn’t really experienced to this degree anywhere.
The first day I saw “Dr. Jagg” (as patients refer to him) and he told me after reading my PET scan that it had not metastasized elsewhere and that it was not a late stage cancer. Good news! After the second day of seeing doctors, we knew our decision was a no-brainer, that I would be treated in Tulsa at Cancer Centers. As I tell everyone, I felt like God was present there. I never had that feeling in any other medical facility. I knew I didn’t want to be treated at home because my gastro doc wasn’t sure who to send me to for a surgeon and didn’t even have an oncologist lined up for me to see. Regardless of what I might have thought about my local options, God had other plans and being in Tulsa was in those plans.
To start, my treatment plan was that I would get a chemotherapy port placed, and then receive radiation with TomoTherapy® and 5-FU chemotherapy five days a week for six weeks. The hopes were the radiation and chemo would shrink the tumor so that I could have a rectal-sparing procedure instead of an abdominoperineal resection, which is the removal of the rectum along with a colostomy. After that, I returned home for eight weeks to recover. I then returned to Cancer Centers to find out the tumor hadn’t shrunk enough and was too close to the sphincter to make a rectal-sparing procedure possible.
The news was devastating to me. I remember when Dr. Greeff told me, I broke down in tears. As I have since told my husband, I felt I was grieving a loss. Dr. Greeff told me I could think about it, consider alternative options or have surgery. He told me whatever I decided to do, that time was of the essence, and I didn’t want to miss the window of opportunity for surgery. I told him immediately I was not interested in traveling all over looking for something alternative and that I wanted to schedule surgery. He asked me if I was sure, and if I wanted more time to think about it. I told him that I was sure.
Dr. Greeff immediately referred us to Debbie, the wound care nurse. Debbie started to educate us on what a colostomy and stoma were. I couldn’t listen, I couldn’t look. My husband saw what was going on with me and asked Debbie to slow down because this had been pretty devastating news for both of us. That’s when Debbie turned to me and asked if I was a Christian. I had always been, but for some reason that day, I hesitated. I didn’t know where my faith was. I still believed, but I felt I had lost my way. I know today that God took me to Cancer Centers to get my feet back on the right path again, and it started with Debbie. After the prayer, I had a whole different outlook and was able to listen and talk about it. I felt like the sadness had gone away. I realized that God really works in our lives when we least expect it, but when we most need it.
I had surgery. I was so blessed because the cancer had not gone outside the rectal wall, and had not metastasized to other organs or lymph nodes. It was a stage II cancer. Two months after I had healed, I started on a chemotherapy regimen consisting of oxaliplatin, 5-FU and leucovorin, along with premeds that kept me from getting sick. I had always been a high energy person and I remember Dr. Jagg warning me the chemo was going to affect my energy level. How true that was! I needed to learn to listen to my body and rest when it told me to rest. I stayed in the guest rooms at the hospital throughout the majority of those five months, only returning home a couple times. My husband would also fly out to visit me.
I tell everyone today that it was God’s hand that took me all the way to Tulsa for cancer treatment. I knew I did not want to be treated in our local town, but I had no idea I would be treated in Tulsa! God knew that he needed me there for such a time as this. I know that I could not have gotten the same spiritual journey, quality of care, compassion, or pampering back home that I got in Tulsa. I not only went on a cancer journey, but a wonderful journey of finding my way back to God. I know that being at Cancer Centers played a large part in that latter journey.
Coincidentally, my last chemo was completed on the date of my first-year anniversary of being diagnosed of cancer.
Cancer Centers is a positive, caring, compassionate, upbeat facility. The fact that everything is under one roof without the need to be running all over town for appointments was a huge stress reliever. That convenience made all the difference in the world for me. Also, cleanliness was important, and Cancer Centers was immaculate.
The on-site accommodations for outpatients made my life so much less stressful as I was going through treatment. I had people around me, including care providers and many new friends I made at the hospital. If I needed urgent care, it was right there—no sitting in a hospital ER for several hours at home to be seen. I felt I was well cared for and looked after, and yes, spoiled!
My oncologist, Dr. Jagg, is really wonderful! They could not have matched me up with a better oncologist. I continue to see him for my regular checkups. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Greeff have been great, too. And, I can’t say enough about the caring staff, nurses and all the other employees I encountered. They are the cream of the crop.
I also think having all the other clinicians available at Cancer Centers was a plus in improving my quality of life after surgery and during chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I took full advantage of the Oncology Rehab Department. The therapists helped get me back on my feet after surgery. When I was going through chemo the last five months, I was on a treadmill almost every other day, even if it was for a short while. I believe it helped in my recovery.
I also received reflexology and Reiki therapy as well. Both helped to calm and relax me. I also took advantage of learning the relaxation methods offered by one of the mind-body therapists. I received some acupuncture at Cancer Centers, and continued with that treatment after I returned home.
The dietitian also had a lot of information to impart to us. We were already eating healthy, but she gave us some additional helpful information.
The spiritual support I received was appreciated a lot. A chaplain prayed with me before I went in to surgery, or any other surgical procedures. Chaplains also visited with me as I recovered in the hospital after surgery. And, at the start of chemo, I always had someone to pray for me, too.
