Pako W.

Breast Cancer - Stage 2


I was in awe that this was even a hospital; it was so warm and comforting. For my appointments, I went into one room, and the doctors came to us. I didn't have to go from floor to floor, hunting and looking for each appointment.

In 2018, my husband, son and I lived in a small town in Alaska. We also have an adult daughter who was away at college during that time. I have always been very active as a personal trainer, volleyball coach and physical education teacher. I even owned my own fitness studio. I focus on my health, and I'm very in tune with my body. One day during a self-exam, I felt a lump in my left breast. I never get sick, so I knew right away that something was not right.

In April 2018, I went in to see my OB/GYN, who is also a friend of mine. I had previously completed some testing after I discovered the lump. I went into the office to get the test results, and from the look on my doctor’s face, I just knew. She said to me, “Pako, you have cancer. I’m so sorry.” She gave me a big hug, and we cried for a while. I was so thankful that my husband, Jeff, was there with me for support. We talked and cried more.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on my 48th birthday. We already had a birthday party planned that night with all my friends. My husband suggested we cancel. I told him no. I wanted to celebrate my life. And so, we did, and we had such a great time. I’m so glad that we did not cancel that party.

After that day, I went through a process of grief. I was thinking, “Why me?” It was so scary to feel weak and unsure of the future. But I’m strong, and I’m a fighter, and I didn’t wallow in my grief for long.

I was referred to a doctor in Anchorage. I completed tests and scans. Things were not going as smoothly as I would have liked. I was having to drive an hour and a half for some appointments and then turn around to go to another appointment in the afternoon. I felt like the doctors, clinics and hospitals were so spread out. It was too much for me, mentally and physically.

Searching for options

I kept seeing television commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA),* and one day, I just felt like it was divine intervention. I told my husband, "I think God is telling me to call them." And, he said, "Yeah, it doesn't hurt. Let's call and just see what it's all about.” So, I did.

I scheduled my initial evaluation, and CTCA® took care of obtaining my medical records and assisting with travel. In advance, I received a schedule about who I would be seeing and when. I was impressed by the organization and communication before I even stepped foot inside the hospital.

I arrived at the CTCA hospital in Phoenix at the end of April 2018. As soon as my husband and I got there, we were greeted and given a tour. I was in awe that this was even a hospital; it was so warm and comforting. For my appointments, I went into one room, and the doctors came to us. I didn't have to go from floor to floor, hunting and looking for each appointment. We met with my care team and planned out tests and scans that needed to be done.  

In Alaska, I was originally diagnosed as stage 2. The results less than two weeks later showed that my cancer had progressed. My medical oncologist personally called me that Friday evening after hours to tell me the news. The cancer was spread to my lymph nodes, and it was in my sternum bone. I asked what my options were, and my doctor talked me through them, while answering my questions. And then I said, “Okay, let’s get started.”

The next Monday, I started chemotherapy after they put the port in. The treatment worked well and shrunk the cancer. To remove remaining cancer cells, I opted for a double mastectomy. I just wanted the cancer out, even if only one breast was currently affected. My doctors honored my wishes and did the surgery. At CTCA, I completed a double mastectomy, immunotherapy and then the newly released Kadcyla® treatment (an immunotherapy/chemotherapy combination).

The staff let me know what side effects could occur throughout my treatment journey. They also let me know ways to alleviate those symptoms. My naturopathic provider suggested some organic supplements, which helped. I lost my hair in the process, and CTCA helped me get a wig. I knew I could talk to my doctors and clinicians about anything, and they would help address it right away. I felt reassured because I was receiving treatment to kill the cancer while my body and mind were supported. I found whole-person care at CTCA.

I was able to recover quickly, as I was strong and healthy before my diagnosis. I am so appreciative for the doctors who went above and beyond—they even gave me their personal cellphone numbers in case I needed to contact them after hours. I was confident in the nurses and doctors, and they truly treated me like a family member.

Moving closer

My husband and I can't say enough good things about CTCA. I help and encourage others who are going through cancer treatment. I let people know that at CTCA, you have highly skilled and educated doctors caring for you with access to innovative treatment options. When you have everything in one place and under one roof, you don’t have as much stress. Let your care team do the work so you can focus on fighting the cancer. And above all else, stay positive and keep hope alive.

I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends who were with me through this journey. I know God was by my side through it all. Today, tests show no evidence of the disease. I see my care team every three months for check-ups. Eventually, those appointments will be farther apart. I am currently planning for my breast reconstructive surgery at CTCA.

In February 2019, we moved our family to Goodyear, Arizona, to be close to the hospital. It is a lot warmer down here, and going to the hospital always feels like home. We are so close to this community. Here, I can relax. I can heal and recover, and not have to worry. CTCA is a wonderful place if you have to deal with cancer. It’s a place that cares about you as a person, and you truly feel connected to everyone there.

Cancer has taught me a lot. I prioritize family, love and hope. I plan on being here for a long, long time because I still have so much I want to accomplish. I want to see my daughter get married. I want to see my son graduate. I want to one day have grandkids to spoil. I am so thankful to have a second chance, and I am taking advantage of every moment.

* 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.

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