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Cancer Stage II Rectal Cancer
Completed Treatment 2009
CTCA Hospital Treated at
Care Team Included
Treatments at CTCA
- Back working as a professional photographer
- Devoting time to Operation: Love Reunited, photographing military personnel and their families
- Volunteering for Greyfoot Cat Rescue
- Participating in Bible study groups
- Traveling the world
"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, I would have told them I doubted that. So, going to Germany was my own personal celebration…"
Pam Loeffler, Ventura, CA
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 CTCA and their hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She explained how CTCA 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 CTCA 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 CTCA with my PET scan in hand and the blood tests I had. We could not believe CTCA. 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 CTCA. 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 CTCA 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 CTCA 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 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 CTCA 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.
What I valued most during my treatment at CTCA
CTCA 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 CTCA 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 CTCA 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 CTCA, 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.
Changes & challenges, but a healthy and happy life
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. 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, 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 this disease to pray, give glory to God for all the good things he does in your life, and never give up on hope.