Life changes and challenges aside, I basically feel good. I’m still struggling with neuropathy in my feet. I have tried everything possible to help the nerves repair, but so far, I haven’t experienced much relief in the numbness. I still walk on the treadmill three to four days a week. I have gotten back to doing everything I was before, all in small increments over the last two years. I’m back working my photography business again and have photographed a few weddings and families. One part of my business is devoting time to Operation: Love Reunited. It’s a 100 percent volunteer effort that provides our military personnel deploying to either Iraq or Afghanistan and their families with free predeployment photo sessions and a designed photo album for the person being deployed, as well as already gone photo sessions and coming home sessions. OpLove is my way of giving back to our military men and women and their families.
Being the cat lover that I am, I also volunteer for Greyfoot Cat Rescue in Ventura, California, which I was doing before I was diagnosed of cancer. I get to get my “kitten fix” without having to bring one home!
In addition, I am finishing up academy classes with our police department and will be part of their Volunteers in Policing team. Who would have ever thought?!
I have joined a couple of Bible study groups, something I was not doing before, but had always wanted to do. After returning home, doors opened up to do that. It really helps me to keep my focus on God.
In June 2010, my husband and I went to Germany for two weeks. If someone had told me I would be going on another international trip when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I would have told them I doubted that. So, going to Germany was my own personal celebration. In the spring of 2012, we will be going on a two-week tour with a group from our church to the Holy Lands! It’ll be the trip of a lifetime.
All in all, I am living life to the fullest and encouraging others who are fighting cancer to pray, give glory to God for all the good things he does in your life, and never give up on hope.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Chris Parrish. I don’t consider myself special or anything like that. I just do what I have to do to live. And that’s exactly why I when I was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in June 2008, I came here to beat it.
I was working out four times a week and in great shape. I had always been on the go and eating whenever I could find time. Friends noticed that I had lost a lot of weight, but I just thought it was due to my active lifestyle. During this time, I was constantly having stomach problems. My doctors recommended over-the-counter drugs and thought nothing of it. For a month, I also had constant diarrhea. Again, my doctors found nothing wrong.
Then, one day during my workout, I was stretching out on a Pilates ball and I noticed a bump protruding under my left ribcage. I knew something was not right. I had also been very tired, having a hard time eating, and in general, not feeling good. I just hurt. I went to my internal medicine doctor and had a MRI and CT scan. Four days later, the physician assistant told me that I had a mass in my pancreas and lesions on my liver. Holding back tears, I asked if they could take them out. But she said they couldn’t. The physician assistant mentioned that I should see an oncologist, and that was the first indication that she was talking about cancer. She never even said the word “cancer.”
It then took me two weeks to get into an oncologist near my home outside of Bangor, Maine. In that time, I did so much research on pancreatic cancer. When I got to the oncologist’s office, I was told they would put me on a chemotherapy regimen I knew from research I had done had only a 2 percent survival rate. I went over a list of other treatments I had read about and asked if they offered them. They said “no” to most of the treatments. I asked why other hospitals could do these treatments and they couldn’t. They just said they had what they had.
My sister and I then went to a bigger hospital on the East Coast for a second opinion. They advised me to do what I was recommended at the hospital at home. It was a waste of time.
A few weeks passed by and then I remembered another place I had always seen commercials for, Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I checked it out and made a phone call. I spoke with Karen Rivera, a lovely lady who is an Oncology Information Specialist at Cancer Centers. She was an angel. She provided me with information about Cancer Centers and the treatments they offer. Cancer Centers had what I was looking for and I was interested. Unfortunately, because I had selected an insurance plan through work that had a lower level of coverage, I didn’t have the flexibility to treat out of network at CTCA. But my managers and the benefits team at the company I work for helped me select another insurance plan. It would allow me to come to Cancer Centers for treatment, helping cover my treatment costs.
I called Karen back and we got the process rolling. Karen helped make travel arrangements for my mom and me to come to Cancer Centers at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Illinois. So we flew to Chicago early that August. I’ll never forget, a limo picked us up at the airport. I had never been in a limo before, so that was cool. The driver took us to the hospital and as soon as my mom and I walked in the front doors, I knew this was the place I needed to be. That day, I met with my nurse navigator Roxanne and she explained how things would go for my evaluation and consultation. I first met with Dr. Glynis Vashi, who is an intake physician at the hospital.
Then I started all of the testing—a bone scan, CT scan and PET/CT scan to make sure the diagnosis I received was accurate and that the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else. Next I met with all of the people who would provide me with supportive, or complementary, therapies. Then I met with my medical oncologist, Dr. Robert Levin. We discussed my treatment options. Everything was coming together the way I needed it to. My treatment plan was in place and I was ready to fight.
That weekend, after my evaluation and consultation, my mom and I stayed in town and participated in day trips to local attractions the hospital organized for patients and their families. We went on a boat ride and to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. That was the best thing because it really helped take our minds off what I was about to go through the next week—beginning my pancreatic cancer treatment.
I started my chemotherapy regimen, which included intravenous chemotherapy (FUDR chemotherapy and leucovorin), as well as intra-arterial chemotherapy (cisplatin and mitomycin) to both my liver and pancreas.
The intra-arterial chemotherapy, in particular, was intense. But, it knocked my tumor markers down dramatically. I went through four rounds of intra-arterial treatment. I experienced side effects, including nausea, low blood cell and platelet counts, and hair loss. I also needed to have blood transfusions. But progressively, I started getting better and feeling stronger.
For more than two years, I’d return to Cancer Centers every month for five to six days at a time. I received chemotherapy intravenously and took advantage of all of the supportive therapies and services Cancer Cancer offered. I met with many of the members of my care team, including Dr. Levin. He and I have such a great rapport. He knows I’m in it to win it. And he is too.
