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Jackie Tavener

Lung cancer - Stage IV

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 lung cancer

Overview

My story

The right lighting

In August 2005, when I was 53 years old, I was still grieving the loss of my father, who had died of heart disease the prior November. I suppose I was tuned into more physical matters of the heart at that time too. One day, while I was washing my hands in the bathroom, the light was hitting my neck in just the right way and I noticed a bump. My first thought was there was something wrong with my arteries. I showed the bump to my husband and he took me to the emergency room at a hospital near our home in Shawnee, Kansas.

At the hospital, X-rays were taken and the doctor told me to return the next morning for a CT scan. There was a small mass visible in the X-ray, but the doctors weren’t sure what it was; a CT scan would provide a clearer view. When I returned the next morning, one person after another told me I needed two different scans because the radiologist had noticed a spot on my lung when he looked at my X-ray the previous night.

After the CT scans were completed, the doctor informed me I had cancer. He had already talked to my family doctor, who had said for me to go straight to him from the hospital. My family doctor then sent me immediately to a lung specialist. I ended up seeing three doctors about my diagnosis before I even saw my family.

The lung specialist sent me to a surgeon for a biopsy. After that, I went to a local oncologist, who told me the results of the biopsy. There was cancer in my left lung that had spread to lymph nodes and the center of my chest and neck. The spread of cancer to my lymph nodes was what I had spotted on my neck. The doctor told me I had stage IV non-small cell lung cancer.

Spending time wisely

At the time I was diagnosed, my husband and I had our own business. An employee told us he knew someone who had been treated for cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I called CTCA before I started treatment at a local facility, and learned about TomoTherapy (a radiation treatment), integrative care and other things they offered. The care at CTCA sounded wonderful, but I would need to be away from my home and family for treatment. I decided I did not want to spend time away from my family.

I began treatment with the local oncologist, but was not satisfied with the treatment. So I called CTCA. A team of doctors reviewed my information and agreed to take me. Within days, my husband and I were on our way to CTCA in Tulsa.

After a week of testing and initial appointments with my care team at CTCA, we returned home. I then drove back so that I’d have a car with me during the weeks of radiation treatment I was to receive. Fortunately I was able to have a rotating roster of family and friends with me the entire time I was at CTCA, which had the added bonus of giving me a lot of extra quality time with my loved ones.

During those first seven weeks, I had radiation five days a week and chemotherapy once weekly. For three months afterward, I returned to CTCA every three weeks for chemotherapy.

After the disease was stabilized for four months, I had another round of chemotherapy. I was given a targeted therapy drug called erlotinib for maintenance therapy that I have been taking for several years. More recently, my doctors at CTCA found a spot on my right lung and I received CyberKnife® radiation therapy.

A hard time made easier

Luckily the chemotherapy was not too rough on me. Though I had a lot of nausea, I did not have vomiting or other severe side effects. One chemotherapy drug did cause a rash on my face, and my care team at CTCA gave me creams to help, along with anti-nausea medication.

The biggest problem continued to be radiation burns. At one point I was having so much difficulty swallowing—and therefore not drinking enough—I ended up in the hospital due to dehydration. I was given liquid pain medication to reduce the soreness in my throat, as well as creams to treat the burns.

There is no easy way to face a prognosis like the one given to me. I tried to make peace with the life I’d lived. But as difficult as this time was, it also drew me closer to my family. It made us stop to think about what is truly important in life, and helped me realize how much I cherish my family.

CTCA played a huge role in providing hope and support. The hospital was comfortable, which made all the difference. And after just a short time there, everyone on the staff felt like family. Every time I turned a corner, someone gave me a hug. It meant so much to my family too. They drew comfort from the fact I received such wonderful care. My family was also an incredible support system. My daughter Amy travels with me frequently to CTCA, and other family members have also been with me. My doctors never seemed to mind how many extra chairs we had to drag into the office.

Travel arrangements were effortless because all of that was done by CTCA. Insurance issues were also addressed. There was nothing for me to stress over so I could concentrate on getting well.

Living life

Yes, it was hard to be away from home in the beginning, but here I am alive, eight years later, so it was well worth it. I have seen three of my grandchildren graduate from high school. My husband and I, along with some other family members, went to Miami Beach right after my diagnosis. We now have a tradition of traveling somewhere together each year. My daughter also gave me a charm bracelet that she’s added to with each year of my life, a gift I treasure.

I attended a special event called Celebrate Life® held for five-year survivors at CTCA. As part of the event, I put a silver leaf with my name engraved on it on a decorative tree in the hospital’s lobby. What an unforgettable milestone. Today, more than eight years after my diagnosis, every day feels like a milestone because I live life as fully as I can.

There will always be trying times in life. Several family members have had to cope with serious illnesses in recent years. I try to be strong for my family, to show them you can make it through anything. And I try to live my dreams. I want to live each day like I don’t know whether I’ve got tomorrow.

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