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Video: Audrey Allen - Breast Cancer SurvivorBreast Cancer Survivor
Cancer Stage I Breast Cancer
Completed Treatment 2005
CTCA Hospital Treated at
Care Team Included
Treatments at CTCA
- Enjoying time with her parents, brothers, kids and grandchildren
- Watching her grandchildren grow
- Earned multiple licenses and is now running and operating her own financial service business
- Serving as a ministry leader at her church for a program for 65+ seniors called the Christian Sojourners
- Participating in a new cancer support group at her church
- Serving on the CTCA Patient Advisory Council
- Speaks with others fighting breast cancer through the CTCA Patient-to-Patient Network
- Attended Celebrate Life® in 2010 as a five-year survivor
"Every person is different. Every situation is different. My doctors at CTCA understood this and truly looked at 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."
Audrey Allen, Richmond Hill, GA
My journey with breast cancer started in November 2004. I was devastated, scared and numb when I found out I had cancer. At the time, I was 48 and thought that I was healthy.
I immediately started researching doctors and treatments. I found a surgeon near my home outside of Savannah, Georgia to remove the tumor. After the surgery, I consulted with a local oncologist and radiologist. The doctors were so impersonal. They didn't want to listen to a word I was saying. They wanted to put me in one of those cookie-cutter scenarios. There were no other options for me. They just wanted to cut, radiate and do the chemo. I felt with the way they were conducting business, I had to get a second opinion.
I remembered reading about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in health magazines. I also saw a CTCA commercial on TV. I liked that they treated the whole person, not just the cancer. At CTCA, I’d have a naturopathic provider, dietitian, psychologist, massage therapy, acupuncture and access to an onsite fitness center—all in addition to conventional treatments I needed to fight cancer and all in one location.
So I called CTCA for information. I spoke with a representative who told me about CTCA hospitals and their overall approach treating breast cancer. The representative also checked to see if my medical insurance provider would allow me to treat at CTCA. Once I learned my insurance OK’d me to go to CTCA, I scheduled a consultation at the CTCA hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Within a week, I was on my way to visit the hospital.
I appreciated that CTCA gathered my mammograms, X-rays and other tests from the doctors’ offices I had been to in Savannah. My tests were sent to the hospital in Tulsa for my CTCA doctors to review before I arrived.
A friend traveled with me to CTCA for my consultation. We flew to Tulsa and were greeted upon our arrival at the airport. A gentleman from the CTCA 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 thereafter to CTCA, I’ve used their transportation service.
My friend and I were wowed by how CTCA took such good care of us. The morning after we arrived, I immediately began to meet with my different doctors and care providers for evaluation. I also had a number of tests done that first day.
Building a treatment plan & a team
At CTCA, my doctors and other care team 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 CTCA.
My doctors did their due diligent research. They didn't make quick judgment calls and say, "Just because you have breast cancer, this is what we have to do." Every person is different. Every situation is different. They understood this and truly looked at 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 pre-menopausal. Because 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. I then received Arimidex®, a hormone therapy drug, in addition to breast cancer radiation.
My radiation oncologist was wonderful too. We talked in detail about my radiation therapy options, including high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy and MammoSite®. We decided HDR brachytherapy was the best choice for me. My radiation oncologist explained that in comparison to the standard radiation therapy my doctors at home were recommending, HDR brachytherapy would cause less damage to the healthy tissue and organs near my breasts, including my heart and lungs. Also, standard radiation therapy is given five days a week for about six weeks. I received my HDR brachytherapy treatment in a matter of days.
At CTCA, my care team included a dietitian and a naturopathic provider. My dietitian 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 up. My naturopathic provider also recommended a regimen of supplements and liquid herbs, which helped me deal with side effects and have a better quality of life. The natural therapies he prescribed pertained specifically to my needs because of the breast cancer and my medical oncologist’s goal in depleting my hormones.
I also cherished the support I received from Rev. Langham and the pastoral care team at the hospital. They prayed with me, and became a very good support system and important part of my recovery. Also, Dr. Wakefield, a psychologist at CTCA, talked to me about what I was dealing with and helped me destress. He even taught me breathing techniques that allowed me to relax and cope with anxiety and stress.
Why I love CTCA
I think what I really loved about CTCA is that my doctors and other care providers talked to each other. They sat down together and talked about my case to come up with a plan just for me. That was huge, knowing that I didn’t have just one doctor. I had a whole team of doctors and 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 protocol 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 CTs, MRIs, 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 dietitian in the same appointment. I don't have to go from room to room, to room—they all come to me in one room.
Over the years, Dr. Ross Taylor, a gastroenterologist at CTCA, has helped to keep my health in-check too. When I’ve returned for checkups, he has performed colonoscopies to remove polyps in my colon. Praise God, the polyps were benign, but we all know polyps can turn into cancer. This is another reason why I love CTCA so much. They leave no stones unturned. They are thorough in my care and proactive to take care of things that could cause problems down the road.
Dr. Sarah Land, a psychiatrist at CTCA, has also played an important roll in my life. Because of my cancer being hormonal, after having my ovaries removed and years of taking the Arimidex, my blood work showed that I had no hormones. This lead to a side effect no one wants to deal with—depression. For about two years, I felt like I wanted to give up on life and run away. I cried every day. Dr. Land told me to stop running away from help and start running toward help. She convinced me to take some medicine, which helped to turn my life around. I am so happy today. The cloud that hung over my body is gone, and I am in love with life again.
Whenever I return to CTCA, I feel like I get a royal welcoming. It’s like visiting my second family. It’s as though everyone there knows me. And yet, while I've been going to CTCA in Tulsa for a number of years, I am now moving my care to the brand-new CTCA hospital that’s closer to my home—CTCA at Southeastern Regional Medical Center. Because I travel by myself, it's a lot of work. So having a CTCA hospital within a shorter driving distance from my home or a 45-minute flight is going to simplify my life.
But as I decided on my first day at CTCA years ago, no matter where I have to travel, CTCA is always going to be my choice. The care they give me is nothing like I have ever found in facilities in my hometown.
My life today is all about my family
After dealing with cancer, you just never know what the end of the road is going to be, and one thing I'm so thankful for is my family. I don't focus my life on work anymore. My whole life has truly changed. Instead of thinking about materialistic things or work, now I hold on really tight and spend as much time as possible with my parents, brothers, kids and grandbabies.
I look forward to taking road trips to visit my kids and my grandbabies. In 2012, for example, my son and his wife had a new baby and I made a point of driving 17 hours to Missouri to be there when my grandbaby was born. I’m very thankful for my daughter and her children too. Having the opportunity to watch my grandbabies grow up, play and dance, and simply being able to visit them and hold them is amazing. My grandbabies are a very important part of my life. They bring me joy, and it's been a blessing to have that opportunity to be there for them.