Kathy T.

Breast Cancer - Stage 3


We incorrectly assumed that, because City of Hope is such a large hospital system, it might take months to get an appointment. When you have cancer, the hardest part is the waiting. It gets in your mind, and you can’t shake it because it’s all you can think about. You want answers, and you want to find someone to help. City of Hope knows and appreciates the importance of speed to care.

My husband, Steve, and I call Bellevue, Iowa, home. Bellevue is a small town known for its unique architecture and beautiful hills overlooking the Mississippi River. Steve and I have been married for over 40 years, and we adore our three adult children. Spending time with our two amazing grandchildren brings us so much joy.

In late 2006, our lives took an expected twist. In December, I went in for a yearly mammogram. I had noticed a dimple on my left breast, but I didn’t think it could be cancer. I generally thought cancer would form a lump. Cancer was always one of my biggest fears in life, which is one of the reasons why I am always faithful with my yearly screenings. The mammogram results showed that the cells in my left breast were starting to group together at the area of the dimpling. This news alarmed me, but I tried not to panic.

Two weeks after the mammogram, I had a biopsy performed on my left breast. Two weeks following the biopsy, I met with a medical oncologist for the results. I was told that I was a high risk of getting cancer. It was recommended that I start on Tamoxifen®, a selective estrogen receptor modulator, as soon as possible. Despite respecting my oncologist’s recommendation, I wanted to pursue a second opinion before starting the drug. I went to a large medical institution for a second opinion, and they confirmed the treatment recommendation.

I began taking Tamoxifen, and I remained on it for the next five years. On the advice of my doctors, I stopped taking the drug in 2012. At this point, everything was going well, and I resumed all my normal activities.

Seeking answers

Three years after going off the drug, in January 2015, I had a yearly mammogram that revealed a spot on my left breast. This time, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. I couldn’t believe that, after all the precautions I took, I still ended up with cancer. However, I didn’t hesitate; I wanted to quickly address it. The next month, I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy.

After healing from surgery, my oncologist recommended completing chemotherapy and radiation, explaining that it was the standard treatment for my diagnosis. Once again, I opted for a second opinion. I was willing to do chemotherapy if it was going to save my life, but if it wasn’t necessary, then I didn’t want too to do it. Chemotherapy scared me.

My husband and I sought out a second opinion at a university hospital system. Once again, the treatment suggested by my oncologist was indeed what the new doctor recommended. When I went back home, I didn’t feel 100 percent satisfied with what the oncologists were telling me. I felt unsettled and unsure. One day, Steve spoke with a friend who was undergoing cancer treatment and asked if he had any suggestions that might help in our search for answers. He told Steve to search, “DNA-based cancer treatment.” So, we took his advice, and that is when we first learned about Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA),* through our internet search. After doing additional research, we spoke with a person from our community who had a positive experience at CTCA®.

It was March 2015 when we called CTCA. We incorrectly assumed that, because it is such a large hospital system, it might take months to get an appointment. When you have cancer, the hardest part is the waiting. It gets in your mind, and you can’t shake it because it’s all you can think about. You want answers, and you want to find someone to help. CTCA knows and appreciates the importance of speed to care.

I was thrilled when the woman I spoke with called me back on Good Friday and told me that I was accepted and could get an appointment right away. I worked with the representative to schedule an appointment the Monday after Easter, so I could enjoy the holiday and then go in.

We arrived Sunday night and checked into guest quarters for out-of-town patients. We drove by the hospital the night before to get a look and feel for it. That is when I told my husband that I had a really good feeling that this place was going to help me.

After seeing several doctors throughout the years, I knew what I was looking for in my cancer treatment. I wanted a team to treat my cancer and focus on me as an individual. When I walked through the front doors, I immediately felt comforted. Halfway through the first day, I knew I was in the right place. The resounding message that my husband and I heard during my appointments was how CTCA heals the whole person—mind, body and spirit. I loved hearing that they were going to address more than just my cancer; they were going to focus on healing all of me.

Finding compassionate care

After meeting my care team and having my questions answered, I decided to treat at CTCA Chicago. I really wanted to avoid chemotherapy, if possible, and I let my doctors know that up front. So, my care team decided to send my tumor to a lab in California to learn what the tumor was made of before deciding on a treatment plan. When the results came back, they showed that I did not require chemotherapy. The recommendation was to undergo five weeks of targeted radiation therapy. Prior to this, in April 2015, I underwent a lymph node biopsy at CTCA, under the care of an oncoplastic breast surgeon, to remove some of my lymph nodes. They tested negative for cancer.

After taking some time to heal from my surgery, I began radiation therapy in May 2015. The treatments lasted two months. Then, in March 2016, I had breast reconstruction surgery. Throughout my care, I was so impressed with the CTCA employees. Whether they work in the clinic or the cafeteria, they are all understanding and compassionate people. I feel like I am part of the CTCA family, surrounded by people who truly care about me. Another thing that sets CTCA apart from anywhere else is that they are always asking how they can help. I love how quickly someone will ask if you need assistance if there’s even a chance you look lost or confused. I have nothing but the highest compliments for CTCA. I tell everyone about CTCA whenever I get the opportunity.

After reconstruction surgery, things were getting back to normal. I returned to CTCA for checkups every three to six months. Then, in June 2018, I began experiencing pain in my right scapula. I originally thought it was from a fall, but it continued for months. In September 2018, when I was back at CTCA, tests showed that my tumor markers were rising. Test results confirmed that cancer had spread to both my right and left scapula. My team recommended that I start on Ibrance®, a targeted therapy. I also underwent an additional round of radiation therapy.

Throughout my treatment, I was supported by friends and family. My children, husband and sister have come to CTCA at one point in my treatment to care for me, and they have been impressed with the level of care CTCA provides.

I am currently in active treatment. I take Ibrance orally. Every visit to CTCA is special. I actually look forward to seeing everyone. Once a month, I return to CTCA Chicago for injections, including a hormone depressant. I am continuing on that same treatment, but the good news is that my numbers are back to normal. I will live the rest of my life with cancer, but I am still here and living!  

Out of every bad thing comes something positive, and I found that to be incredibly true. My faith in God has flourished. Prior to coming to CTCA, the fear and thought of dying from cancer consumed me. Now, after all that CTCA has done for me and the grace of God, I can honestly say that I am not scared of cancer anymore. I am stronger than this disease, and I live each day looking forward to the blessings yet to be presented in my life.

 * 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.

December 2006
Treatment at: