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Tanya Gruce

Breast 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 breast cancer


My story

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 30 years old. My son was a baby and I was still trying to nurse him at the time, which is how I noticed a lump on my breast. Also, the milk production from that breast had stopped. My primary care physician thought it might be an infection, but because there’s a history of breast cancer in my family, she sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound. Those tests revealed I had breast cancer. I began treatment at a clinic near my home in Seminole, Florida.

Because the tumor was large, my oncologist wanted to shrink it with chemotherapy before surgery. So, in March 2007, I began chemotherapy, and then had a right-side mastectomy that July. I continued with radiation therapy afterward.

In December 2008, I began feeling some pain and discomfort. A PET scan showed signs of a possible recurrence, and in January 2009, my doctor had me undergo a bone biopsy, which revealed the cancer had metastasized.

At that point, my doctor told me he wasn’t sure which treatment would be best for me. He suggested I go to a nearby cancer center for a second opinion, but I couldn’t get an appointment there for three months, even with the referral from my doctor. I had to look elsewhere.

Finding CTCA

My father had been searching for other options for me, and had spoken with an Oncology Information Specialist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I agreed to call, and the person I spoke with asked which CTCA hospital I’d like to visit. I chose the location in Philadelphia. My initial three-day visit was scheduled very quickly.

My experience at CTCA was completely different than my care elsewhere. Everyone at CTCA was friendly. Any question I had for my oncologist, he answered before I even had the chance to ask it. I fell in love with the facility and began treatment there at the end of January 2009.

My recurrence was diagnosed as stage IV metastatic breast cancer. The cancer has spread to my bones, spine, lungs and peritoneum. At CTCA, I have been treated with chemotherapy continuously along with radiation, pain management and surgery. My care has been excellent.

Intensive care

For the most part, I have been able to cope fairly well with my treatment. The most severe side effect I’ve had is fatigue. Certain medications have caused hair loss, nausea and vomiting. The pain management has been great. In general, I have had a good quality of life. I continue to work as a paralegal full time and continue to raise my son as a single parent. My parents are my caregivers, and their help and support have gotten me through everything.

But it hasn’t all been easy. In 2013, my blood counts went haywire and for the first time since my initial diagnosis, I had to undergo blood transfusions. I was at CTCA and admitted for seven weeks. But my care team helped me through it. There were so many services offered to me, from spiritual support to nutrition guidance, and all of this made a difference.

Unfortunately, after returning home from those several weeks, I became very sick and was admitted to the intensive care unit of my local hospital. However, my team at CTCA was in close contact with my local hospital’s doctors. CTCA kept track of my treatment and health status.

Because the cancer is advanced, I regularly have CT and bone scans, in addition to routine blood tests. Being able to remain on treatment has allowed me to continue to be with my family, which is a milestone in itself.

Family & friendship

Alongside the excellent medical care, I have great value for the friendships I’ve made at CTCA. It’s a home away from home, like an extension of my family. Tanika Smith in the marketing department at CTCA has become a close friend. She’s like a sister to me. As a member of the Cancer Fighters® Care Net, I am there for other people who are fighting cancer just as Tanika has been there for me. I listen to newly diagnosed patients and answer their questions, offering support and encouragement along the way.

My family has also been my support and inspiration through these years. My mother comes with me to Philadelphia for every visit. I’m not able to lift luggage or other heavy objects, so I need her help. She also helps me through the emotional ups and downs. In turn, she receives the support she needs from CTCA, with transportation if she needs to go to the store while we are in Philadelphia, or any other small errands she needs to run.

Above all, my son is my inspiration to keep going. I literally began my first chemotherapy treatment two days before his first birthday, so he has practically only ever known me with cancer. Being with him year after year is my milestone. CTCA recognizes that and assists my family in allowing me to be there for their milestones. For example, my son was receiving a belt promotion in karate and I had promised to be there for the event, but I had been admitted to the hospital prior to it. My CTCA surgeon agreed to allow me to attend the event (as long as I followed his “walking rules”). I was discharged and flew home the day before to be there for this milestone in my son’s life.

Traveling from Florida to Philadelphia has never been an issue and the reward has been beyond great: I’m still here!

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