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Virginia Palumbo

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

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 prevalent cancers we treat

Overview

My story

My first bout with cancer was in 2008, when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I made it through treatment successfully, finished up in April 2009, and was very relieved to have that chapter of my life behind me.

In early 2010, I began feeling fatigued. By summer, I started to notice chains of lumps popping up on my neck. I thought perhaps my body was fighting an infection. After making it through one cancer diagnosis, I was in denial about the possibility of facing another. I went to a local hospital where the doctors said that I was not having a recurrence of ovarian cancer. The doctors there put me on “watch and wait” status, suggesting that I monitor the lumps for now.

The lumps came and went during the following months. I was feeling okay; not great, somewhat fatigued, but not really sick. In late October 2010, I began feeling pain in my left side, under my ribs. It increased over several days, finally reaching the point where I had to leave work. I came home and tried resting for a few minutes, but the pain became unbearable.

My husband took me to the emergency room at our local hospital in New Jersey. A CT scan proved that my spleen was enlarged and they needed to conduct more tests, so I was admitted in the hospital. I had surgery to remove a lymph node from my armpit, blood work, X-rays, and a spinal tap. After six days, they released me and the oncologist told me he would call at the end of the week to confirm whether my diagnosis was what they suspected: follicular lymphoma. Indeed, the tests revealed exactly that. I was 56 years old and meeting cancer face to face for the second time.

A new course of action

When I was treated for ovarian cancer in December 2008, I felt like I was just another cancer patient passing through. The treatment was fine—it conquered the cancer—but the care wasn’t personal. Everyone there was nice, but there was something missing. At that time, I thought that if I ever became seriously ill again that I would go somewhere else.

After being discharged from the hospital in October of 2010, I knew I had to find a new doctor at a new facility. The previous hospital that had put me on “watch and wait” status wasn’t what I wanted, either. I prayed about what to do and where to go for the best care. Shortly after, I turned on the television and a commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America was being aired. Could this be the answer to my prayers? I jotted down the phone number and called immediately. I spoke with Lisa, Oncology Information Specialist at the CTCA location in Chicago, for at least an hour. She was so wonderful and made arrangements for my initial visit to CTCA’s Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia.

In less than a week, my husband, Jimmy, and I arrived at CTCA. We received warm greetings from everyone we met with. We felt from the moment we were greeted at the doorway of CTCA that this is the place where we needed to be. I went through three days of necessary medical tests, scans, etc. and met with my oncologist. She went over the recommendation and plan to get me better. I was scheduled for my first infusion of chemo to battle the cancer.

The right kind of care

In so many ways, the care I received at CTCA was just what I needed.

Since my level of CA-125 was escalated, treatment began with a drug to address that issue. As my CA-125 level started to return to normal, it was time to begin chemotherapy for follicular lymphoma. My oncologist wanted me to have aggressive chemotherapy. We talked about what my greatest fear was and I explained that I was afraid to get chemo again and to have to endure the many side effects that go along with it, including loss of hair. This may seem vain, but after going through hair loss with ovarian cancer treatment, this side effect was something I was not looking forward to. Hair grows back of course, and getting healthy is the most important thing, but the experience can be upsetting. My doctor researched options, met with the oncology team at CTCA, and found a chemotherapy drug that would not cause hair loss. I was so impressed with the lengths she went to in order to address my concern.

My naturopathic doctor, Michelle Niesley, recommended ways to keep my energy levels up during treatment. A nutritionist recommended the right foods to eat and those to avoid. Also, to help reduce stress, I had massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and met frequently with a pastor on staff, Rev. Robin Childs. Robin would seek us out to pray before I had my chemotherapy infusions. That truly meant a lot to us. I firmly believe that all of these individuals and the care they offered played a significant role in my recovery. When my regular oncologist was on vacation, the doctor filling in for her, Dr. Rudolph Willis, met with us. Dr. Willis kindly greeted us, looked me in the eye, told me he knows all the details of my medical history, and assured me that my cancer is curable. I could sense his sincerity. What a difference that all made for me!

The happy and positive environment at CTCA also makes a huge difference. It offers a peaceful, nurturing environment. The chefs prepare meals that are healthy and delicious. A harpist plays her instrument in the waiting area. A pianist taps the keys on the piano, while the flutist accompanies him. An artist sketches caricatures for those interested. Mr. Brown, the “Puzzle Man” keeps patients entertained with his puzzles and wit. The whole facility is designed to make you feel at ease and help a sick person become well again. Everything offered at CTCA is geared to reduce the levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The whole person is considered—body, mind and spirit. It is a happy place, indeed.

