Anne S.

Uterine Cancer - Stage 3

Anne Strayham

The care I received at City of Hope still amazes me. I felt genuine concern and empathy. If I was having a meltdown moment, someone was there to hand me a tissue. No one made me feel silly about the questions I had, and my questions were answered. At City of Hope, I felt like my doctor cared, and that he takes the time to care. I don’t see him or the members of my care team checking their watches during an appointment with me. That alone is extraordinary to me.

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. 

In early 2014, I took my doctor’s advice and had a colonoscopy. I’d never had this examination before, and the time had come. After I recovered from the procedure, my doctor showed my husband, Juan, and I an image of my colon. The image had found two polyps. The doctor pointed to the first spot on my colon, assuring us that it was nothing to worry about. Then he pointed to another spot and told us he thought the polyp was suspicious of being cancerous. He had taken a biopsy during the procedure, and the tissue was being analyzed. When the results came back as negative for cancer, we thought that was that. I was in the clear. But life had other plans.

In the meantime, something very strange was happening in our lives. My mother has a friend I also know. Her husband died a few years ago. One day, completely out of the blue, my mother said that this friend wanted me to go to her house. She had something to speak with me about. A few days later, Juan and I went to see her, and she began speaking about how structurally sound her home was. She told us that her health was not that great and she wanted to leave her house to us. I assumed that she meant she would leave it to us in her will—an extremely generous and unexpected gift—but not long after that visit, my mother explained that this friend was giving us money for the taxes on her home. Then we heard she was giving us money for utilities. Then she told us she was moving to another state, her lawyer had all the papers for us to sign, and she handed us the keys.

Months later, I went to my doctor because I was in pain from sciatica. My doctor wanted me to have an MRI so she could confirm the source of the pain. Soon after the imaging test, I received a call. My kidney was enlarged, and there was a blockage next to my ureter. My doctor told me to go to the emergency room for additional testing.

Unexpectedly, I ended up staying at the hospital for three days. I had a stent inserted at my left ureter. Approximately a month later, the urologist replaced the stent and told me to see a gynecologic oncologist. All these recommendations, coupled with just bits and pieces of information, left me confused.

The following week I saw my ob-gyn. She knew that I had fibroids and irregular cycles, and she recommended that I have a hysterectomy. Learning the results of the analysis of tissue removed during the hysterectomy left me and my husband in complete shock. There was cancer in my cervix. What’s more, although the hysterectomy had removed most of the cancer, the tissue just beyond reach of the surgery still contained cancer. Further analysis confirmed the diagnosis as stage 3 uterine cancer.

The time to care

My cousin was preparing food for me while I recovered from the hysterectomy. One day, she suggested I call Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* She said they would speak to me any time, day or night, and provide the information I needed in order to make decisions about my care. I took her advice, called and spoke on the phone with an Oncology Information Specialist. Soon, I was seen at the Chicago-area location of City of Hope for an initial consultation.

During my initial evaluation, my gynecologic oncologist recommended radiation and low-dose chemotherapy. “No surgery?” I asked him. He told me surgery was the least preferable option because it could increase my risk of infection and was not the preferred way to decrease the chance of the cancer spreading. I knew after that initial consultation that I would pursue treatment at CTCA.

I underwent about six weeks of radiation accompanied by weekly low-dose chemotherapy. After completing this phase, I recuperated at home for several weeks and then returned once every three weeks for a second chemotherapy regimen.

The first phase of my treatment left me fatigued, and I had to take a nap each day. I did not lose my hair, but the radiation did cause some nausea near the end of treatment. Neither chemotherapy regimen triggered nausea. I lost my hair with the second chemotherapy regimen, including my eyebrows and eyelashes. My husband and I are both ordained pastors, and although we had to take a break from weekly worship services, we were able to continue some limited ministerial work.

The care I received at CTCA still amazes me. I felt genuine concern and empathy. If I was having a meltdown moment, someone was there to hand me a tissue. No one made me feel silly about the questions I had, and my questions were answered. At CTCA, I felt like my doctor cared, and that he takes the time to care. I don’t see him or the members of my care team checking their watches during an appointment with me. That alone is extraordinary to me.

Small miracles

As I mentioned, sometimes life has other plans. My husband wanted to take care of me when I was going through treatment. The house we were given allowed that to happen. Because of the change that gift made in our lives, he was able to retire and be my caregiver. And I can never thank him enough for the care he gave me during this time.

I have completed treatment now and am in recovery. My gynecologic oncologist told me the imaging tests showed no visible signs of cancer. My hair is growing back slowly but surely. Every visit to CTCA is special. We visit with Ricardo in the cafeteria, and he has been so kind and pleasant. We visit with patients and make sure we stay in one another’s lives. As pastors, we developed a relationship with the pastoral care team at CTCA, too.

Juan and I were ordained together years after we met, and our religious life is at the center of our life together. Cancer was something to get rid of. But how that happens, and the way that happens, may be filled with blessings large and small. We see them at CTCA.

Juan's story

Many kinds of waiting

Early in January 2014, the snow came down heavily. I was shoveling outside our church, preparing for service, and no one showed up. After pouting about that for a few minutes, I realized how foolish I was behaving. Then during a quiet moment, I heard the voice of God say, “Wait for the miracle.” As a pastor, my mind is always on my faith, and I was eager to see the miracle. Anne was already scheduled to have a colonoscopy, and when the initial cancer scare turned out to be nothing, I thought that was our miracle. But our journey with cancer, and the strengthening of our faith that would come with that journey, was just beginning.

When we were given a house by Anne’s family friend, I was amazed. This gift opened up all kinds of opportunities. We found out that a relative was struggling, and we were able to provide a home for him. At that time, Anne was fine. But then she went to the doctor for sciatica pain, and life snowballed from there.

The doctor at the hospital told Anne that she had cancer. Realizing the severity of her diagnosis, I knew that I was still waiting for a miracle. Soon, we found our way to CTCA.

During our first visits to CTCA, I learned about the history of the hospital, how the founder wanted to create the kind of place he’d wanted when his mother was treated for cancer. I met a woman who told me she had terminal cancer, but she was smiling and happy when she said those words. She was emphatic in her declaration that a person can live with cancer. I’d never heard anyone speak like that before. She explained that while other patients prepared to die, she prepared to live. At CTCA, we encountered love and compassion. Having my wife treated at CTCA was like becoming part of a family, and it still feels that way. I believe the doctors administer care in the way that pastors minister to others: They feel love and care, and they spread that to patients and caregivers.

Being a caregiver

The house that we were given enabled me to retire so that I could be Anne’s caregiver. I could stay with her at CTCA during her radiation treatment. Our congregation joined a sister church. I met with the pastoral care department during our stay, and I was permitted to preach at the chapel during one of our visits. We met so many patients, more than 50, and I stay in touch with them through monthly phone calls.

In our thoughts

CTCA is in our thoughts and prayers. We love telling others about the care my wife received there, about Anne’s experience and how she has come through the other side through the support and expert medical attention she received at CTCA.

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.