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Video: Beth Gomez - Colon Cancer SurvivorColon Cancer Survivor
Cancer Stage III Colon Cancer
Completed Treatment 2009
CTCA Hospital Treated at
Care Team Included
Treatments at CTCA
- Enjoying time with her family and friends
- Is very proud of her husband, who became a U.S. citizen
- Is active in cancer support groups; raising awareness about colon cancer
- Speaks with others fighting colon cancer through the CTCA Patient-to-Patient Network
"I’m back to running again, which I love to do. It relieves my stress. I just keep on going. I don’t know any other way. And I don’t live my life in fear of the cancer coming back. I don’t have the mindset to think otherwise."
Beth Gomez, Litchfield Park, AZ
In August 2008, I went to see a colorectal doctor for a GI problem I was having. Although it was a separate health issue, I mentioned to my doctor that I had been having a little bit of blood in my stool. I also let him know about my family history of colon cancer. My grandfather passed away from colon cancer, and my mother had an early stage of the disease. At the time, I was only 39. My doctor thought it best that I have a colonoscopy to check and see if there was something wrong.
Days later, I went in for a colonoscopy. I remember my doctor came in the recovery room afterward and told me they had found a mass in my colon. He said that we should schedule surgery to remove it right away.
As soon as possible, I had the colon surgery which was done laparoscopically. Two days later, my doctor came to see me while I was recovering. I was all alone in my hospital room at the time and he told me that I had cancer. It was stage III colon cancer. I asked my doctor to call Raul, my husband, to let him know because I didn’t know how I was going to tell him. He must have known it was going to be hard for me, and he said he had already called Raul to let him know.
Before my doctor left, he said that he was going to send an oncologist up to my room. At that point, I didn’t know what the word “oncologist” meant. Later that evening, the oncologist came up and said, “We’ll take care of you and get you set up for your appointments.” So I went home.
Trying to get through the worst of it
When I returned home from the hospital, I emailed my job to let them know that I had stage III colon cancer. I work in retail, managing a women’s clothing store. I was the insurance carrier in our family, so that freaked me out. I didn’t want to be that bump in the road, having to worry about the bills piling up. I still wanted to contribute. I had consulted with my oncologist and asked if I would be able to work. She said because I was young and strong, I should be able to handle intense chemotherapy and continue to work.
Three and a half weeks after my surgery, I returned to work. I began to see the oncologist for regular appointments.
I remember the first day I had chemo, the facility would not let my husband sit with me while I received my chemo. I was scared and I cried the entire time I was there. At times, I couldn’t get my chemo right away because the chairs were full. I had to wait for another patient to finish with his or her chemo. It was like “musical chemo chairs.” The infusion room was the size of a bedroom. There were eight leather recliners, and one oncology nurse. Our IV polls would get stuck underneath the other patients’ chairs and we would have to ask the other patients to get up so we could go to the one restroom. The TV was never on. The window was never open. One nurse would go from patient to patient administering the medicine. When the medicine would run out, I’d raise my hand to get the attention of the nurse so that she could change my chemo bag so I could get out as soon as possible. I had to carry a bag around in a fanny pack for two days that would administer more drugs through an IV in my chest. I called my chemo bag “Fred,” and I hated Fred. I figured I might as well give it a name because I had to go to the restroom, shower and sleep with the bag. It grossed me out.
Before I would receive the chemo, I would see my oncologist for about 10 to 15 minutes. There were no other care providers to help me—no naturopaths, nutritionists, etc. I would cry every time I went to chemo.
I felt I never had a day off to recover; there was a lot of runaround. If I needed blood work, I would have to go to a separate lab early in the morning before starting work. On my day off, I’d sit for six to eight hours of chemo. I would get my pump removed two days later on my lunch break, and on Fridays I’d have to stop at the nearby hospital to get a shot before starting my shift. Also, any scans that were needed were done at a separate facility. Much of this was during the holidays when it was extremely busy. Looking back, I can’t believe I did it all. I never took any time off of work. I never called in sick. I was on my feet for up to eight hours at a time for my job, and I worked 40 hours a week. I was so sick, but at work you wouldn’t have known it. I would put on a happy face and try to be my normal self.
CTCA helped me get through treatment
I was so sick and fatigued. I couldn’t get anything down. I would stand in the beverage aisle for 30 minutes asking myself, “What do I think I can get down today?” I had such a bad taste in my mouth. I would choose a drink that would overpower the bad taste in my mouth and I’d drink it for a week straight. Then I’d never want to drink it ever again because it made me so sick to my stomach. The neuropathy was so bad; I couldn’t touch anything cold or have ice. I’d get that prickly feeling in my throat as a side effect of the chemo. I would probably only get about a glass full of liquid down a day. That’s it. Otherwise I’d be throwing up.
After about five months, I told Raul I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt I needed more than strictly oncology. I needed other therapies to support me through the chemotherapy.
A month prior to this breakdown, my father saw a Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) commercial. He called CTCA and talked to them, and called me afterwards to let me know about his conversation. He said I should just call them to see what they had to offer. A month later, I called CTCA. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, but I’m glad I made that call. A day or two later, they got me into their newly opened hospital in Goodyear, Arizona, which is about three miles away from my home.
