Helen C. is a crafter turned artist. She designs jewelry, clothes, window treatments, and more—a vocation that keeps her bustling. But one day her busy life changed. She discovered a lump in her right breast.
"Sometimes swelling just goes away, so I waited and watched for about three days, and I'd touch it and say, 'Nah, this is not a lump,'" she confesses. But she soon knew she could not wait any longer. The lump in her breast was the size of a plum pit, and it persisted.
She called her primary-care doctor and scheduled tests for the next week. When all of the test results came back, Helen was informed that her breast tumor was at stage 0, noninvasive. The diagnosis meant she could have a lumpectomy (instead of a mastectomy), but her surgeon mentioned some of the lymph nodes under her arm might have to be removed surgically, too. Helen asked if lymph node removal might be avoided, and her surgeon replied that if a biopsy of the nodes came back negative, their removal would be unnecessary. Helen had the biopsy and was told the result was indeed negative.
Helen proceeded with her lumpectomy and planned to start six weeks of radiation treatments two weeks later at a facility near her home and then was told she needed more surgery.
Wanting a second opinion, Helen called CTCA. Her impression was positive from the start. Her first conversation with a CTCA representative in Chicago made her feel respected and hopeful.
When asked for her medical records, Helen said, "Please don’t make me travel to all those places to get them," and she was thrilled to learn she would not have to—she simply signed a consent form and CTCA arranged for most of her records to be sent to their facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she would be treated. All the appointments she needed for a six-day consultation there, plus train travel and hotel reservations, were set up for her, too. "It de-stresses you to have that kind of help," Helen says.
From testing at CTCA, Helen was re-diagnosed as stage II. Her CTCA surgeons cleaned up the margins and removed some lymph nodes for biopsy. While she was under anesthesia, Helen also received intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) targeted to the tumor area, a treatment she had never heard of before contacting CTCA.
Afterward, Helen's surgeons and oncologists remained with her to explain everything that had happened. They had taken four nodes, found no more cancer, and administered IORT. "They talked about my whole body, asked how I was feeling, and asked if I wanted to talk to a minister. They explained that after surgery you're always in danger of blood clots, so they kept me in bed overnight with massagers on my legs to keep the circulation going," Helen says. During her stay in the hospital, a friend stayed with her and CTCA took good care of him, too.
After Helen started feeling better, CTCA physical therapists sat her in a recliner and showed her some chair exercises. They also shared tips to help her during recovery. "There's a contraption with a pole and a strap that wraps around your foot for getting out of bed one leg at a time, and there's a grabber for reaching and picking things up, and another thing that looks like a PVC half-pipe with a rope on it that you use to get your socks on. They didn't miss anything," Helen reports.
Then came the day when Helen's surgeon and oncologist brought in the latest test results and announced, "You're cancer-free!" Helen jumped from her bed to hug the doctors and the nurse and was so excited she walked out to the nursing station and shared the good news. "An elderly lady with an oxygen tank said she was so happy for me and I thanked her and hugged her, too," says Helen. "A light bulb went on in my head in that moment and I thought, If this lady can be happy for me, then I can put time in to get someone else to try to understand what CTCA can do for them."
Helen says her experience has taught her a great deal. For one thing, self-examination saved her life, so she encourages all women to begin screening early and to self-test frequently. "You have to be in tune with your body," she says. She is also now more aware of some steps she can take, such as maintaining good nutrition, to reduce the risk of disease. Her CTCA oncologist found that the level of vitamin D in Helen's blood was low. A prescription brought her level up, and she now takes a supplement every day as a part of her regular diet. Most of all, Helen advises everyone to ask questions. "Say to yourself, 'This is about me and my survival and I deserve the best help I can find,'" she recommends. "That's what I went for, and no one I've seen is better than CTCA."
Last updated on 6 December 2015
Before Leaving the Hospital: Get All the Paperwork
Impatient to be gone, and often suffering the woozy side effects of surgery and post-operative pharmaceuticals, patients too often find themselves back at home later, missing important documents that could have more easily been obtained on site. So before you hightail it out of your hospital or clinic, be sure that you have all of your important documents.
Generally, larger hospitals provide complete medical documentation as part of the standard exit procedure. However, some smaller clinics may rely more on verbal instructions, and they are less likely to build and maintain a dossier on your case.