Phil B.

Colorectal Cancer - Stage 4

Phil Bosanko

I remember a conversation I had with my medical oncologist in the first year I was going through treatment at City of Hope. I told him, 'I'm not going to make it to deer camp this year.' I was bummed. But he assured me I was well on my way to getting better. He said, 'You'll be at deer camp next year.' The next November, I went up to deer camp and harvested the biggest deer of my life.

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 May 2006, I was 48 and busy living life to the fullest. I was working, enjoying life with my bride, Kim, and spending my spare time woodworking, fishing, deer hunting, doing yard work and fundraising. I knew something wasn’t right, though, when I started to pass blood in my stool. I went directly to Kim and told her. As a registered nurse, she immediately went into action and started making phone calls to the appropriate medical agencies. This led to me to urgent care. I then had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Before surgery for the cancer, I had more tests—CT scans and blood work. My surgeon and oncologist told me my scans showed that the cancer had spread (stage 4) and covered my entire liver. The following week, I had surgery to remove nine inches of my colon.

Kim and I felt that I needed more than the standard chemotherapy plan after my surgery. I needed advanced options and doctors who would be on top of my care. I spoke with a coworker who was going through cancer treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Chicago,* in Zion, Illinois, about an hour away from my home in Wind Lake, Wisconsin. She recommended CTCA®. My brother-in-law called the hospital for information, and we decided it was worth looking into. Within a matter of days, I set out to get a second opinion at CTCA.

After a few days of initial testing, Kim and I met with my oncologist, and I began chemotherapy that day. From the get-go, my CTCA care team was on the same page as I was. They invited me to have a say in my treatment, and I was never given a time limit. Instead, I was given hope and a commitment that they’d fight with me. I chose to fight at CTCA.

My medical oncologist broke down my diagnosis and treatment plan so Kim and I could understand what he was telling us. We felt like the more information we received about my cancer and treatment, the more comfortable we were while I was going through treatment. But it wasn’t easy. And certainly, the hardest part of going through treatment was the fear of the unknown. I began an aggressive chemotherapy regimen of cisplatin and leucovorin. I received Zofran® to prevent nausea. Every three weeks, I’d start a new cycle of chemotherapy. I had 15, five-day chemo treatments. I also received three intra-arterial chemo treatments (mitomycin) directly to my liver.

By August 2006, I was able to get back to work part-time. After seven to eight months of chemotherapy, I moved back to a full-time schedule. What kept me going through it all was a positive attitude and outstanding support from my bride, family, friends and co-workers.

I remember a conversation I had with my medical oncologist in the first year I was going through treatment at CTCA. I told him, “I'm not going to make it to deer camp this year.” I was bummed. But he assured me I was well on my way to getting better. He said, "You'll be at deer camp next year." The next November, I went up to deer camp and harvested the biggest deer of my life.

The nurses in the Infusion Center were wonderful and helped me through all my chemotherapy treatments. There wasn't a day when they didn't have a smile, a hug or a joke for me. I often refer to them as my infusion angels.

During my treatment, my quality of life was fair. Because I received a comprehensive treatment plan, I received therapies that helped me stay strong and manage some of the side effects of the chemotherapy. For example, my naturopathic oncology provider recommended ginger root to help me with my stomachaches after I received chemotherapy. Also, my dietitian helped me prevent weight loss through ongoing nutritional support.

Kim was key to helping me through my fight. She put up with me 24/7 throughout the battle. With her background and training, she understood some of my issues, and other times, wouldn’t put up with them. CTCA was supportive of her and aware of her needs as well. I’ll never forget how my medical oncologist's nurse always asked how Kim was doing.

Kim and I found the Mother Standard® of care at CTCA to be comforting, and also the fact that all of us at CTCA were either cancer patients or caregivers. We were all in the same boat and there for each other.

In August 2007, after 15 months, 78 chemotherapy treatments, countless CT and PET scans, enough blood work to last a lifetime, three inpatient stays, having my lungs drained, several blood transfusions, and hundreds, if not a few thousand, hours spent at CTCA, my medical oncologist and his nurse told us I had completed my treatment. Today, I return to CTCA for checkups annually.

Milestones reached

In 2007, I was humbled and honored to receive our local and national award, the “Unsung Hero Award,” from my employer. Something else I was really proud of was teaming up with my brothers to raise more than $30,000 in 2006 and 2007 for children in Wisconsin who had been burned in a fire. The money covered their expenses to attend a local summer camp for burned and injured youth.

But truly, waking up every day is a milestone. I was honored to celebrate five years as a cancer survivor at Celebrate Life at CTCA in June 2011. CTCA also put a gold leaf with my name on it on the Tree of Life in the hospital’s lobby. Also, after holding off on foreign travel for four years, in spring 2011, Kim and I traveled to Jamaica to celebrate life with friends. As of August 2017,  am now an 11-year survivor.

Giving back

As a retired U.S. Air Force firefighter, my motivation during my fight goes to back to my days as a firefighter. It was as we say in the Fire Service, “the will to slay the dragon.” Never give up, no matter what, and keep moving. As a widower to breast cancer in 1993, I knew how important it was to maintain a positive attitude.

Ways that you or your loved ones can feel empowered during cancer treatment is to have a positive attitude and keep goals in mind. Always do a little something, be it a project or work, even if you can’t complete the task. Try to do something nice for someone else, when you are able. It’ll make both you and that person feel better. And my advice for caregivers is to let the patient do what he or she can whenever possible.

As a member of the CTCA Cancer Fighters® Care Net, I regularly speak with others who are fighting cancer and who are considering coming to CTCA for treatment. I’m also a member of the CTCA Cancer Fighters group. At work, I started up a self-made support group with a co-worker who is a breast cancer survivor. I also developed a cancer information book for the entire workforce. I am often asked at work, or around the neighborhood, to assist a patient or family member with questions or concerns, and never hesitate to help in any way I can.

I realize I belong to a club that nobody ever wants to join—the cancer club. But once you're in, you're in, and all of us cancer patients are special to one another. So the more folks I can help, the better.

I would like to thank every member of the staff at CTCA in Zion, my bride Kim, my family, my friends around Wind Lake, and my co-workers. This was a team effort, and I never could have made it to this day without each and every one of you. Thank you!

As I like to say, put the “smile mask on” and get on with it. Your family and friends need to see you out and about. Remember to maintain a sense of humor and keep smiling through the fight. Cancer hates smiles.

* 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.