My naturopath helped me cope with nausea and had me on vitamin D, multivitamins, green tea and fish oil because of their natural, cancer-fighting properties. Something else that helped me tremendously to reduce side effects was acupuncture, which Cancer Centers also offered onsite. My acupuncturist Irina helped me deal with hot flashes/night sweats. Dr. Rosenberg, the chiropractor at the hospital, also realigned my spine. It was out of whack due to a sports injury. I also had massages with Gretchen. On the days when I’d have my massage and chiropractic adjustment, I felt so relaxed.
The spiritual support I received at the hospital helped renew my faith. And, my mind-body therapist Victoria was a Godsend to my mother and me. She’s somebody I felt comfortable talking to, and she helped me get through some really difficult times.
The first year of my cancer treatment was really hard. In the second year, I felt as though my body regenerated itself. My energy level was great. Granted, it took me a couple of days to recoup after I received five days’ worth of chemo. And some months were better than others. But overall, I had pretty normal energy three weeks out of the month. I ate right and took the natural therapies my naturopath prescribed.
I did a ton of juicing. That’s how I got a lot of my fruits. I juiced apples, carrots, red grapes, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries and cantaloupe. It was fabulous! Once a day I did it. And when I was at the hospital, the culinary staff did it for me.
I had my first beer since I was diagnosed on the two-year anniversary of my fight. I couldn’t drink it for a while, and I didn’t want to. But two years is definitely a momentous thing. So two Guinnesses got cracked open. The next year it was three.
Since April 2010, I’ve been working part time at my job as a collections agent for a major bank, which I’ve worked for since 2006. It feels good to be a part of something again. Just to say, “I’m working,” feels like winning the battle against cancer. It’s nice to be back. My coworkers have been amazing through all of this, especially my boss Jess. They’re my guardian angels. They even saved my job for me.
I don’t carry my work home with me. I work for four hours a day, and then I go golfing, which has become my new passion. I even walk the golf course carrying my own bag. It’s empowering for me to be able to do that. And when I’m not golfing, I’m at the beach. I’m like a kid: I’m not indoors until the sun comes down. I don’t want to miss a thing. I work out and jog/walk about a half mile, when I feel up to it. A couple of times, I’ve even played basketball. It’s good for my body to do something different.
I’ve also started an initiative to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer called the Purple Iris Brigade. We’ve bought thousands of purple irises from the local garden club and planted them throughout the community. On Facebook, we have about 1,300 friends. We hope to someday get non-profit status to further our plight. It’s my dream. I’d like to get it to take off and raise money for people who have pancreatic cancer that can’t afford treatment.
I know I can beat this. No one else would really help me fight. But at Cancer Centers, they’ve helped me to aggressively fight cancer and have a good quality of life.
My advice for anyone who is considering Cancer Centers for treatment is to take that leap of faith. Your doctor at home isn’t the only person out there who might be able to help you. Follow your instincts and always ask a lot of questions. If you don’t like the answers you’re getting, go someplace where you do like the answers you’re getting. That’s why I went to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Because I refused to listen to anyone tell me I had six months to live. Don’t let anyone tell you how long you have to live—ever. Nobody knows that. It’s all up to you and the “guy upstairs.”
I am doing well. I have had nine months off from chemo…a chemo holiday. I go back every three months as of right now, but my big visit comes in July. That will make it one year since my last chemo treatment. I am excited, and cautiously optimistic about the upcoming scans. The past months have felt so surreal. My whole life revolved around cancer and now to have a reprieve…I am in awe of how far I have come. I am truly blessed to have a great team and family that have stood by me! Thank you.
I recently returned from visiting family in Indiana. It was so wonderful to see folks I have not seen in years! Last year, I went to Gettysburg. I just love history.
I continue to do a lot of outreach work with folks who have contacted me about my cancer battle. It is mostly through the Internet/Facebook. I also take part in Relay for Life. I was their Honorary Chairperson last year and it is such an awe inspiring event! And, the Purple Iris Brigade is now up to more than 1,700 members.
I look forward to getting more involved in pancreatic cancer awareness and was recently made a Cancer Fighter Ambassador at Cancer Centers of America! When I come back to Cancer Centers, I make sure that I go around talking to folks and spread the hope and love I was, and am still, given each time I return. It feels so good to be able to pay it forward.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Lauren E. I was a freshman in college when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was more annoyed than upset or scared because all I could think was, “I have stuff to do. I’m too busy for this.” I was working two part-time jobs to put me through school full time, and volunteering at my church part time while also taking care of family matters. And I had a new boyfriend named Michael. I wasn’t really sure how he was going to take it.
But I wasn’t about to let cancer stop me. The thought of getting back to school and life drove me to fight the cancer and get better.
I had been sick for about six months with what my general physician thought was mono. It really started getting bad around the three-month mark because I began to have severe pains in my legs. I couldn’t understand why. I ended up losing function of my legs. By the time I was diagnosed, I was in a wheelchair. My doctor did blood tests, which led her to believe there was a possibility it was cancer.
After seeing a local oncologist, my family and I decided to see a specialist at a major teaching hospital in Chicago. I went through 40 hours of tests—everything from MRIs, CT scans and a PET scan to a spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy. That’s when I found out I had anaplastic large T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The specialist at the teaching hospital had a very “grab-the-bull-by-the-horns” kind of attitude. He wanted me to start the cancer treatment the next day, which I did. I began my first of several cycles of Hyper-CVAD chemotherapy.
