Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Judy Ridgway

Lung cancer - Stage I

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

My story

Only God knows when we will be born and when we will die and it matters how we live our dash. We must make every day count for we are not promised a tomorrow. Season this with faith, hope and love and the endurance of difficult situations or the mountain top experiences will be in our life’s resume. Be in the moment ~~ Be where you are ~~ Always keep dreaming and don’t stop living. That’s how I live my life.

More than 25 years ago, I survived cervical cancer. And in 1999, I went through three major lifestyle changes at once: I retired from an airline, where I worked in personnel and operations for 31 years; my husband and I moved to Goodyear, Arizona after living in St. Louis for 33 years; and 13 days after we moved to Arizona, my husband passed away unexpectedly. I was upside down for awhile. But with hope, faith, love, and support from wonderful family and friends, I rebounded. And that’s exactly what’s getting me through my journey with lung cancer.

From diagnosis through initial treatment

In 2003, I had a chest X-ray and my pulmonologist discovered a small spot on my lung. The lab work showed bacteria from a soil contaminant had gotten in my lungs and he thought the best course of action was to monitor it with periodic X-rays. Four years passed and then one day, during routine follow-up, my doctor noticed some activity on my X-ray. Sure enough, it turned out to be lung cancer. Specifically, it was stage I non-small cell lung cancer.

On July 31, 2007, I had a mediastinoscopy to determine if two lymph nodes my doctor had also identified as suspicious were cancerous. Fortunately, they were not. That same day, I underwent a procedure to remove a nodule that was about the size of a pearl from my right lung. The surgeon also resected my right lower lobe. I am still forever thankful for the diligence of these two doctors.

At that time, I was appointed an oncologist at the hospital where I had the lung cancer surgery. He deemed that I did not need any additional treatment—no chemotherapy, radiation, vitamins, minerals, nothing like that. I just needed to go for six-month checkups following my surgery. After nine days, most spent in ICU, I returned home from the hospital and didn’t even think about asking what happens to suspicious lymph nodes. I guess I thought it was like a cold and would go away.

A year and three months later, October 2008, I had a chest X-ray, which showed that my lungs were OK, but again, there were two lymph nodes near my lungs that were suspicious of cancer. The office scheduled a needle biopsy for December 24th, at which time they informed me it was too risky and that a mediastinoscopy would be in order. During the holiday period, the hospital forgot to send the records to my surgeon, so when I called for my next directive, I was given an apology that the paperwork fell through the cracks. In mid-January 2009, I did have a mediastinoscopy and it confirmed the lymph nodes were cancerous. I was directed to see my oncologist for follow-up.

When the procedure, which had a cookie-cutter approach for treating my cancer, was explained (or mandated without much discussion and I certainly did not have an understanding of the drugs or procedures), I felt like I was a puppet on a string ~~ I was treated in a very clinical sense and was being given the regime everyone else had, no matter what form of cancer. I was told to see to the front desk and they would set me up for a chemo port. They would then set me up for radiation at one facility and chemotherapy at another.

I told my oncologist that this was a lot to grasp, and at the risk of our patient-doctor relationship, I did not want to offend him, but I felt I needed to check out Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I don’t know how he really felt, but I could tell he didn’t see that it was necessary, but it was my prerogative.

Yes, I was in the moment, scared, shaking, but knew I must move forward as soon as possible and I must be proactive. In “the moment,” I did pray and I did have hope, and I was scared, but I was not about to be conquered by this dreaded disease or treated like a puppet on a string.

Fortunately, by that time, the doors had opened at the newly built CTCA at Western Regional Medical Center, which is close to my home. While it was being built, I had given thought to volunteering ~~ little did I know, I was instead, a potential patient. I called CTCA to get information and spoke with a young man who was an absolute jewel. He talked me through the process of becoming a patient at CTCA and explained the process. I was amazed at the total care and commitment of care that was being offered.

After many prayers and consulting friends, I received the confirmation I needed. CTCA was where I needed to be for treatment. Two friends who are going through cancer treatment said that had CTCA been available to them at the time of their diagnosis, they would have made a straight line to CTCA without question. Two other friends, both medical professionals, had NO hesitation about what they would do if they received a cancer diagnosis ~~ they, too, would head straight to CTCA.

My lung cancer treatment at CTCA

I have worked with CTCA ever since. I have been under the care of Dr. Richard Shildt, and I don’t know what I would do without him. Dr. Shauna Birdsall is my naturopathic doctor. I also have a nutritionist, care manager and mind-body-spirit therapist on my team. My total team also includes the physical therapists, massage therapist and acupuncturist. I don’t know what I would ever do without them.

I underwent all of my tests right there at CTCA and they determined I had three cancerous lymph nodes. Because of where the lymph nodes were located (in such a critical area near my lungs and other organs), surgery was not an option. My treatment consisted of 35 sessions of radiation; five days a week for seven weeks. During that time, I received chemotherapy as well. For one cycle, I received Taxol® and carboplatin. I then went off of the chemo for about two months before I started a second cycle, which was of carboplatin and Gemzar®. I finished my chemotherapy treatment in July 2009.

When I was going through the radiation and chemotherapy, my team monitored me, checking on how I was feeling. I did lose my hair and quite a bit of weight. But the worst of it came after six weeks of treatment. I woke up on Easter morning and I couldn’t move. All of a sudden, I hit a brick wall. What had happened was the area where I was being radiated had affected my esophagus. I couldn’t swallow well and was struggling to intake fluids and food. I had to stop my treatment for a week. My team acted quickly to help me get the nourishment and hydration I needed to feel better and strong enough to finish my treatment. They worked with one of the hospital’s chefs to put together a healthy drink that was packed with calories and nutrients. I was able to sip it slowly over the course of several hours and regain some strength and energy. A week later, I was well enough again to go back and complete my radiation treatment.

