A Patient’s Cancer Survival Story
Ask anyone diagnosed with cancer and they will tell you the one thing they want is to be labeled a survivor. For OHC patient Christina Nauman, her survival began Thanksgiving Day, 2017. As she recalls the various stages of “survival,” she also remembers the strength, support and expertise she received from the team at OHC. Here’s her story.
It was Thanksgiving Day, 2017, when I noticed random small bruises on my abdomen. After some tests, my primary care doctor told me to go to the emergency room immediately. He reiterated six times how emergent my situation was. The severity of my situation did not truly set in until later when I was being moved to my permanent hospital room. As my bed was wheeled around the corner and my eyes fixated on the sign that said Oncology 4 West, reality set in. That truly was a sobering moment.
On December 5, I received my formal diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia with positive results for the Philadelphia chromosome. That day also happened to be my husband’s and my 30th wedding anniversary. My husband sat on my bed, held my hand, and we cried as we received the news. That was a survival moment. After that, we put our game faces on and embraced only a positive attitude going forward.
I soon started chemotherapy, which would be another challenge along my journey that I would fight hard to survive because the chemo left me very weak. And I was told I needed my strength for the next step: a bone marrow transplant.
My doctor, Dr. Jamie Waselenko, said I had two options for a bone marrow transplant. Hands down, she could not say enough good things about OHC’s Dr. Jim Essell and his excellent treatment with leukemia patients, so we chose Dr. Essell.
During my first visit with Dr. Essell, he noticed I was very weak having just come out of two rounds of chemo. He reiterated to both me and my husband just how deeply important it was to work on building my strength back up. I still had two more rounds of chemo before being completely turned over to Dr. Essell’s care. Not only did I have to finish my chemotherapy, I also had to build up my strength. At one point, I received a very stern “talking to” from my husband about the importance of building my strength and trying my best to eat, even though both had been depleted from my chemo treatments. He wanted me to understand how crucial this was to face what was ahead of me. Another challenge to survive.
Diane Shapiro at the Blood Cancer Center was my transplant coordinator, and when we met with her and Dr. Essell, to say I was scared was an understatement. But Diane welcomed me with a hug and the most calming voice and demeanor I’d ever experienced. And Dr. Essell was very cordial. He was also very honest regarding what they were about to face and what they could expect.
The next step was finding a bone marrow donor. It was a lot of information to take in, and Diane saw the tears in my eyes that night as she wheeled me to the main entrance of the hospital. While we waited for my husband to bring the car around, she was so calming in the midst of my fear, and she gave me her phone number and e-mail address, telling me that no matter what, we could contact her with any questions or thoughts that came up. This fear was another challenge I had to survive.
We left the hospital that night with a complete schedule of what would lie ahead, and began waiting for a match. My first thought was, “What if they can’t find a match?” but the team had reassured us that they would. In all honesty, this was a very stressful time.
I was in the car with my husband, on my way to an appointment at OHC, when my phone rang. It was my brother telling me that he had just received a call from OHC advising him that we were a perfect bone marrow match. This was the most incredible blessing I could ever have received. Another challenge survived.
Now with my donor in place I began the necessary tests and was scheduled to arrive at the hospital on Friday, March 16, 2018. I was scheduled for my fifth and final round of chemo that weekend, and five rounds of total body radiation. My brother’s bone marrow was harvested on March 21st, and I received my transplant on March 22nd. Again, I survived.
To say OHC is a meticulous organization is an understatement. We had so many meetings with OHC staff members to prepare us for this step of our journey. Not only myself but our entire family. Walking in their doors, you realize that they have one goal and one goal only: to do everything in their power to save your life. Second, they not only treat the patient, they treat your entire family. I have never witnessed anything like this before. This OHC staff truly wanted to save my life, and they made sure that me, my children, my family, and their staff were all working together to do just that.
It’s been almost two years since I first noticed those random bruises. Not only am I still surviving, I’m thriving thanks to my husband, my girls, my family and OHC.
Dr. Essell, Tracy, Maria, the lab staff, the nursing staff in the treatment suit, and the entire staff have become like our family. Cancer is a very emotional and stressful time, and even though Dr. Essell and the staff take the brunt of our emotions, they still calm our fears not only me, as the patient, but my husband and our girls. And psychologist Lyn Sontag was there from the very beginning whenever my husband or I needed a sounding board for all the emotions that come with cancer.
If I could give any advice to a new patient and their family who is just starting on this journey with the staff at OHC, it would be to trust your medical team. They truly only have your health and best interests at heart. I followed their advice to a tee. Exercise is a key piece of the component to your healing process. It was the last thing I felt I could do but I had to push to keep going. When food is the last thing you can imagine consuming, know it is key in your recovery.
Last, but not least, to caregivers, you are the unsung heroes in all of this. My husband truly was my strength every single day in this journey. He pushed me harder than anyone could imagine. He made sure every single thing that was advised by the doctors and staff was adhered to. He was by my hospital bed every single day sun up to sun down, and with me 24/7 for two months post-transplant. He made me survive. There truly are not enough words to thank him.
I have been blessed beyond words with the care I have received and am still receiving from OHC. They are the reason I am here today. They are the reason I survived, and for that I thank them!
At OHC, we’re fighting your cancer with the most advanced technology and a personalized approach while constantly searching for new treatments through our clinical trials program, so even more of our patients can be survivors. To learn more about OHC, or for a second opinion, please visit ohcare.com or call 1-800-710-4674.
Top picture: OHC cancer survivor Christina Nauman and OHC transplant specialist Dr. Jim Essell.