But my family and I were not happy with the care I received at the teaching hospital. We decided to transfer my care to a hospital closer to my home. I continued with my cancer treatment there, but was equally disappointed by my care.
My mom heard about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) from a friend and decided it was worth looking into. My family’s home in Lakemoor, Illinois is less than a 45-minute drive from the CTCA hospital in Zion, Illinois. She called Cancer Centers and was able to set up an appointment. Initially I was very reluctant to go. I told my mom I just wanted to finish out the hell I was dealing with because it’s just what cancer is. I figured the care I received was how it was supposed to be.
We went for a consultation at Cancer Centers at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in October 2010. At first impression, what changed my mind about transferring to Cancer Centers was the food. After three or four cycles of hospital chicken and fish for weeks at a time, a stuffed portabella mushroom with pine nuts and spinach in it was like heaven to me. That’s the kind of healthy and delicious food they serve. It’s a far cry from what you’d expect from a cancer hospital cafeteria.
When I met with my doctors, I knew I got the “A-Team.” With Dr. Redei and Dr. Abutalib, I got doctors who were knowledgeable about my disease and how to treat it. I was really impressed with how calm and confident Dr. Redei was in coming up with my treatment plan. He knew what I was dealing with and that made me feel better about what I was up against.
I continued to learn as much as I could about cancer and went through more cycles of chemotherapy at Cancer Centers. I also met with my dietitian there pretty regularly about what I was eating and how I was doing. What I learned from her helped me keep my strength up and better manage nausea caused by the chemotherapy.
Once I completed my chemotherapy regimen, I underwent a stem cell transplant.
Dr. Abutalib explained the procedure to me in terms I could understand. Basically, I would receive a medication that would make stem cells leave my bone marrow and enter my bloodstream. The stem cells would then be collected and frozen until the time of the transplant. When I was ready to receive the transplant, the stem cells would be thawed and returned to my body in a procedure that’s like a blood transfusion. The stem cells would travel back to my bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells.
I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to be as hard as it was. But I walked into begin the treatment with my head held high and I said, “I am going to kick this thing.” I thought if I had an “if” in my mind I might not come out, I’d be giving that “if” the opportunity to take hold of me.
My stem cells were harvested at the end of November. The process of removing the stem cells from my body sort of reminded me of donating blood. Although, I had to sit still for about six hours while my blood was pumped into a machine. My sisters kept me distracted during the long wait. I was so relieved to go to the bathroom once it was over.
I was then able to enjoy the holidays with my family and Michael. I returned to Cancer Centers January 4 for the actual transplant.
Following the transplant, I was hospitalized in the Stem Cell Unit at Cancer Centers for about a month. The whole time, I ate healthy and worked really hard at getting better.
By the beginning of February, my doctors felt I should be OK to go home. They had me come back every couple of days to ensure I was doing well in my recovery.
For a matter of months after the transplant, I really didn’t do much. My focus was on recovering. I was so tired all of the time. I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck. It was like my body went into so much shock after having its “reset button” pushed.
Losing my hair because of the chemotherapy was not all that bad. It was a lot easier to manage. Before the cancer, I had thick, straight hair that reached down to my waist. The only time I was self-conscious was when I was around Michael because I wanted him to have a normal relationship. I would always put my wig or a hat on when I was around him. But there was one night when he lifted up my hat, kissed me on the forehead and said, “It doesn’t bother me.” That was the day I realized he loved me no matter what.
The most difficult part of going through it all was losing a year of my life. I lost the opportunity to transfer out of the community college I’d been attending at the same time as all of my friends. Many of them have moved on with their lives to the point I can’t yet. Another disappointing thing is I can’t have kids. I want to have children so badly, it’s disheartening. The cancer ate away at my lower vertebrae and the doctors feel I won’t be able to carry kids.
Cancer Centers gave me the greatest gift and that was to be able to look back and laugh on a lot of the things that happened. I could crack jokes with the doctors, nurses and techs, give Dr. Abutalib a hard time whenever he egged me on, and just make light of the situation. My mom and I laughed about a lot of the stuff too.
When I was going through cancer treatment at the other hospitals, I only left my home to go to receive treatment. I shut myself into my house and alienated myself from people. I didn’t go to parties or Bible study. I was so afraid of catching germs that I just didn’t go anywhere.
When I met Dr. Redei, he helped me understand it wasn’t so much about what I couldn’t do, but what I could do. He encouraged me to continue to have a social life. He’d tell me, “Go out and see a movie with friends, but just wear a mask.” Go out and go and do things. That message really stayed with me. Cancer Centers isn’t just about surviving…it’s about living. As a cancer patient, your primary focus is to survive. But that shouldn’t be your only focus. Experience life as you go through cancer. Go out and meet new people, experience things. Live life!
In a lot of ways, my cancer experience brought my family closer together. When my mom wasn’t there, my sisters would come over and hang out. I also had friends that would visit. I had a really good support group. I made a lot of friends in the hospital too. I did feel like the youngest patient. Our biggest decision was whether I should go to a children’s hospital and get treated or a grownups’ hospital. I chose to go to a hospital for grownups. I’m glad that I did because I learned so much from all of the older patients about what they were going through and how they handled things. I learned a lot about myself too. It made me grow up and take this in a mature manner.
Life is great! On May 30, 2012, I celebrated my 21st birthday. Starting in the fall of 2012, I will be going to Fontbonne University in St. Louis to study dietetics. My hopes are to graduate and become a dietitian at a pediatric cancer center.
