Viola J.

Breast Cancer - Stage 1

Viola J

The people at City of Hope are so warm and made us feel so safe and at peace. There is simply a wonderful atmosphere of togetherness. I was amazed by the teamwork and communication between all my doctors and clinicians. They made sure my questions were answered and that I understood my treatment plan. City of Hope focuses on the Mother Standard® of care, the kind of care that you would want for your loved ones. It is a whole-person approach to cancer treatment.

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. 

Nathan and I met in grade school, and we grew up together in Florida. We have been married for 36 years, but we’ve known each other almost our whole lives. A little over 20 years ago, we moved to Kansas. We have four adult daughters, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

After almost 30 years, I retired as an electronics technician. I was enjoying the freedom of traveling to see family, but contemplating the solitude that retirement brought.

In February 2014, a month after returning home from celebrating the birth of my new grandchild, I had two appointments scheduled on the same day: my annual mammogram in the morning and a visit with my gynecologist in the afternoon. In between, I was planning on having lunch with my husband.

My mammogram was far from routine that morning. What should have been less than an hour took longer because the technician saw a concerning spot. She took extra care and time to thoroughly capture the images. At this moment, I had my first thought that it might be cancer, but I tried to push it out of my head. I didn’t want to get worked up if it was nothing.

I then went to the gynecologist for my annual exam and told her about what happened. She called my primary care doctor while I was still in the office, and they scheduled appointments to see a medical oncologist and complete an ultrasound and needle biopsy.

I went home and talked to my husband about everything that had happened that day. I could not feel any lump in my breast. I completed a mammogram a year ago. I had no leakage or pain in my breasts. I had no family history of cancer. I didn’t experience anything concerning except that I had noticed I lost some weight. I was hopeful that this was a benign spot.

My husband told me right then that he had seen many television commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* After watching the commercials, Nathan said he was so impressed with the hospital’s focus on cancer. He told me that he always felt that if one of us had ever gotten a cancer diagnosis, CTCA® was where we should be. I told him to slow down because I didn’t even have a cancer diagnosis yet. Nathan told me, “Fine, but if at any point we aren’t satisfied with the care you are getting here, you are going there.”

The diagnosis

Soon after completing a biopsy in February 2014, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer: triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. I can’t say at this point that I was shocked. Instead, I felt fear. They told me my cancer was very aggressive, and I needed to act on it right away.

I went to get a second opinion with another local oncologist in Kansas City. During this time, my husband called CTCA and we told them my story and immediately made an appointment. I knew I needed to keep moving forward, so I went ahead with surgery to place a port with the second oncologist that I saw locally. The people I talked to at CTCA said I would need a port for my treatment whether it was here or there, and they were very supportive of it.

The surgery did not go as planned. I had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia. The surgery took much longer than anticipated because of the complication. My husband was sitting in the waiting room for hours not knowing what was wrong. He didn’t receive updates or any communication. He waited all day for news about me. Many hours later, he was told what happened.

After surgery, my face was swollen, my lip was cut from the intubation, and I felt so sick. Neither my husband nor I felt like we were being treated with compassion. I felt like I was a number, just another breast cancer patient. But I knew I wanted to be a survivor and not a statistic.

Finding personalized care

The next day, I felt sick, but I was determined. My husband and I got in the car and drove to CTCA for my initial evaluation. As soon as we pulled up, someone was at my car door with a wheelchair for me. The staff took our bags and delivered them to our room. From the moment I walked through the door of the hospital, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.

Everyone I met was so friendly, compassionate and caring. People I had just met were loving on me and embracing me, as if I was a member of their family. I was told by other patients that I was in the right place.  Everyone I met with wanted to know how I felt and offered prayers on my behalf.

After tests and examinations, my care team presented me with my treatment options. I was going to need a lumpectomy to remove the growing mass and then chemotherapy and radiation. We knew that this was the right place for me, and we decided immediately that I would go to CTCA for treatment.

The people at CTCA are so warm and made us feel so safe and at peace. I felt compassion and experienced the presence of God within the hospital walls. There is simply a wonderful atmosphere of togetherness. I was amazed by the teamwork and communication between all my doctors and clinicians. They made sure my questions were answered and that I understood my treatment plan. CTCA focuses on the Mother Standard® of care, the kind of care that you would want for your loved ones. It is a whole-person approach to cancer treatment.

I completed a lumpectomy to my right breast, and my doctors removed two lymph nodes that had microscopic traces of cancer. I was then given 12 cycles of chemotherapy. I experienced a lot of side effects. I lost hair all over my body. My husband shaved his hair to support me, giving me hope that we are in this fight together. I had pain, constipation, loss of appetite and nausea. I had neuropathy in my hands and feet. But CTCA addressed these side effects right away. Even if I was at home back in Kansas City, I could call CTCA and my care team was on top of it.

Throughout my treatment, I took advantage of the supportive care therapies available, including nutritional and naturopathic support and pastoral care. My symptoms were addressed, and my care team even helped prevent anticipated side effects.

I wanted to complete radiation therapy at home since I would need to do it daily for about eight weeks, from October to December. CTCA recommended a local radiation oncologist in Kansas City. My CTCA care team was in constant communication and coordinated care by working together. I appreciated that CTCA respected my wishes and worked with me to make it possible to complete radiation at home.

After completing radiation therapy, I underwent testing at CTCA, and the results showed no signs of cancer. Today, I follow up every six months, and I have had other scans that show no sign of cancer.

Life after cancer

I love my family, and I am so glad I am here to celebrate all our milestones, big and small. I cherish the time I have with my friends and family because I know life is precious. I know I am blessed because I found CTCA. I share my story with everyone I meet, and I can’t say enough great things about my experience there.

After treatment, I was able to witness the birth of two grandchildren in Hawaii. We went on our dream vacation in 2015 and celebrated one of our wedding anniversaries in Hawaii in 2017. During that time, I went back to college. I graduated with two degrees. I earned a bachelor’s degree in biblical counseling in 2015 and a master’s in Christian education in 2018. My husband has been a pastor for over 20 years. Nathan received a master’s in divinity in 2016. My cancer experience and my education have allowed me the opportunity to give back. One benefit of my cancer journey is being a part of the Cancer Fighters® team and encouraging others. As a member of the Patient Advisory Council, I had the opportunity to speak to the CTCA Board of Directors and share my story. I also started a cancer ministry at my church after receiving training with the Our Journey of Hope program through CTCA.

In 2019, I am looking forward to attending Celebrate Life, an event at the hospital to recognize five-year cancer survivors. I know I fought hard to be here. I am so proud to be alive, to focus on my family and church and to give back to others.

All things happen for a reason. I know I went through what I did to get me to where God wanted me to be. I found CTCA, survivorship and a new purpose.

* 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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