My journey with cancer began when my daddy died from cancer soon after I turned five years old. He was a physician and a wonderful man. He saved other people’s lives. He saved my best friend when she had spinal meningitis at the age of two. We’ve been best friends ever since.
Right before I found out I had breast cancer, I had just completed my Master of Arts degree in Creative Arts at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was May 2007. My life during that time was so busy. I was a single mom, teaching full time, and going to Carthage two nights a week. The news of cancer made my life come to an abrupt halt.
I was diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer on August 11, 2007. I was alone, sitting in my living room with the phone, waiting. The doctor called around 9:15 a.m. I was devastated with the news. I remember feeling numb and wanting to deny the truth. I started to think of all of the reasons why I probably got cancer—blaming myself. I sobbed and prayed at the same time. I pleaded with God to not let me abandon my children from cancer like my daddy, who I still missed dearly.
Then I decided to use my energy in a positive way and learn about breast cancer. I went online. That’s when I saw a link to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) website. I remembered their commercials and the message “you’ve got a reason to live.” So, I clicked to chat and got Diana Previs, an https://www.cancercenter.com/contact-us/team.cfm”>Oncology Information Specialist.
Diana was SO wonderful. She calmed me down and told me that I should not blame myself for getting cancer. She was my first glimpse of HOPE. She told me about CTCA. While I would have had to wait weeks to have surgery with my current doctor, I was able to get an appointment right away at CTCA.
My mom came with me on August 16, 2007, my first day. When we arrived at https://www.cancercenter.com/midwestern-hospital.cfm”>CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, I was scared and anxious. Yet, as we walked into the building, it was like a wave of peace just came over us. I immediately began to feel like my burden was being lifted by the friendly, sincere and compassionate people everywhere I looked.
I went to the second floor for my appointment with Dr. Citrin. The waiting room was full. I sat there and realized that I was in a room filled with other people who had cancer as well, but I still felt alone and anxious. However, I kept hearing other patients around me talking about how wonderful their experiences had been and how they were getting good reports.
I met Dr. Citrin and through his kind, gentle manner, he reassured me. His voice was calm yet authoritative and confident. He explained the type of breast cancer I had—he is a great teacher. He also assured me that there was HOPE. I knew I was in the right place and I trusted him.
That following week I also met with Dr. Edgar Staren, who was just as wonderful, gentle and calming. He thoroughly and simply explained the partial mastectomy and lymph node dissection. He said a pathologist would do an initial biopsy in the operating room to make sure they got all of the cancer—which he did in my case!
Right before chemo began, I brought a self portrait with exaggerated hair to show Dr. Citrin. He was so happy to see me with artwork because he knew it gave me a positive outlet in dealing with my situation. Dr. Robert Bloom also graciously analyzed my artwork. He helped me realize that I had been able to grieve for my daddy through my own grief of losing my hair.
Since the beginning of this cancer journey, artwork has been therapeutic for me. It has helped me express my thoughts and feelings and understand myself. There were moments when I felt like I was in a dark, deep pit and could not climb out. However, kind words and prayers from my doctors, nurses, family, friends, and other cancer patients, helped guide me back into thinking positive, hopeful thoughts.
At CTCA, I have so many doctors who have all cared for me with compassion. They are lovely, kind men and women of all ages and backgrounds. I came to find that they are real people at CTCA, and they really do care about the patients. They understand that everybody is different and they treat you as an individual. Since coming to CTCA, I have not just healed from cancer, but I have healed emotionally and spiritually as well.
I owe my healing to so many people at CTCA —doctors, chemo nurses, radiation staff, physical therapy, naturopaths, pastoral care (who came to see me during every chemo treatment!), food service, Survivorship Support, other patients—I can’t name them all.
My sister was impressed with CTCA too. When she visited over Thanksgiving, she came to my appointment with Dr. Staren. After meeting him and others that day, she wrote a poem about CTCA called “Hope,” which I was inspired to use in my artwork.
I believe that what we go through in our lives shapes our character for the people we become, if we let it. I think it helps us be stronger for whatever will happen in the future. Just as God knows the beginning and end, I trust that His ways are beyond my understanding and to daily let Him direct my life.
Although I would not have chosen cancer, it has been a blessing. Along this cancer journey, my life has been enriched with beautiful people and experiences. It has taken on new meaning and a new direction.
I am so grateful to have come to CTCA. This truly is a special place. I feel like I “get to” come here, not like I “have to” come here. The doctors and other personnel have been so wonderful, helpful and sincerely compassionate, not only on the first day, but throughout my entire journey. CTCA really is a gift to cancer patients and a hospital unlike any other.
I want to encourage everyone who faces cancer to come to the CTCA for their treatment and that there is HOPE along their journey, to never give up, and to hold on to their faith in God.