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Suzanne Bonner

Colorectal cancer - Stage IIIB

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 colorectal cancer

Overview

My story

A quick surgery

When I was 49 years old, I started to feel some very mild symptoms. My husband and I hike a lot, and in October of 2006 we were in Canada, and hiking was a little tougher than usual. One night a few months later, I slipped and sprained my wrist and ended up needing surgery to fix the bone. I mentioned to my doctor some other symptoms I’d been experiencing and wondered if there was cause for concern. He gave me some blood tests and told me that he thought I should have a colonoscopy. I went for that procedure at a local hospital in Missoula, Montana, not far from our home in Lolo.

The colonoscopy revealed that I had colon cancer, and so that procedure was quickly followed by surgery. Once I found out there was cancer in my body, I wanted it gone. There was no reason to wait. The colonoscopy results came back on April 9, and I had surgery on April 13. 

Considering my options

My father died of cancer when I was young, and I was aware that there are many cancer centers and treatment can vary depending where you go. I’d kept an article reviewing some different places for a long time. After the shock of my diagnosis wore off, I called Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), just to check out my options.

At first, I was hesitant to divulge any information. I wanted to get the information, not give it. But I gave the person I spoke with enough for her to investigate whether I’d be eligible for treatment there. She called back soon after to let me know that I was.

I wasn’t sure whether I should go to CTCA or stay local. My brother talked to the same person I’d spoken with and afterwards he was adamant that I go there. “That’s where you need to be,” he said to me.

I had the surgery locally because I wanted it done fast. The nurse at my local clinic in Missoula was also encouraging me to seek treatment elsewhere because she knew that the level of medical expertise was better in places outside Missoula. So I went to CTCA.

Our trailer in the parking lot

During the first few rounds of chemotherapy, I would begin treatment on a Thursday afternoon and travel back on Saturday. My husband and I work for the railroad and are both away from home a lot as it is; we didn’t want to take extra time away. But a few months into treatment I developed blood clots and my care team at CTCA suggested that I stop flying and instead stay put at the facility while I completed the treatment. So, my husband and I drove from Montana to Oklahoma in our RV, stopping in Wisconsin to pick up our new rescue dog, Dudley, along the way.

We stayed in our RV, parked in the parking lot of CTCA, for a couple of months. In retrospect I know this was absolutely the right thing for us. First, it made the experience completely unique. At what other cancer center do you find patients happily camping out in the parking lot? Also, we got to know everyone—the restaurant staff, everyone in the infusion department the pastors. If I wanted to see the doctor, I didn’t need to make an appointment for a few days later, I could just work it out for the next day. My husband was able to meet other caregivers, which was very helpful, and he even became friendly with the building contractors.

New friends

At one point I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to make any new friends. I would just go into the hospital with blinders on and come back out without talking to anyone. That was my plan, but it didn’t work. Sometimes that was hard, because we did lose some friends along the way. But I know I wouldn’t trade those encounters and friendships for the world.

Early on in my treatment, when I was still flying in for appointments, I traveled alone and ended up in tears outside my hospital room because I couldn’t get the door open. A man named Jerry who was pushing his wife in a wheelchair stopped and said he’d come back in just a minute to help me. He got my door open and we ended up talking for a while. My husband and I ended up becoming close friends with Jerry and his wife, Betty. We even made a surprise trip to their house in Missouri one year.

The most important call

Today I am feeling very well. My husband and I travel a lot, and are looking forward to doing even more traveling when he retires next year. Sometimes there are residual side effects, but nothing that slows me down significantly.

When I speak with others who are facing a cancer diagnosis, I always tell them that calling CTCA is the most important phone call they can make. So often, people feel that they haven’t been cared for as a whole person; you won’t feel that way at CTCA.

Sometimes on my birthday I call the hospital to leave a message for Dr. Shrestha to thank her. I believe I would not be here without her. I am also grateful to my husband, Verlin. He was brave and supported me, and encouraged me to take care of myself even when I didn’t want to be told what to do.