I’m also planning my carnival-themed wedding to Michael. We got engaged on Thanksgiving Day 2011. We started out our day by going to our favorite lighthouse near Kenosha, Wisconsin. We read our favorite Bible verse and prayed. Then Michael got down on one knee and proposed. The first place I thought about going to was Cancer Centers. So we drove down to the hospital, I walked up to the Stem Cell Unit and announced to my nurses, “I’m engaged!”
I continue to go to Cancer Centers every six months for checkups. I also go to hang out and talk with patients. I love going there to see everyone and catch up.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. Kimalea C. After noticing a lump during a breast self-exam in 2010 I had a biopsy in my home state of Colorado. I received the dreaded results – - it was cancer. A lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy revealed tumors in several lymph nodes that were larger than the one in my breast. I was diagnosed as having Stage II breast cancer and I would require another surgery to get a clean margin as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
I was devastated. I was still grieving the loss of my husband, Gary, from a heart attack. I felt overwhelmed by fear. Cancer was so dreaded and frightening. I thought it would change my life forever and I was discouraged. I felt my body had somehow betrayed me. I exercise and eat well, I am healthy. It seemed so unfair. I felt it was beyond my ability to cope.
Gradually my thoughts shifted: I realized as unreal and unfair as it seemed, I did have cancer and I wanted to fight. I was ready to fight the fear and fight the invasion of cancer cells in my body.
I became determined to fight cancer. My son and I even went to an army surplus store for camouflage gear; something I could wear to remind myself that this was a war and I had a job to do. I stopped thinking of chemotherapy and radiation as my enemy and began thinking of them as my weapons in the fight against cancer.
I was looking for a place where I could receive comprehensive cancer treatment from experts. A friend whose husband had been treated for cancer suggested that I call Cancer Treatment Centers of America where he had received his treatment. I spoke with Doug White at Cancer Centers on a Saturday. He was kind and compassionate as he took my insurance information. After he confirmed my insurance coverage, Doug asked if I wanted to travel to the hospital for tests and a treatment plan. On Monday I flew from Colorado to Illinois so I could have a consultation with the doctors at the Cancer Centers facility in suburban Chicago.
During that first visit I met with several doctors, clinicians, a naturopath, dietitian, mind and body therapist, and a pastor. When I was presented with a treatment plan, I realized that Cancer Centers was the place where I would be the best equipped and most supported for this war against the enemy, cancer. I knew that I would be surrounded by fellow warriors that were willing to invest in a relationship with me. Their hope and encouragement increased my hopefulness. So I decided to pursue treatment at Cancer Centers Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
My oncologist, Dr. Neelam, explained that the breast cancer I had was very aggressive. She was confident about the plan for treatment she presented to me, which included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She said it was imperative that I begin the cancer treatment immediately and not miss any treatments due to injury or illness. She told me I would most likely lose my hair and I would have other side effects, which my care team would help me manage. I loved Dr. Neelam’s no-nonsense approach to my care. I now had a battle plan and I would not be alone in my fight as I had a team of experts that were committed to my health and well-being.
The night before my first chemo treatment my son, a student at the University of Colorado, shaved his head and sent me a picture. I was touched by his steadfast support. Before my second treatment, his roommate shaved his head. I did lose my hair after that chemotherapy and I felt ill and dreaded the rest of the treatments. I talked with my son who encouraged and reminded me that I was strong and I could go the distance, that I could do this, and that many people cared and were cheering me on. I was not alone in this fight. His support gave me the strength and courage I needed to continue my chemo.
My Cancer Centers Care Management team helped me to manage the side effects. I chose to view the loss of my hair as an affirmation that the chemotherapy was working. I decided to have fun with wigs. And when a hospital volunteer offered me a selection of pretty, hand-knitted hats that I could wear while sleeping to keep my tender, bald head warm and comfortable, my heart was blessed by this thoughtfulness.
Telluride, Colorado, where I reside, is very conducive to outdoor activities. I enjoy kayaking, skiing, fishing, hiking, running, dancing and horseback riding. I also love to turn cartwheels. During chemotherapy I did not feel I could enjoy any of these activities. But as I completed chemotherapy and began to feel better I decided to try doing a cartwheel. I discovered I did not yet have the strength but I was hopeful that in time I would. After radiation, although I was feeling stronger, scar tissue restricted the range of motion of my shoulder so I still could not do a cartwheel.
Upon completion of my cancer treatment, I met with Dr. Aaron Pelletier, a surgeon who specializes in breast reconstructive surgery. Together we decided to try a free-flap procedure in which tissue from my abdomen would be moved to the area where my breast had been. The procedure would require more than one surgery. Radiation prevented me from having a breast implant, so this approach was the only option for reconstruction. Once again, Cancer Centers was able to provide for my needs.
The first surgery lasted about 11 hours. When I awoke, Dr. Pelletier was there, instructing the nurses and reassuring me that all was well and that he was pleased with the results. At a post-operative appointment I asked Dr. Pelletier if I could try a cartwheel. He gave his professional permission, so I gave it a try. Right in the hallway of Cancer Centers I did a cartwheel. In fact, I turned 3 more cartwheels that day to the delight of the CTCA staff that had indeed become friends during my journey of healing and restoration.
As a patient going through cancer treatment, it has meant so much to be surrounded by so many caring people. The staff at CTCA seemed to always know exactly what I needed. They knew what would make a difference in my well-being, and what would give me peace, confidence, and hope. Each day of my cancer treatment, as I arrived in my camo gear, I felt the support and encouragement of doctors, nurses, clinicians, therapists, pastors and other staff members, a long list of individuals who were willing to invest in me. They were an important part of my fight.
