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Video: Colon Cancer Survivor TomListen to Tom's story of colon cancer survival, including how he arrived at CTCA and the success of his integrative colon cancer treatments.
Cancer Stage II Colon Cancer
Completed Treatment 2006
CTCA Hospital Treated at
Care Team Included
Treatments at CTCA
- Celebrated 30th wedding anniversary with his wife Elsie
- Became a grandpa
- Attended Celebrate Life® in 2012 as a five-year survivor
- Speaks with newly diagnosed cancer patients in his community
- Working on websites for two church/mission groups
"At CTCA, I gained assurance from not only the caregivers, but the patients as well. We were able to trade stories, laugh with each other and occasionally shed a tear or two together. We were never alone in our struggle as long as we had each other. We shared a common enemy—cancer. We also shared a common goal—hope."
Tom Reese, Remington, VA
My words of encouragement for you and your loved ones are simple: "To be a fighter means to never give up." I’ve been fortunate to overcome two life-threatening experiences. In 1984, I survived a motorcycle accident that left me paralyzed from my chest down. Twenty-two years later, I developed stage II colon cancer.
My fight against cancer began in 2006, the year I turned 50. I knew I had reached the age when doctors were recommending a colonoscopy, but I had not had one yet. At the time, I was also running into some health issues involving my paraplegia. After a lot of counsel from my wife Elsie, I finally consented to being fit for a replacement wheelchair at a rehab center. Thank God I listened to her advice. It would help save my life.
The center's consulting physician (who was overseeing my case) insisted I see my regular doctor about the problems I was experiencing. I went to my personal physician, who after I described my symptoms, recommended a colonoscopy. I knew I couldn’t avoid it anymore, but cancer was not on my mind at that time.
Shortly after, I went to a local medical facility for a colonoscopy. As I was undergoing testing, the physician performing the procedure discovered a mass near my appendix. I was immediately scheduled to have the tumor surgically removed by a local physician, but then everything fell through. Due to delays in some prior cardiac workups (I had procrastinated on that too), the surgery was delayed one day before it was scheduled.
Frustrated with how slow the process was now going, Elsie went online to look for information about colon cancer. She came across Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I had heard about this earlier on the radio and had seen magazine ads, but I hadn't considered it as an option. I honestly thought the expense of using that type of facility would be prohibitive. Elsie, a nursing professional, knew better. She personally checked out information on the website and made the calls necessary for more details about the hospitals and treatments offered. When she hung up the phone, I still remember her saying, “We’re going to Philadelphia.” I knew I needed to act as quickly as possible and delay local procedures until I had a second opinion.
The CTCA Oncology Information Specialist Elsie spoke to set up an appointment for me to meet with the doctors and practitioners at CTCA at Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia. We left our home in northern Virginia and drove to Philadelphia, where we spent three days meeting with all of the members of my CTCA care team.
Dr. Frederick Brunk, my oncologist, recommended that I have colon cancer surgery. He believed that because the cancer had been detected at a relatively early stage, surgery would be the most appropriate conventional treatment. Yet, my treatment was much more extensive than just surgery. I got the entire spectrum of cancer treatment: surgery to remove the tumor, along with supportive therapies such as nutrition, naturopathic medicine, spiritual and psychological support. I told my care team to give me everything, to bring it on. All of the therapies I received were integrated and personalized to my specific condition. I concluded that to be there and not take advantage of all the services possible would be folly. I believe that decision was well justified.
As a paraplegic, it was crucial that I receive cancer treatment at a facility where the staff was conscious and capable of addressing issues related to my disability. CTCA was more than accommodating to my needs. They wanted to be absolutely certain they did everything for me. The nurses and staff constantly checked on me. They made sure I was alright and that I had everything I needed. They asked that I let them know exactly what I needed to be comfortable throughout my treatment. Every time I let them know what I needed, they took care of it as soon as possible.
CTCA’s response to my accessibility needs was outstanding. They did everything to ensure that nothing was compromised in my care. They listened to the suggestions Elsie and I provided to make sure the type of bed I rested in and the bedding materials were adaptive and comfortable. Due to Elsie's experience as a nurse and my caregiver for 22 years, CTCA listened carefully to her input. They recognized individual needs vary greatly in scope and character. They had a handicap-accessible, roll-in shower I was able to use with my shower wheelchair. For the medical equipment I needed to be lifted onto (e.g., CT scanners), they made sure they had enough staff members available to carefully lift me. The contract transport vehicles needed for my ambulatory care had proper accessibility equipment and the crews were well trained. And, CTCA's own routine transport vehicles and staff were well rehearsed in dealing with my disability needs.
I was also very impressed by the fact that CTCA dealt with my type II diabetes. My nutritionist, Nhu Huynh, and the hospital food services staff were on top of my diabetic concerns. Huynh planned my diet while I was an inpatient at the hospital. She’s also continuing to help me adopt a diabetic-approved diet. I see her every time I return to the hospital for checkups. I also remember how great the food services staff was in abiding by the dietary restrictions Huynh set. One day they even went so far as to send someone to a local store just to pick up more of the sugar-free iced tea I needed. Small steps like that are easy to overlook by the observer, but mean a lot to the patient and his or her family.
My naturopath has also gone out of her way to help me live my life in balance. She considers all of my health conditions before she makes her recommendations for naturopathic medicines. Elsie is a great believer in naturopathic practices, making it easier for us to understand the intricacies of solutions available to the individual.
Rev. Michael Barry, Director of Pastoral Care, is a true blessing. He continues to oversee our spiritual needs. We knew from Day 1 how important he and his team would be to us. They kept abreast of my care during my stay and were available to me as needed. Their counseling and plain old, "one-on-one" talks were part of my ability to understand the "whys" of cancer. It came at a critical moment and continues to do so. I do not believe in coincidences, and I know Who provided these folks.
Everyone at CTCA talked to me and encouraged me. They treated me sincerely and I could tell that they truly cared. This is evident in what they did for me and my wife, not just what they said. You've often heard that "actions speak louder than words." CTCA does both.
I believe spousal support when you’re fighting cancer or undergoing rehabilitation after a serious accident is critical. I owe so much to Elsie, whom I’ve been married to for 29 years. I don’t know where I would be today without her. CTCA worked hard to see that she had everything she needed while I was in their care. Due to available sleeping facilities within my room, Elsie was able to stay with me the entire month I was a patient at CTCA for treatment. The hospital staff even took Elsie and other patients’ spouses on outings. They would go shopping or out to theaters and nearby attractions. This gave them much-needed "break time," something I as a patient really appreciated on their behalf. It was good knowing she could get a breather from such a difficult time.
At CTCA, I gained assurance from not only the caregivers, but the patients as well. We were able to trade stories, laugh with each other and occasionally shed a tear or two together. We were never alone in our struggle as long as we had each other. We shared a common enemy—cancer. We also shared a common goal—hope.
May 1, 2012
I am doing very well to date. I have had no recurrences and I am now returning to CTCA in Philadelphia for annual checkups. This month, I will be attending the hospital’s Celebrate Life® event for five-year survivors.
Elsie and I were delighted with the delivery of our first grandchild, Keely, in 2008, and celebrated our own 30th anniversary in 2009. I also watched each of our children pass the 30-year mark, and Elsie and I both passed the 55-year mark.
I was on the Fauquier County Disability Services Board, but gave that up after my 2006 surgery. Currently, I do website work for two different church/missionary groups.