How Pat’s Cancer Journey Gave Her Lifelong Friends
Pat was a happy and healthy 67-year-old, married to her “rock,” and living here in Long Beach. An avid cook and recipe enthusiast, she never felt any cause for health concern until noticing that she was bleeding irregularly.
One day, during an appointment with her gynecologist, Pat mentioned the bleeding, not thinking the road of proactive curiosity would lead her to cancer. Her gynecologist recommended an ultrasound that discovered the cancerous mass in her fallopian tube. Pat was soon diagnosed with stage-two fallopian tube cancer, also known as tubal cancer, in January 2008 at Long Beach Memorial. Once diagnosed, she felt understandably overwhelmed, “Your life becomes a different life. Cancer, in the beginning, is sort of all consuming,” Pat says.
After her diagnosis, physicians Michael L. Berman M.D., gynecologic oncologist, and Leslie M. Randall, M.D., gynecologic oncologist, performed a tumor debulking surgery to eradicate the cancerous mass. In Pat’s extensive surgery, her ovaries, fallopian tubes, abdominal tissue, uterus, and pelvic and periaortic lymph nodes were removed.
For Pat, there was never a question of where to turn for survival and loving care. She looked to MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial for surgery and cancer treatment because she “knew this would be the best place” to beat it.
Before her first chemotherapy session, Pat looked into support programs to guide her through the treatments still ahead. She joined “Beat the Odds,” a treatment program designed to develop hope in cancer patients, led by Mariusz Wirga, M.D., medical director, psychosocial oncology, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Memorial. She also attended a Gynecologic Cancer Support Group with Holly Adams, Clinical Social Worker, Long Beach Memorial, which allows women diagnosed with various stages of gynecologic cancer to cope and heal alongside one another. In these programs, Pat found solace, friendship and the knowledge, “that you’re not alone” she says.
Even with a daunting diagnosis, Pat was able to form lasting bonds within her Long Beach Memorial care team. Once her debulking surgery was complete, Pat had four months of chemotherapy, which “just knocked me for a loop,” she says. Fortunately, the nurse who coordinated the majority of Pat’s care, Deanne Elseman, RN, was nurturing and unswervingly available for any questions or concerns Pat had, “She was wonderful, she became my friend.” After seeing friendships made during treatment outlast the cancer, Pat knew how she wanted to return the comfort and hope she felt throughout treatment from her Long Beach Memorial family. Once fully recovered, Pat followed the suggestion of Dr. Randall to become a peer mentor. Those around knew she would be the perfect guide for other women. “She’s always been very positive through this whole process. Just such a sweet, upbeat lady,” says Deanne.
The Women Guiding Women: Cancer Support and Education program pairs newly diagnosed gynecologic cancer patients with a trained gynecological cancer survivor and aims to provide emotional support and guidance for women battling gynecologic cancers. Pat participated in a four-week training program to become a mentor for other women experiencing the effects cancer has, and will continue to have on their life, health and family.
Pat now has four mentees in the program but refers to them by name, feeling that, “mentees become more than mentees.” For a survivor of fallopian tube cancer, being a mentor means encouraging, supporting and understanding what her friends will soon face in the fight against their own unique cancers.
To benefit the Long Beach Memorial support groups, treatments, nurse navigators and psychosocial programs that sustained her, Pat and her friends, along with the Memorial Medical Center Foundation, come together each year for the annual Team Spirit Breast & Ovarian Cancer 10k Walk.
Raising money and awareness for cancer care and programs would mean that women like Pat could continue to guide others through cancer, because the groups “open up a whole new world to you in terms of friends.”
Pat is now a proud cancer survivor, but she will never forget the people who shaped her recovery. “I’ve met the most wonderful people through cancer that I’ve ever met in my life,” she says. In return, Pat mentors, listens and loves just to make a difference in the lives and healing of others.