Since September 2011 there has been no active cancer. Dr. Neelam was the first to report when I reached this status and there was such joy in her voice when she told me. I was ecstatic! I feel healthy and strong. My hair has grown back thick and silver. I love this new look—it is a victory flag, because I am a survivor.
Now I know I have the strength to fight any battle. Cancer is not a good thing, but good has come out of my experience with this disease. If there is a fight before me, I can fight. I also want to rejoice in every day. Each sunrise and sunset is a blessing. Cancer cannot make me afraid without my permission, and I refuse to give it permission. So I feed my faith, not my fears.
The caregivers at Cancer Centers were an integral part of bringing me through a difficult and frightening time into an experience that I could embrace and by which I could be strengthened. Cancer Centers continues to care for me and guide me in my pursuit of optimal health and wellness. When I walk into CTCA I feel at home surrounded by people who sincerely care about me.
CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES. SUE G. I have been the guidance department secretary at Bentley High School in Burton, Michigan for 15 years. Working at a high school for so long, I think you can say I’ve had my fair share of stressful first days of the school year. But in August 2002, I had by far my most traumatic first day ever.
I’ll never forget, during my lunch hour that day, I picked up results from a breast biopsy I had. Even though they were sealed in an envelope and I was to bring them directly to my doctor, the anticipation was entirely too much. I opened the envelope to discover I had cancer. By the time I reached my doctor’s office, he could tell from my face that I had already received the bad news.
After several trips to local doctors for second and third opinions, I felt discouraged when none of them seemed to look at the whole body for treatment. They didn’t even know anything about vitamins! One of them said, “We don’t deal with vitamins!” Then, I heard about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) from my hairdresser. She happened to be the best friend of Vickie, who had undergone treatment at Cancer Centers. I turned to Vickie for guidance. After talking with her, I felt confident about looking into Cancer Centers because of her positive experiences and encouragement.
I decided to visit Cancer Centers at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Illinois for a little look-see. But as soon as I walked in the door, I knew I was in the right place. It was like a piece of heaven. I was welcomed with open arms.
Two days later, I underwent a lumpectomy, which was performed by Dr. Sanchez.
At first, my family was baffled why I would want to travel so far for treatment. We live hundreds of miles away in Davison, Michigan, which is on the eastern side of the state. Nevertheless, my family flew out for my cancer surgery. As soon as they arrived at the hospital, they immediately saw the difference. They were very impressed by how accommodating everyone was.
Following my surgery, I underwent four months of chemotherapy. I traveled by car, plane and train to get to Zion for my treatments, one week each month. I then underwent 40 days of radiation therapy at my hometown hospital because I didn’t want to be away from my family for such a long time. However, I really wished I could have stayed at Midwestern for that as well.
During my cancer treatment at Midwestern, even on days when I wasn’t feeling so well, I would take my infusion unit with me and roll down to participate in the classes and activities that were going on for the day. I found that it helped to take my mind off of the cancer and everything I was going through. My favorite was the relaxation class.
My 84-year-old parents came with me to Midwestern for every cancer treatment I received. They would even attend the classes and activities with me. I have special memories of watching them participate in the activities. My incredibly supportive parents wanted to be with me for everything I endured.
The people at Midwestern made a huge impression on me, and they continue to do so today. Seeing all of their familiar faces is wonderful. They keep me coming back. Each year I return with my husband for my checkups.
My message to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer is to never give up. Hold your head up high, every step of the way. I have received so much of my strength from the Lord. One way I share messages of faith with others fighting cancer is through scrolls I’ve created that list the “ABC’s” of scriptures. They begin with “A…’Abide in me and I will abide in you.’” I hand these out to friends and others who are fighting cancer. Whenever I undergo diagnostic tests, I whisper these scriptures to myself too. They help me to relax.
When I visited Midwestern in June 2007 to commemorate my five-year anniversary as a cancer survivor at a special event called Celebrate Life, I handed my scrolls out to patients who were undergoing chemotherapy.
Celebrate Life was spectacular! And while I have long dreamt of meeting Lance Armstrong, meeting his mom, who spoke at the ceremony, was even better!
Ever since Celebrate Life, I have been walking on sunshine. I start off each day by playing Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine,” which was the theme of the event. And, my new favorite flower is none other than the sunflower. Sunflowers were everywhere at Celebrate Life. What can I say? I am hooked! In fact, on my way home from the event, I stopped in a store and found a scrapbook covered with sunflowers. Ever since then, they’ve filled my life. Students give them to me all of the time. I’ve found all sorts of trinkets and mementos with them on it. But, the best was this summer, when my husband and I discovered an entire field of sunflowers. I stopped to revel in their beauty and pose for what has quickly become my family’s favorite photo (see above)
It’s been nearly 10 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I feel very, very blessed to still be here! This month I am retiring from the high school where I’ve worked for 25 years. Each day I wake up and thank the Lord I’m still here, and when I go to bed at night I count my blessings.
Since my cancer treatment, I’ve become a Cancer Center Cancer Fighter and member of the Patient-to-Patient Network at Cancer Centers. I talk to patients all over the United States! Several of the patients I’ve spoken with have told me I give them strength, but really I feel they are the ones who have given me strength.
