Meet Sally. ￼￼￼Positive, Upbeat, and No Easy Mark for Cervical Cancer
When Sally was a single parent raising four boys, working 11 hours a day and taking care of her elderly patients, nothing could get her down. Years later, it would be this can-do attitude that would help her through the diagnosis of cervical cancer.
Sally, who had already gone through menopause, began noticing occasional spotting during a time when she didn’t have, and couldn’t afford, insurance. Like so many of us, she took to the Internet for answers. And, like so many of us, she gravitated toward the reassuring information. “You read that stuff and you want to believe what you want to believe,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, yes, it’s okay,’ and that’s all I needed to know.”
Fast-forward a year later in October 2014. The spotting was becoming more frequent and Sally finally mentioned it to her son, Brian and daughter-in-law, Katie. “He really got on me,” she said. “That’s when I started to panic.”
Care Provided Immediately
After talking to her son, things happened quickly. First, her primary care doctor got her an immediate appointment with a gynecologist. From there, she was referred to Dené C. Wrenn, MD, a gynecology oncologist at OHC. Dr. Wrenn did a thorough exam, which included a biopsy. Soon after, a diagnosis of stage 3 cervical cancer was confirmed.
It had been nearly 14 years since Sally had a preventive Pap test screening.
“Me putting it off cost me a lot,” she said. “Not only financially, but putting my family through things I didn’t need to put them through. If I’d kept up with my routine tests every year, they probably could have diagnosed it earlier.”
Sally began treatment with her OHC team, which included physicians Dene’ Wrenn, MD; Cynthia Chua, MD, a hematologist and medical oncologist; John F. Sacco, MD and Sue Fenney, MD, both radiation oncologists, and Sarah Wilson, MSN, APRN, a gynecologic oncology advanced practice provider. Sally was scared, but trusted what the doctors were explaining to her.
After additional scans, which included an MRI and CT scan, Sally’s plan of care was developed and started immediately. She received 27 radiation treatments, six rounds of chemotherapy, internal radiation and 4 rounds of chemotherapy, which concluded her treatment plan in April, 2015. “Sally was a motivated and compliant patient who understood that her treatment would be quite intense. She also understood that as a team, what we were asking of her, though quite challenging, was the best way to eradicate her tumor,” states Dr. Dene’ Wrenn.
Strength, Resilience and Being True to Herself
This was when the strength and resilience she had displayed as a single mother of four kicked in.
“The most important thing is to have a positive attitude and a sense of humor. I look back on it now and I think, ‘Oh my gosh! I guess I’m stronger than I thought I was,’”notes Sally. That she was a strong, positive woman even in the face of cervical cancer doesn’t surprise Katie. “She’s a very strong woman,” Katie said. “So I guess looking at it from the outside, it wasn’t really surprising at how strong she was.”
Sally continued to live on her own throughout treatment, even though Brian and Katie wanted her to come stay at their house, just a few blocks away. “The kids couldn’t understand why I was happy being by myself,” Sally said. “To go stay with them for a day or so was okay, but Brian wanted to bring my recliner over to his house!”
“I’ve always been so independent and take-charge,” Sally said. “Though I admit there were times I wanted my mom.” Katie agreed. “There were definitely times when it was scary,” she said. “We would just kind of decide we had to hope for the best. While we prepared for things to be not so great, we always expected a good outcome.”
The Supportive Nature of Positive Thinking
The caregivers and volunteers at OHC had a positive impact on Sally and Katie’s attitudes, as they do on every patient who comes through the door. “It’s hard to get down when you’re there,” Katie said. “It’s almost like you’re surrounded with all this stuff that’s happening, but it’s difficult to get down because everyone is so upbeat and so positive.
“We didn’t even know the questions to ask. They were so helpful with telling us those little things that we wouldn’t even think about asking. It almost took away the stigma of talking about it because they were so open. It wasn’t like this thing you don’t talk about.”
“I think they were actually glad to see me!” Sally added. “They were very caring and personable, and always coming to see if I needed anything.” OHC volunteer Steve added the touch of humor Sally was accustomed to. “We would go back and forth joking during my treatment days; he was such a help.”
In fact, Sally’s own attitude was so positive, Dr. Chua even asked her to speak with another cervical cancer patient, one who was having a difficult time coping. “I told her, ‘You know, it’s important to just take one day at a time. Think positive; you can do it!’”
Sally admits that thinking positive is probably in her nature. Katie agrees: “She’s a spitfire, all right.”
And the wonderful news: Sally just had her regular check-up with Sarah Wilson, MSN, APRN and is presently cancer free. Sally is eager to share her advice from this experience: keep up with your routine screenings, stay strong with a positive attitude and sense of humor, find comfort through your family and friends, and trust your doctors.
Sally is now doing what she loves: sitting for older people, spending time with her grandchildren and enjoying Katie’s delicious egg salad.
“I can’t say enough positive things about OHC, both with Sally’s treatment and with being there and sitting with her.” Katie, daughter-in-law
“Sometimes you go into a doctor’s office and you wonder if they’re even listening to you. I never had that at OHC, ever.” Sally, cervical cancer patient