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Ingrid Reitano

Breast cancer - Stage II

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for breast cancer

Overview

My story

In 2010, at age 57, I found a lump in my breast while I was in the shower. My gynecologist sent me for a mammogram, and then to an oncologist near my home in New Jersey for a biopsy.

When the oncologist called with the results of the biopsy, my daughter, who’d just given birth, was ill and in the hospital. My infant grandson had just come home from neonatal intensive care. I was at my daughter’s house taking care of my grandchildren, holding the little one in my arm while the three-year-old tugged at my shirt, as I tried to listen to what my doctor was saying. I heard enough to understand that the biopsy had come back positive for breast cancer.

As he’d instructed, I called his office the next day to set up whatever tests I needed to have done. But the staff did not have my information, so I had to continue calling back. When I called for the sixth or seventh time and said my name, the person on the other end sighed into the phone, like she was sick of my calls. That was all I needed to hear to know that I wanted to seek care elsewhere.

Going against the grain

When I decided to look for a cancer center for my treatment, my first thought was to go to one of the renowned facilities in the northeast that everyone knows. If everyone goes there, then that must be where the best doctors are, right? But I didn’t want to be treated like a number, and feared that was how I’d end up at such an institution.

I had seen commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America before I was diagnosed and had wondered if it was for real. It had to be scam; no hospital offers that kind of whole-person care. But now in the throes of a cancer diagnosis, I decided to call. I said to myself, “You know what? If it’s a scam, then I’m going to find out.”

After calling CTCA, I was scheduled for a consultation at the facility in Philadelphia, within driving distance of my home.

Constructive and reconstructive care

At CTCA, I underwent a mastectomy with intraoperative radiation therapy, or IORT, which is radiation administered during the surgery. After that procedure, I underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy.

The treatment was difficult sometimes. I lost my hair—it started coming out when I was at work one day—and I had pain in the long bones of my arms and legs, as well as numbness in my fingertips. Of all these side effects, the bone pain was the hardest to cope with.

During chemotherapy, I wasn’t staying at the hospital. Because I lived close by, I would drive myself back and forth for my appointments. When I felt sick after a treatment, I would just take it easy. I would have chemotherapy on Thursday, be back at work on Friday, feel sick on Saturday and Sunday, and be fine for work on Monday.

For the bone pain, my care team recommended a simple but unexpected medication that worked. My blood pressure was wavering, but the team helped stabilize it. I was given a vitamin regimen that helped with my energy levels.

Through all of these ups and downs, I was able to continue with treatment. Sometimes it was tough, but I had a mindset that if I laid down—if I succumbed to the weariness—that it was going to “catch” me, so to speak. I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me.

A year after my mastectomy, I had reconstructive surgery. The process could not have gone more smoothly. I had the procedure on a Monday, went home that day, and that Thursday I went for a job interview for a position that I now hold. I wanted to remove the drain tubes for the interview, and though my doctors were concerned at first, they understood and were on board with my decision.

Additional help was offered that was far beyond what I felt I needed. Reiki, chiropractic work, even reimbursement for gas mileage—I didn’t need these services, but I was amazed that they were offered.

But even more important than these services was the personal contact, the way I was treated by my care team, and by everyone at CTCA. When I go there, everyone knows my name. Even the person cleaning the bathroom calls me by name. How could they remember that? Why would they remember?

When I first arrived at CTCA for my initial assessment, I started hearing stories from many other patients. Hearing all the symptoms people were experiencing got to me; I started worrying that my condition was much worse than I thought. I returned to the office where I was meeting a doctor, and began crying. The nurse put her arms around me and then stayed with me during my appointment. It was a rough moment, and she got me through it.

And this care was given for my entire family, not just me. When my daughter came with me on the last day of my initial assessment, the CTCA staff took care of her the same way. This approach is so important to a cancer patient.

Knowing I would be okay

My first follow-up appointment was a few months after completing the eight rounds of chemotherapy. I was having a PET scan to check for the presence of cancer, but even before the scan, I had a feeling that I would be okay. Having been able to continue working while going through chemotherapy left me with the sense that I had overcome the battle.

Today, at 61 years old, I’m more active than many people I know who are younger. In addition to continuing my work as a transportation supervisor for regional schools, I go camping, ride horses, and drive fast cars. Truly there’s not much I won’t do. I ride roller coasters, eat hamburgers, and spend time with my new Maltese puppy, Tucker. Above all, though, I have my grandchildren to thank for helping me through cancer. They are the light of my life, and I want to live to see them grow up.

Facing a cancer diagnosis was hard, there’s no way around that. There is no one alive who has been told they have cancer and who didn’t wonder if they had just a few days to live. It’s unavoidable. But once I got past that fear and found the right place for treatment, I knew I was going to be fine. I just knew. You have to keep your ears open, your mind open, and your heart open.

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