Tiredness was a major side effect of my cancer treatment. My team always offered suggestions on how to cope with the exhaustion, such as walking for even 10 minutes a day and eating fruits and vegetables. They offered ideas from a nutrition standpoint to help me maintain my energy. During my first appointment with my naturopathic doctor, I went armed with all of the vitamins and minerals I was taking at the time (two big bags), thinking I needed all these extra nutrients. Dr. Birdsall looked at all of them, analyzed my profile and put me on a regimen of natural therapies designed for me. What amazed me was I didn’t have to take so many of the ones I was taking. What she recommended sustained me throughout my treatment. In addition, I really had to tie in my emotions with what I was going through physically. That connectivity is so important. That’s why the mind-body team is great about offering help and resources, such as music you can listen to and suggested readings.

My team walked me through every stage of my treatment. Everyone held my hand. Whatever I needed, they were by my side during this journey, and they still are. Once every three months, I return to CTCA for follow-up. I have CT scans and lab work done right there. They get all of the results back within a day. All of my test results are in a shared computer system. That way, everyone on my team is on the same page. It helps so that I don’t have to repeat myself as I see different team members. My doctor sees it, naturopathic clincian, and so on. And whoever sees me, notes in my record whatever they recommended to me. They also review how I’m eating, and monitor my weight and vitamin D level. I monitor my weight on my own too. I keep a notebook on all of my vital signs because it helps me have a better understanding of what’s going on in my body.

During my journey, I’ve had other issues occur, but my team was right there to help me.

What I love most about CTCA…

At CTCA, they are all about living. It’s not dying with cancer, it’s living with cancer, or getting rid of it. My team encourages me to take trips and keep active, so long as my counts are up and I am feeling good. They counsel me on everything I ask about. It’s as if I have another family. My team knows me on a personal level. That is such an anchor. I really feel like when I walk in, I’ve got my family—my team—and they have my best interests in mind. What’s great too is the responsiveness of my team. For instance, I can email my care manager and let her know what’s going on, how I’m feeling and ask what she would recommend me to do. Having the ability to send an email directly to care providers is terrific.

CTCA treats the whole body as we should all take care of ourselves. They understand it’s just as important to care for your emotional and spiritual needs as it is to fight the disease. They help you seek things that are going to help you endure the journey.

Something else that’s different about CTCA is the environment, like in the Infusion Center, where the sun shines through the windows and you don’t feel boxed in a room ~~ you see out into the sun. It’s about bringing life into the center. It’s always such a clean environment. In comparison to a typical doctor’s office or hospital, where I’d go to three different rooms for three different reasons, at CTCA I can stay in one patient room for appointments with my team. Everyone comes to me; sometimes patients are so weary and moving from room to room itself can be exhausting. My team does the work for me and saves my energy. That amazes me.

Salon del Sol is a salon in the hospital where patients and caregivers can go for a haircut, manicure, pedicure, makeup consulting, wigs, head covers, swimsuits, and undergarments for breast cancer patients. That team is awesome! They just make you feel good and like a whole person when one feels a bit weary; they are all compassionate and care for your well-being. When I lost my hair, I went to them, they shaved my head, and we laughed and made a fun time of that part of my journey. We had fun trying on wigs. They’re right in-tune with everything else at CTCA and such an integral part of total wellness. I consider them part of my team, just as I do the nurses in the Infusion Center who gave me my chemotherapy. They took such good care of me and were wonderful!

The scheduling team is great too! For example, if I am delayed in any way for my next appointment and I call to let them know, they’ll adjust my schedule and communicate the changes to the care providers who are scheduled to provide me with services or treatments.

CTCA also has such delicious, healthy food. Almost everything is organic. Yet, at the same time, they understand that you may not always feel like eating what’s on the cafeteria menu. So, they always have those foods that are soothing available, comfort foods like mash potatoes and grilled cheese. And if you need something else, they will try to come up with it for you.

The entire CTCA stakeholder team has a “hello,” with a smile and most often, I am called by name when meeting in the hall, checking in for an appointment, and being received in the reception area of each department. I would not like to neglect any one person; each stakeholder counts. It’s been a privilege and honor to be with the CTCA team.

I am thriving!

All of the things I’ve been able to do during and since I completed treatment are amazing. I’ve sailed several times, traveled to Seattle and taken trips to see family members across the country. I am so blessed because I have such a great family and friends. And, my prayer life is strong. I have another sail trip planned for three weeks. I’m still active in my church and music life, as well as my social life. Yes, I’ve altered a few things in my life, and some things have changed in my life because of the therapy my body has been exposed to. But that’s all OK ~ I don’t need to multi-task ~ I do need to stay more focused ~ a lot of things I thought were important aren’t really that important as I’ve had to re-evaluate a lot of things in my life. But I did it because I can! Each day is a blessing!

One of the ways I give back is by being a CTCA Cancer Fighter and member of the CTCA Cancer Fighters® Care Net. It allows me to help others who are going through what I went through. I can answer some of their questions and offer comfort and support.

Remember this

Hope means everything. My mother passed away from breast cancer that metastasized to her bones. We thought then that mother would like to know how much time she had left. She was a very matter of fact woman. She said something very important, and I have lived with these words for a long time: “Whatever you do, don’t take away my hope because without hope I have nothing.” You can apply that statement to so many scenarios. And with cancer, it’s all about hope and living.

It’s important to know that at CTCA, it’s not a false hope. It’s a vision of hope. It’s “we’re going to work on this.” And along with having hope, it’s important to trust in the system that CTCA has because it works. They do what they can to work with each individual to make his or her life a quality life.