From the minute Raul and I walked into CTCA at Western Regional Medical Center, I felt like the stress was off my shoulders. I remember telling him, “They’re going to take care of me here.”
During my first appointment, I met with Dr. Granick. He said while I was on the right treatment, there was a new drug he wanted to add to it that could potentially help me. I also saw a wonderful therapist from the Mind-Body Medicine Department and a dietitian, who had lots of great ideas to help me get food and liquids down.
The person who really made a huge difference for me from the get-go of my treatment at CTCA was Dr. Shauna Birdsall, a naturopathic doctor. I remember from that first appointment, Shauna asked me if I had been taking any vitamins or other supplements. I told her about the natural remedies for nausea Raul and I had tried unsuccessfully. Shauna said we would try a few natural medicines to see if they helped me feel better. She gave us a recommendation for vitamins and she told Raul he could go across the hallway and get them at the pharmacy. We thought that was awesome that a pharmacy was right there.
Something I also did during my first visit to CTCA was check out the Infusion Center. It was like the sky opened up! I asked if Raul could come in with me and they said, “Sure. You can bring family in here.” Many of the patients were watching the TV. I actually couldn’t wait for my first chemo.
I went home that night and took the vitamins Shauna had recommended. I woke up the next morning with color in my face and more energy. I stopped throwing up and I could get liquids down. It proved to be the relief I needed to feel good enough to go through the chemo. So, that month, I received my chemo at CTCA and completed my cancer treatment.
At CTCA, I finally got the help I needed. I firmly believe that you need those other things—naturopathic medicine, nutrition, mind-body therapy, and such—to get you through cancer treatment. In my heart, I also believe the reason I went through the bad before I found CTCA was so I know what it is like when people are getting the runaround. Now I’m the first to jump in and help others who are dealing with similar situations. I want them to know they are not alone in their fight against cancer and that they shouldn’t have to suffer like I did.
In remission, feeling good and living life
Today my cancer is in remission. I continue to go CTCA for checkups every three months. Each time, I have a number of tests done and I meet with my oncologist at CTCA, Dr. Shildt. (I still see Dr. Granick sometimes, but mostly Dr. Shildt.)
Overall, I feel good. I do have a little neuropathy in my fingertips and toes, but I can deal with it. I’m back to running again, which I love to do. It relieves my stress. I just keep on going. I don’t know any other way. And I don’t live my life in fear of the cancer coming back. I don’t have the mindset to think otherwise.
Our kids are grown and out of the house, but we see them often. Raul and I enjoy the time we spend together all the more. He is my rock. He would take off of work when I needed him, and he would sit and wait while I went through chemo. And he goes to all of my follow-up appointments with me.
My dad also plays a big role in my life. He was there for me. He lives in Tucson, but he would call me every day and ask how I was feeling. And he would come up and see me, and help take care of me.
I can’t stress enough how important strong support is for cancer patients, and their caregivers too.
Learn from my story
When I’m not at CTCA for my checkups, I’m there to visit with new patients and share my story, lend an ear and offer my support. I participate in the CTCA Cancer FightersSM program, which is a support group for patients and caregivers. And I love being a part of the CTCA Patient Advisory Council and the Patient-to-Patient Network. It feeds my soul to be able to help others, and to see them get through it.
I do everything I can now to raise awareness of colon cancer. I want you to know that people who are under the age of 40 can get colon cancer. If you have symptoms of colon cancer and if colon cancer runs in your family, please let your doctor know and get a colonoscopy.
There are four other things I also want you to know:
- Don’t let a cancer diagnosis scare you. Be strong. You can get through it.
- Learn all there is to learn about the cancer you have and your treatments. Ask as many questions as you can think of, and don’t think that you’re asking too many.
- Be that person who goes out there and researches your treatment options. Take the time to do that. Get your family involved. Let them help you.
- Speak up if you feel something is not right. If you don’t think you’re getting the right treatment, if something doesn’t seem right, check out your options. You don’t have to go through what I went through.
May 17, 2012
I am feeling great! I go for follow-ups every six months and have a colonoscopy every year to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
If cancer taught me one thing, it was to watch what I eat. My husband and I have totally changed our food choices. We ate well before, but now we make even wiser choices. You can really tell when you are eating well and when you’re not. I’m back to running and exercising even more. It took a good year to get my endurance back and to feel almost the way I felt before treatment.
We’ve had many great things happen since I finished treatment. We finished our pool and my backyard is like a paradise. I don’t need to go to a resort to have a good time; I have it in my backyard. We love to have friends and family over so we all can enjoy it. My proudest moment happened when my husband became a U.S. citizen. He was so proud to become a citizen and I was so happy to be there with him. After cancer, I learned to not just enjoy the big things in life, but things like visits with my dad or walks with my dogs. They mean so much to me.
I’ve stay involved with CTCA, mostly through the Patient-to-Patient Network. I get to talk to people who are where I was and I can relate to their fears.