I completed chemotherapy treatments for follicular lymphoma April 2, 2011. My spleen returned to normal size, and there are no visible signs of cancer in my diagnostic scans. I am not in pain, and I am back to the active lifestyle that my husband and I enjoy—traveling, experiencing nature, walking on the beach, and serving in our local church. We enjoy spending time with our family and my 91-year-old dad.

Giving back

It’s now five years since I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and three years since I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma. Physically, I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. My current follow-up visits are simply check-ups to make sure everything is still fine. As a two-time cancer survivor, I am very grateful for good health, and speaking with newly diagnosed patients through Cancer Fighters CareNet is a way for me to give back. At CTCA, there were so many people rooting for me to get well. Being one more person cheering on others has been extremely rewarding. I have made friendships with people that otherwise I would have never met.

The experiences with cancer that I have been through opened up a door in myself that enables me to minister to others battling sickness. In addition to working with the Cancer Fighters Network, I also started a women’s visitation ministry at my church. Our team visits women who are seriously ill and confined to a hospital bed or their homes.

When other victims of cancer hear that I have been through cancer twice and survived, it gives them hope. I often tell people that a cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence, and coping with it is all about maintaining a positive attitude and also trying to have a sense of humor. It’s true that not everyone survives, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to. CTCA has the tools to help you through.

In February, 2012, ten months after I finished treatment, my husband and I were privileged to travel with our church family to Israel, a place we had always dreamed of visiting. Just a year earlier I was sitting in a chair at CTCA, receiving chemotherapy drugs in my veins, and now I was riding a camel on the Mount of Olives! While in Israel, we visited The Church of the Beatitudes, overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee. Our pastor handed me his Bible and asked me to read the Beatitudes from the Book of Matthew, right there in the exact spot where they were spoken the first time 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ! What a gift.

A testimonial from Jimmy Palumbo, Virginia’s husband and caregiver

When Ginnie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, I remember being at our local hospital waiting to hear from the doctor. She was having a hysterectomy and my sister-in-law, Irene, and I were anxiously waiting to hear the result. Finally the doctor arrived and called me over. He told me that he found ovarian cancer, and they had removed everything, she would need to get chemo, but she’d be fine. Then he walked away. I couldn’t understand how he could just deliver that news and then depart so quickly. We were devastated by that news. Ginnie went through chemotherapy, and it was a difficult experience. The drugs were powerful. She endured several side effects, which were difficult to watch her go through. It was a hard time in our lives.

In 2010, when Ginnie was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, she was in the hospital for 6 days. On the last day, after several rounds of diagnostic tests, the doctor told us tests are showing she has follicular lymphoma and would phone her end of week to confirm. The results were confirmed and he instructed her to call his office on Monday to get set up with a schedule to receive chemotherapy treatments.

Searching for the right place

Our hearts sank. We didn’t know what to do after that. Was there a place where she could be treated as a person and not feel like just another anonymous patient with a disease? Our church family was praying for us and we gave it all to God. Finally, our prayers were answered. Ginnie called CTCA and it was nothing but great after that. We finally had a chance of hope for her recovery.

I still remember walking into the CTCA hospital for the first time. Anytime you go somewhere for this kind of situation, it is stressful. We walked in wondering if it really would be different than the other three hospitals we’d been to. We quickly realized this was a different kind of hospital. When we arrived for the first time that November morning, the security guard told us we were early for our appointment and gave us passes to the cafeteria for breakfast. From the start, we could see that everyone wanted to help us. The people who work at CTCA are very special. They are genuine. Our first day there, we knew we were in the right place.

Today I work as part of the security team at a local hospital and I am always speaking with people there about CTCA. I love going there, it’s a unique place. Everything is always sparking clean. The food is exceptional. I was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, and could see the thoughtfulness and extra attention that had gone into every area of the building. And most importantly, the doctors listen to our questions and take the time to answer them. We are always welcomed with open arms and have developed wonderful friendships. I wish I could list everyone who has touched us in a special way.

Being a caregiver

Although I would have taken off work to be with Ginnie through her treatments, it happened to be that I’d lost my job during a corporate takeover, so I could give her all the time she needed. I was with Ginnie at every visit, for every treatment. I am always with her for follow up visits. I knew what she’d gone through with ovarian cancer, and I was determined to be there for her.

CTCA included me as part of the team caring for my wife. Her doctor and others who had a part in her care went above and beyond to make sure that all my questions were addressed and that I was on board with any decisions being made about her care.

But what I have also learned as a caregiver is that you don’t necessarily need to do anything special to help your loved one through cancer treatment. You just need to be there.

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