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Video: Phil Bosanko - Colon Cancer SurvivorColon Cancer Survivor
Cancer Stage IV Colon Cancer
Completed Treatment 2007
CTCA Hospital Treated at
Care Team Included
Treatments at CTCA
- Received “Unsung Hero Award” from employer
- Teamed up with his brothers to raise more than $30,000 for children who survived a fire to attend a summer camp for burned and injured youth
- Traveled to Jamaica with wife Kim and friends
- Attended Celebrate Life® in 2011 as a five-year survivor
- Speaks with others fighting colon cancer through the CTCA Patient-to-Patient Network
"I realize I belong to a club that nobody ever wants to join—the cancer club. But once you're in, you're in, and all of us cancer patients are special to each other."
Phil Bosanko, Wind Lake, WI
In May 2006, I was 48 and busy living life to the fullest. I was working, enjoying life with my bride Kim, and spending my spare time woodworking, fishing, deer hunting, doing yard work, and fundraising. I knew something wasn’t right though when I started to pass blood in my stool. I went directly to Kim, and told her. As a registered nurse, she immediately went into action and started making phone calls to the appropriate medical agencies. This lead to me to urgent care. I then had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Before surgery for the cancer, I had more tests—CT scans and blood work. My surgeon and an oncologist told me my scans showed that the cancer had spread (stage IV) and covered my entire liver. They thought my prognosis was not good. The following week, I had surgery to remove nine inches of my colon.
Kim and I agreed I needed more than the standard chemo plan I was being offered after my surgery. I needed advanced options and doctors who would be on top of my care. I spoke with a coworker who was going through cancer treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Illinois, about an hour away from my home in Wind Lake, Wisconsin. She recommended CTCA. My brother-in-law called CTCA for information and we decided it was worth looking into. Within a matter of days, I set out to get a second opinion at CTCA.
After a few days of initial testing, Kim and I met with our oncologist, Dr. Levin, and I began chemotherapy that day. From the get-go, my CTCA care team was on the same page as I was. They invited me to have a say in my treatment, and I was never given a time limit. Instead, I was given hope and a commitment that they’d fight with me. I chose to fight at CTCA.
Dr. Levin broke down each appointment’s message so Kim and I could understand what he was telling us. We felt like the more information we received about my cancer and treatment, the more comfortable we were while I was going through treatment. But it wasn’t easy. And certainly, the hardest part of going through treatment was the fear of the unknown. I began an aggressive chemotherapy regimen of cisplatin and leucovorin. I received Zofran® to prevent nausea. Every three weeks, I’d start a new cycle of chemo. I had 15, 5-day chemo treatments. I also received 3 intra-arterial chemo treatments (mitomycin) directly to my liver.
By August 2006, I was able to get back to work part-time. After 7 to 8 months of chemo, I moved back to a full-time schedule. What kept me going through it all was a positive attitude and outstanding support from my bride, family, friends, and coworkers.
I remember a conversation I had with Dr. Levin in the first year I was going through treatment at CTCA. I told him, “I'm not going to make it to deer camp this year.” I was bummed. But he assured me, I was well on my way to kicking the cancer. He said, "You'll be at deer camp next year." The next November, I went up to deer camp and harvested the biggest deer of my life.
The nurses in the Infusion Center were wonderful and helped me through 78 chemo treatments. There wasn't a day when they didn't have a smile, a hug or a joke for me. I often refer to them as my infusion angels!
During my treatment, my quality of life was fair. Because I received a comprehensive treatment plan, I received therapies that helped me stay strong and manage some of the side effects of the chemo. For example, my naturopathic provider recommended ginger root to help me with my stomach aches after I received chemo. Also, my dietitian helped me prevent weight loss through ongoing nutrition support.
Kim was key to helping me through my fight. She put up with me 24/7 throughout the battle. With her background and training, she understood some of my issues, and other times, wouldn’t put up with them. CTCA was supportive of her and aware of her needs, as well. I’ll never forget how Dr. Levin’s nurse MaryAnn always asked how Kim was doing.
Kim and I found the Mother Standard® of care at CTCA to be comforting, and also the fact that all of us at CTCA were either cancer patients or caregivers. We were all in the same boat and there for each other.
In August 2007, after 15 months, 78 chemotherapy treatments, countless CT and PET scans, enough blood work to last a lifetime, three inpatient stays, having my lungs drained, several blood transfusions, and hundreds, if not a few thousand hours spent at CTCA, Dr. Levin and Mary Ann told us I had completed my treatment. Dr. Levin teased me and said, “Go home, you’re boring.” I was cancer free! Today I return to CTCA for checkups every six months to ensure the cancer doesn’t return.
In 2007, I was humbled and honored to receive our local and national award, the “Unsung Hero Award,” from my employer. Something else I was really proud of was teaming up with my brothers to raise more than $30,000 in 2006 and 2007 for children in Wisconsin who had been burned in a fire. The money covered their expenses to attend a local summer camp for burned and injured youth.
But truly, waking up every day is a milestone! I was honored to celebrate five years as a cancer survivor at Celebrate Life at CTCA in June 2011. CTCA also put a gold leaf with my name on it on the Tree of Life in the hospital’s lobby. Also, after holding off on foreign travel for 4 years, in spring 2011, Kim and I traveled to Jamaica to celebrate life with friends.
As a retired U.S. Air Force firefighter, my motivation during my fight goes to back to my days as a firefighter. It was as we say in the Fire Service, “the will to slay the dragon.” Never give up, no matter what, and keep moving! As a widower to breast cancer in 1993, I knew how important it was to maintain a positive attitude.
Ways that you or your loved ones can feel empowered during cancer treatment is to have a positive attitude and keep goals in mind. Always do a little something, be it a project or work, even if you can’t complete the task. Try to do something nice for someone else, when you are able. It’ll make both you and that person feel better. And my advice for caregivers is to let the patient do what he or she can whenever possible.
As a member of the Patient-to-Patient Network at CTCA, I regularly speak with others who are fighting cancer and who are considering coming to CTCA for treatment. I’m also a member of the CTCA Cancer Fighters group. At work, I started up a self-made support group with a coworker who is a breast cancer survivor. I also developed a cancer information book for the entire workforce. I am often asked at work, or around the neighborhood, to assist a patient or family member with questions or concerns, and never hesitate to help in any way I can!
I realize I belong to a club that nobody ever wants to join—the cancer club. But once you're in, you're in, and all of us cancer patients are special to each other. So the more folks I can help, the better.
I would like to thank every member of the staff at CTCA in Zion, my bride Kim, my family, my friends around Wind Lake, and my coworkers. This was a team effort, and I never could have made it to this day without each and every one of you. Thank you!
As I like to say, put the “smile mask on” and get on with it. Your family and friends need to see you out and about. Remember to maintain a sense of humor and keep smiling through the fight. Cancer hates smiles!