In February 2003, I met a woman named Shelly, a registered nurse, at the gym. She and I hooked up together, lifting weights and doing abdominal exercises on the mats. She was still grieving over her sister, who had died of breast cancer six months earlier. I asked Shelly why I felt worse after a workout, especially in the abdominal area, where I was bloated. She asked me if I had backaches. I told her that yes, sometimes I did. She told me that my symptoms could be ovarian cancer and that I should see a doctor.
Well, that hit me like a ton of bricks. I made an appointment with my primary physician. My physician recommended blood work and a test called Ca-125 tumor marker for ovarian cancer. Within a week, he called and said the Ca-125 came back 1119. When I asked what was normal, he said 0 to 35. He said he would make an appointment for me to have an ultrasound. After that phone call, I felt devastated and wanted to see Bruce, who was at the gym.
My emotions were all over the place and I was thinking, “No, it can’t be cancer.” I drove to the gym and told Bruce and our friends the news from the doctor. They were also shocked and devastated and we all prayed right there.
Bruce and I went home, fell into each other’s arms, and just cried. Our love for each other was stronger than ever before. He stood by me the whole way. The ultrasound confirmed there was a mass and fluid.
Within two days, I was in the O.R. at a well-known cancer hospital. The oncologist removed a two-pound tumor and a gallon of fluid that the tumor produced. I lost 10 pounds on the operating table.
When they brought me back to my room where Bruce was waiting, I could hear the oncologist tell Bruce that it was cancer and it was bad. He later told me that I had stage III ovarian cancer.
Shortly after, I went back to see the oncologist. He told me, as he was facing the wall, to find a cancer center for chemotherapy. I thought about how cold and business-like the doctors were.
I had lost all hope with them and I felt out of control, hopeless and devastated. I wondered if it was worth fighting since the oncologist gave me a bleak report. I realized, though, that my hope and faith is in the Lord, not in these men who put the thought in my head that I was going to die. I prayed for the Lord to guide me to a cancer hospital that would treat the whole body, not just the cancer.
As I prayed about this, He revealed to me about calling Donna, my stepmother. I thought: “Why her? Our relationship has been very strained and we aren’t speaking to each other.” Forgiveness is another part of healing. So I called Donna and we cried and forgave each other.
Then I told Donna that I had cancer and I was looking for a cancer hospital that treats the whole body. She said she just saw the advertisement on television for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), and for some reason she wrote down the phone number. I called them the next day.
When I called CTCA, the Oncology Information Specialist (OIS) I spoke to told me they have a team of professionals who cover every aspect of the body, mind and spirit. They treat the whole person. That was what I was looking for—a team of doctors who would work together for me, and give me hope, encouragement and strength.
The OIS representative answered all my questions and concerns. I was getting hope back, and strength to fight the cancer. CTCA made all the arrangements for insurance, travel and lodging. With them taking care of all the arrangements, I could focus more on me.
When I walked into CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, I knew I was in the right place. My first meeting with Dr. Sybilann Williams, who is not only a skilled gynecologic oncologist but a wonderful person, gave me her undivided attention when she spoke to me. She gave me options. I was part of the decision making and I wasn’t being treated as a number or a statistic. Dr. Williams never talked about death. She talked about fighting and winning. Those words gave me the hope I was looking for in an oncologist.
She explained to me about fractionated-dose chemotherapy, a powerful dose of drugs given in smaller doses over several days. I had far less side effects at CTCA than when I was treated locally. When I had two treatments at a local cancer facility, my body reacted in a negative way. I was sick and my blood counts were lower.
At CTCA, I also met with a naturopathic clinician. She set me up with a complete nutritional program, which was designed for my particular type of cancer. The doctors, nurses and staff were not only professional, but they were also helpful, friendly and encouraging.
They made this journey easier to go through. I was amazed at how experienced oncologists and other clinicians come together to form a team assigned specifically to each patient. They empower you with a range of healing options to help you fight cancer and enjoy a good quality life.
CTCA believes in treating the whole person, not just the cancer. They fight cancer on many fronts, through an integrated combination of the best medical, nutritional, physical, psychological and spiritual therapies. What more could I ask for?! Now I believe what seemed like a disaster is only part of God’s plan for me to experience, and to learn and help others. August 6, 2008
My past five years as a volunteer at CTCA have been very rewarding and exciting. In 2005, I was asked to appear in a CTCA TV commercial. It was exciting and fun, and the staff and the production crew were great.
That same year, three other patients and I shared our cancer stories with the employees at the newly opened CTCA at Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia, where I now go for all of my checkups.
I also presented John McNeil, the hospital’s President and CEO, with a painting honoring CTCA. Currently, I am organizing a presentation for the National Breast & Ovarian Cancer Coalition. I’ve been asked to speak to the coalition’s members in New Jersey.
In addition, I am planning a fundraiser for Gateway for Cancer Research. Throughout the last five years, I’ve reached out to many new patients. Each time I go to CTCA at Eastern Regional Medical Center, I let the patient advocates at the hospital know that I am available to talk with anyone who would like to speak with someone who has been through cancer. Who would have thought five years ago when I was fighting for my life, I would be helping others with cancer today? I am grateful and thankful to God and CTCA for these opportunities. December 11, 2011 Is a big milestone in my life. Each day is a special gift from the Lord and I appreciate the blessings much more.