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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Tara Lessard

Ovarian 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 ovarian cancer

My story

In August 2015, I had been suffering from acid reflux for over a year. I tried diet modification, prescription drugs and natural remedies, but nothing helped. For over 30 years, I worked for my father as a chiropractic assistant, so I was very familiar with the human body and its systems. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.

When I finally went to a local hospital emergency room in September 2015, I was suffering from extreme pain in my stomach and an immense amount of pressure when I sat down. They did a CT scan and blood work. I was admitted to the hospital and told that a gynecologist would visit me the following day to share the results. They also told me to have my family present.

The next day, the doctor told me I had stage IV ovarian cancer. I was in shock. No one in my family had ever had cancer. I considered myself healthy. I ate organic foods and exercised. It never occurred to me that this was even a possibility.

Wanting personalized treatment

I knew I wanted personalized treatment, and my sister did a lot of research on options available to me. She recommended that I call Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), and I did. I really liked that CTCA® focused on cancer treatment and treated the whole patient. The information that the representative provided me on the phone further piqued my interest. Unfortunately, CTCA asked me to travel to the Chicago hospital, and I was too sick at the time to travel.

Ultimately, I treated closer to home at another cancer center and underwent aggressive treatment since the cancer had spread beyond my ovaries. I completed cytoreductive surgery, also known as debulking surgery, in January 2016. I also received chemotherapy before and after surgery. The cancer treatments caused debilitating pain and neuropathy, eventually leading me to use a wheelchair.

After my treatments were completed, I decided to proceed with genetic testing and discovered I have the BRCA1 gene. The cancer center offered me a preventative mastectomy, but I was still not doing well after the cancer treatment, and I wanted to focus on getting healthy first. I decided to wait and instead chose to follow up regularly with my doctor. Tests in the summer of 2016 showed I had no evidence of disease.

Just six months later, in January 2017, I learned the disease metastasized to my spleen. I went back into research mode, consulting with multiple, well-known facilities. I soon decided to follow through with CTCA to get another opinion. 

Finding hope and options

I flew with my mom in March 2017 to CTCA Atlanta. I met with a gynecologic oncologist and the rest of my care team. The doctor explained my cancer, options and personalized care plan to me. He told me that my cancer and I were a top priority, and I felt it. The plan was to remove my spleen and other evidence of disease. After surgery, I would undergo six rounds of chemotherapy and was a good candidate for a new immunotherapy drug. Side effects that I experienced would be actively managed with the supportive care services offered at the hospital. I instantly loved my team, and my hope was once again restored. I agreed with the recommended care plan and was enthusiastic about moving forward.

My surgery was scheduled for late April, and I went home to get my life in order. But then I got extremely sick and was admitted to the local hospital for an obstructed bowel. Once released, I couldn’t eat or drink, so I ended up at another hospital for three weeks. The doctors there wanted to operate, but I knew I wanted to get back to my doctors at CTCA. We fought to make it possible, and I hired a medical transport van to drive me down to Atlanta, so I could have the surgery at CTCA. 

Surgery was extensive and involved removing my spleen, parts of my small bowel and tumors around my liver. A week later, I went back for emergency surgery due to a stomach perforation, followed by an extended hospital stay. While this time was difficult, the doctors, clinicians and staff at CTCA made the experience interactive. They spoke to me with empathy, cared for my mom and sister, who stayed with me, and made allowances for family members to be involved in my care through the patient portal. The care I received at CTCA was amazing.

Everyone who I dealt with from CTCA was so helpful. I wanted to avoid taking opioid pain medications, and CTCA worked closely with me to manage my pain in a way I was comfortable with. We focused on natural pain relief to support my body and healing in a more organic way. I was so excited I was invited to take advantage of many of the supportive care services available, including chiropractic care, acupuncture, nutrition therapy and physical therapy.

After I was discharged, I returned to CTCA every three weeks for chemotherapy, and I received my last treatment on my 45th birthday. It truly was a celebration. Currently, I am on maintenance therapy with a PARP inhibitor. In October 2017, tests showed I had no evidence of disease.

A new focus

One of the best outcomes resulting from my journey with cancer was joining the Cancer Fighters® program, a support group CTCA offers for patients and caregivers. I signed up to participate in the program and received incredible support from others. Recently, I was offered the opportunity to shift my role, and now I offer support to others. I help direct patients to the rich array of resources CTCA has available. I joined the Cancer Fighters CareNet team to talk each week to multiple patients who are considering CTCA for treatment. I soon realized that I was changing, and my priorities were, too. I truly love helping others in need. I have learned that the more you give, the more you get back. I share my experience and answer questions these patients may have. It keeps me grounded, and I stay positive about my journey by sharing it with others. I am so very grateful to be participating in this extraordinary community of survivors.

I also had the opportunity to speak to the CTCA Board of Directors, and it was a huge privilege to share my story with them and honor some of the staff who made a huge difference in my cancer journey. Back at home, I volunteer and teach classes at the CTCA hospital in Philadelphia. I spend time volunteering for a local cancer support group, and I recently attended a national ovarian cancer conference. I recently sat down with the hosts of Health, Hope & Inspiration to talk about my ovarian cancer treatment journey.

In my spare time, I love cooking, photography, making jewelry and painting. I especially love to travel. I was recently in Hawaii, and I am looking forward to visiting future destinations as often as I can.

A friend once told me, “Tara, you live your life in uppercase letters and exclamation marks!” I think this perfectly describes who I am. Through everything I have experienced, I choose to stay positive. I wish to continue to volunteer and help patients and their caregivers. I believe these small acts will shed some hope in the lives of people facing similar situations. I will continue to thrive by helping lift up others through volunteer service.