Also memorable, my husband and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary, I became a grandma and we bought a retirement home in South Carolina (to be near our new grandchild). We travel to our new home as often as we can. We plan to move there permanently and get away from this Michigan snow in the coming years.
I continue to try to improve my health each year by doing more research on eating better. I have been a vegan for five years. My goals after I retire are to participate in a Danskin Triathlon (bike, swim and walk—not run), continue to volunteer for Cancer Centers and have an organic garden.
BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR. Kari M. has had her share of health scares over the years. She found her first breast lump at age 17, the first of 9 benign (non-cancerous) lumps she had removed from her breasts during the next 2 decades. One of those lumps, found in 2004 when Kari was 35, was so suspicious, her doctor advised her to begin getting yearly mammograms. (The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms begin at age 40 for women at average risk of breast cancer.)
Less than a year later, Kari had a scare that was more than just a scare. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was caught early through a Pap test, and she underwent a hysterectomy. She did not need chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatment. She said, “I felt so blessed!”
Then in 2008, after her regular yearly mammogram, Kari received a letter telling her she had a suspicious result and should come back in 6 months. Six months later, after the repeat mammogram, she received an identical letter. But instead of scheduling another repeat mammogram, Kari made an appointment with a breast surgeon. “My instinct just kicked in,” said Martin.
The surgeon ordered an ultrasound of Martin’s breast, and found nothing wrong. Martin got up to leave, but the surgeon insisted on examining her other breast. The doctor felt a mass, ordered an ultrasound, and saw something that worried her. The next day, Martin underwent a core needle biopsy and was told she had breast cancer.
Kari was diagnosed with Stage II triple negative breast cancer. The good news was that it was found early, before it had spread, but the bad news was that this type of breast cancer tends to be very aggressive.
Kari’s first thoughts were about her sons, then ages 10 and 17. She worried, “Is my 10-year-old son going to lose his mother? Am I going to see my 17-year-old son graduate from high school?” She prepared to fight. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
Kari said losing her hair as a side effect from cancer treatment was very hard for her. “For all the people who say, ‘It’s just hair,’ they should only know what we go through. It’s ‘just hair’ for the people who have it; for us women who have to endure chemo, it’s a lot more than ‘just hair.’ I went through some dark, sad days and never felt so ugly and scared. I never thought I’d ever look normal or be pretty again.”
Kari found help through an American Cancer Society Look Good Feel Better workshop. This free, national public service program teaches cancer patients to manage the appearance side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Volunteers at the workshop – some of whom were breast cancer survivors themselves – gave her wigs and helped her with makeup and skincare.
“They know exactly what you’re going through,” said Kari. “Sisters and friends want to be there for you, but they don’t always know what to say. People at Look Good Feel Better know what you’re going through.”
Martin has had additional breast lumps as well as ovarian cysts, but all have turned out to be benign. She said that though she worries about her cancer coming back, she looks for ways to think positive.
After her breast cancer treatment, she began exercising with an interactive video program, and now uses it every day to practice yoga, aerobics, and weight training.
She also likes to go to the American Cancer Society website, cancer.org, to read inspiring stories, especially ones about women surviving triple negative breast cancer. She hopes to become a source of inspiration herself.
Kari said, “I’ve never felt or looked better in my life. I want women to know I am living proof there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope, and life will get back to normal. I do not let the thought of recurrence run my life; I live my life and thank God for every day.”
BONE CANCER SURVIVOR. Alexandra is a junior in college, dreaming of one day going to medical school and becoming the best oncologist in the world. When Ojeda was only 1 year old and living in Venezuela, she was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Her case was unusual because Ewing sarcoma is more often diagnosed in teenagers. It also typically starts in bones of the hips or legs, but her cancer was in the right side of her jaw.
“I feel my problem was just God’s way of letting me know my role in this planet,” she said. “I am alive because I am meant to help those parents and children who might be affected by this painful and awful disease.”
Alexandra was treated in the United States, and her family eventually moved to Georgia. At 17, she has had 31 surgeries to remove and reconstruct part of her jaw. She also underwent chemotherapy.
These days, she embers little from her treatment and has no evidence of cancer remaining. She has regular checkups to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. And she plans to have surgery in the future, to remove scars from her face and from her leg, where some bone was taken to reconstruct her jaw.
Currently a student at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, she has become actively involved in Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society’s annual community event to celebrate cancer survivors and raise money for cancer research and patient programs.
For the past 2 years, she was captain of a fundraising team at Georgia Tech that raised almost $1700 for cancer. One of the highlights of every Relay For Life event is the survivors lap, when all cancer survivors are invited to walk around the track, cheered on by all other participants and volunteers.
“Walking the cancer survivors’ lap made me feel really happy,and my parents were crying.
THYROID CANCER SURVIVOR.
I am just an ordinary guy who has been through a lot over the years. But no matter what, I’ve always managed to pull through. I have become a better person because of what I’ve experienced.
On November 1, 1989, Gary, my son and best friend, was killed by a drunk driver. It took me years to forgive the driver, but I did. Then on May 18, 2007, my family faced another unimaginable tragedy. My grandson Connor had been killed in an accident. He ran from behind a neighbor’s vehicle as she was pulling out of her driveway and was hit. Connor was just days away from turning 3.
The deaths of my son and grandson have deeply affected me, as have my personal struggles with health. I’ve had nearly 30 surgeries, including a colon resection, knee replacement surgery, and surgery to remove a tumor that was attached to my appendix. By far, though, the toughest health battle I’ve fought is against cancer.