Wanting my life back was what kept me motivated throughout my treatment. And that is exactly what happened: I got my life back. I’m here with my husband and many long years ahead of me.

Verlin's Story

Moving quickly

I will never forget finding out that Suzanne had cancer. She’d gone to see her doctor after a colonoscopy and had taken her mother with her. Her mother told me that Suzanne had cancer. That moment turned our world around.

Suzanne saw a surgeon nearby in Missoula, Montana, and had also called Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). I was working a lot at the time, so wasn’t home when she was first weighing the options of where to seek treatment.

She had surgery locally because she wanted the tumors removed as soon as possible, and that was when we found out the cancer was when we found out the cancer was stage IIIB. It had gone into her lymph nodes. We were panicking about getting her into further treatment as soon as possible, but she needed a month to recover from the operation. But Suzanne was ready to take matters into her own hands. I remember how she was up from her bed and doing laps around the hospital so she could be discharged as soon as possible. She was strong from the start.

Where we wanted to be

Suzanne had known about CTCA for a while. She she’d put the information aside, thinking someone she knew might need it. She’d never suspected that she would be calling for herself. But she knew that’s where she wanted to be, and I agreed with her.

The integrative approaches that are offered—naturopathy, nutrition therapy, and other modalities—were very appealing to us. If these were offered near our local facility, we would have to travel all over for appointments. At CTCA, everything was there and it was all under one roof. We went there as soon as we could.

When we arrived at the Tulsa facility, it felt like walking into a hotel lobby, not a hospital. The experience was different even before we arrived; our driver, Jeanie, who picked us up at the airport, was our first encounter with the reassuring and accommodating approach of CTCA.

Being a caregiver

Becoming a caregiver to someone going through cancer treatment is no small feat. I watched Suzanne suffer a lot, and that was very hard. But I made a decision that I would never let her see me upset, because I knew that would make her upset. Plus, she needed me to focus on her needs.

I tried to make sure she got enough food, and followed the recommendations given to her by her nutritionist and naturopath. Her care team educated us about what side effects she was likely to experience and about what medications might help. I had a long list of what medicines she needed at what time, and I watched for side effects. Often I felt helpless and overwhelmed, but I knew she needed me there.

I made sure she ate and that she slept. I also had to make sure she didn’t sleep more than 50 percent of the day, so sometimes my job was to keep her awake. I made sure she had her favorite crafting activities, like beading and quilting, available. She thought I was pushy, but she’s my life so she had no choice but to put up with it.

I was at every appointment with Suzanne. The doctors took their time to explain everything to me, and considered me part of her care team, even to the point of reprimanding me when she was losing too much weight. I made smoothies with fruit and protein and did my best to get her to drink them every morning, even when she complained. When she had trouble with taste, her nutritionist suggested giving her a few pumpkin seeds every few hours, which seemed to help.

Hard as this time was, it also brought Suzanne and I closer. I also valued the support I received from the friends we made at CTCA. When we were having a difficult go of it, the hospital staff gave me a card, which boosted my spirits so much.

I also tried to be mindful of what I could leave for Suzanne to do. As a caregiver, it’s important to remember that someone going through cancer treatment needs to be able to do things for themselves sometimes. I knew Suzanne needed to continue doing our finances, for example. It helped her to know she could still do it, and I needed to give her that space. I also made sure that she would let me know if she became mad at me. She became pretty good at that one—but always told me she loved me fifteen minutes later.

Staying open

One of the best things about going through this time was how many people Suzanne and I met. Before her diagnosis, we lived a fairly cloistered kind of life. But at CTCA we met people from all over the country. It’s important to take advantage of that opportunity. We still go back to visit friends at CTCA.

Today our lives feel back to normal. We go to the movies, we hike, we travel. I cannot imagine my life without Suzanne—and now I don’t have to.

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