Back in November 2005, I was working in a lumberyard in my hometown of McHenry in northern Illinois. I developed a sore throat and thought nothing of it. Here it was November and I had been outside a lot for my job. But by the time May came around and it was still bothering me, I knew I had better get into the doctor. My doctor gave me an antibiotic, but my throat still didn’t feel right. I went to an ENT doctor, and he gave me Nexium® because he thought it might be acid reflux. I took it for a month and I still had a sore throat. The doctor then ordered a CT scan. It didn’t show anything. Finally, I told him we were wasting time and that I should have a biopsy.
So, I had a needle biopsy. Later that same week, my doctor called me at work and said another doctor wanted to see me and my wife Carol that day at 5 o’clock. All I could think of was that my father had died of stomach cancer and throat cancer back in 1992. I was always leery of having throat cancer. Turns out my fears weren’t too far off. Carol and I went and received the bad news: it was thyroid cancer, or what the doctors call papillary carcinoma of the thyroid.
In August 2006, I underwent a total thyroidectomy at a local hospital. In the 10-hour surgery, the doctor took out my thyroid and several lymph nodes. As the months passed, I was in pain and had been vomiting, so I began to look for help elsewhere.
Watching TV one day, I saw a commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I called the phone number for Cancer Centers and talked to Kathleen. She was such a nice lady. She sent me an information packet about Cancer Centers right away. At the same time, we looked into another hospital in the Chicago area a friend recommended. That was a waste of time. Fortunately, Kathleen followed up with us to see how I was feeling and if we had any questions about CTCA. We were impressed with Kathleen and what we heard about CTCA, so we decided it was worth seeing what they could do to help me.
Carol worked with Kathleen to make arrangements for us to travel to CTCA at Southwestern Regional Medical Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a consultation. Days later, we were on a plane. I was scared and I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m so glad we went.
We met with so many people on my first day at CTCA. When I met with my oncologist, Dr. Petra Ketterl, she immediately knew what was wrong with me. She explained that I had severe lymphedema.
Dr. Ketterl ordered therapy right away to help get my lymphedema under control. The pain management team also helped me to deal with the pain.
I began to receive manual therapy for lymphedema on my neck at Cancer Centers in Tulsa. My physical therapist there was so unique. He would just close his eyes and feel in my neck where the lymphatic fluid needed to drain. He would massage my neck and open up the passages so the fluid would drain and the swelling would go down.
Eventually, I was able to transfer my lymphedema therapy to the CTCA hospital closest to my home, CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. I received my therapy there for a number of months. They also showed me how to use compression garments, such as one that I wore on my chest, to help reduce lymphedema swelling.
In total, I had three years of manual lymphedema therapy. Many of the therapy sessions were at Cancer Centers and others were at a facility in my hometown.
I continue return to Tulsa to see Dr. Ketterl for checkups. I have a local oncologist I also see regularly who keeps in touch with Dr. Ketterl. It’s worked out well. They share my medical records and communicate about my health.
One of the best things resulting from my journey with cancer has been the Cancer FightersSM program, which is a support group CTCA offers for patients and caregivers. I signed up to participate in the program during one of my first visits to CTCA in Tulsa. In October 2009, Carol and I received an invitation to a special dinner being held for Cancer Fighters who lived in the areas surrounding CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. This was the first of many social outings we would attend for the Cancer Fighters program. It was a wonderful night, one that would change my life.
During the dinner, we were asked if we would like to volunteer at the hospital. I decided I was interested, so I stayed to get more information from Michelle and Dawn, who head up the program at the hospital. Ever since then, I’ve been volunteering at the hospital three days a week. As a Cancer Fighters Ambassador, I get to do what I love—talk with patients and caregivers. Once a month, I also speak to new employees at the hospital as part of their orientation.
I’m really proud to be involved in the Cancer Fighters program. And I have to say, Michelle and Dawn deserve all the pats on the back they can get. They both put their hearts and souls into what they do. They give a 110% on a daily basis because they really do care.
Thanks to the Cancer Fighters program, I’ve participated in walks for charities and was honored as a survivor at a Chicago Wolves hockey game. For the holidays in 2009, I was even asked to light a tree at the hospital during a special ceremony.
During one of my visits to Tulsa for treatment, something inside of me clicked. I realized I had to change the way I think to change my life. I wanted to be more positive and to give more to others in need. I learned that when you give, you get.
The most difficult part of my journey has been not being able to work. Sometimes I feel as though it’s taken away my manhood, to a degree. I just turned 56 and I am on disability. It sucks. And while I no longer have cancer, I do have other health issues. But you know what? It means a lot to me every day just to wake up.
I have made many friends at both CTCA hospitals—patients, caregivers and CTCA employees. I stay in contact with a lot of people through emails, calls and Facebook. Ron Gibbons, a patient and Cancer Fighters Ambassador in Tulsa, is particularly an inspiration. I consider him to be my mentor.
I look forward to attending an event called Celebrate Life®, which CTCA hosts for five-year cancer survivors who have treated at their hospitals. I will be attending it in 2011. But, more so, I look forward to being there for my family and friends. I love my wife Carol so much. She is my inspiration. She has fought multiple sclerosis for years and she never lets it get the best of her. She teaches special needs kids at a local high school and she is great with the kids. On Christmas Eve 2010, we’re going to renew our wedding vows at our church.
Because of CTCA and the Cancer Fighters program, I feel like I have my life back. I’d especially like to thank Carol too for not giving up on me when I gave up on myself, and for having faith for both of us.