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Emory Decatur Hospital
Cancer Survivor Stories

If you or someone you love is fighting cancer, hearing from people who have come through it can be very comforting. Cancer survivor stories are messages of inspiration and proof that the battle with this frightening disease can be won. Through their stories, survivors share their personal experiences and offer tried-and-true advice on how to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of cancer.

You and your family don’t have to face cancer alone. Take some time to read through the personal journeys of these amazing cancer survivors. Although no two experiences are alike, they all came away with the same feeling of hope for the future. We believe that you will find comfort in their words and strength in their successes. Click here to view patient testimonials in the video library.

Read some of our cancer survivors’ inspiring stories below to see how their lives have been renewed.

Dorothy CarterIn 1994, I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. My case was presented to the tumor conference board at DeKalb Medical, and I was told I would need a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. When I was being told I had breast cancer, I heard what was being said but it just didn’t feel real.

I had the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. During my hospitalization, I was treated with kindness and taken well care of by the staff at the hospital. Then I began my chemotherapy and lost my hair, which was very upsetting. I tried to keep a sense of humor by reminding myself that you can’t have a bad hair day when you’re bald, and I focused on the fact that it would grow back.

While my friends and family were sympathetic and supportive, they didn’t know what it was like to have breast cancer. I joined the breast cancer support group at DeKalb Medical, and I was able to meet other women like myself who listened as I shared my feelings. I knew they understood how breast cancer can change someone’s life.

To show my appreciation for the help I received at the cancer center, I began to volunteer there. But, as it turned out, I was not through with cancer. In 1998, I was diagnosed with a different kind of cancer in my other breast. This time I underwent a mastectomy with reconstruction as well as six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. All of this was followed by a stem cell transplant.

On February 18, 2002, I took a job at the DeKalb Medical Cancer Center as the administrative secretary and have been there ever since. Earlier this year I found and was treated for a melanoma on my leg. Again, the physicians and staff at DeKalb Medical lovingly walked me through the process.

When you go through something like this, your priorities in life change. Some patients retire so they can enjoy life. Others focus on milestones like celebrating their last treatment or having their hair grow back. I am healthy and cancer-free at this time and believe that each day is a new beginning. Through exercise and better food choices, I am working to stay healthy and I have faith for the future. I hope that I can help others by working with cancer patients and sharing my story.

Cheryl CharlesIn March 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer - invasive stage 2 lobular cancer in my left breast and ductal carcinoma in situ in my right breast. Sadly, I broke the news to my then 9-year-old daughter and then to the rest of my family. I had my mammogram at DeKalb Medical, and I was referred by my primary physician to a surgeon at the hospital who did my biopsy. And there began my relationship with the services offered by the Cancer Center.

First I met my wonderful nurse navigator who guided us through the process of selecting doctors and relieved me of some of my initial fear. I started chemotherapy in April and joined the breast cancer support group at DeKalb Medical, where everyone had their own story but each person in their own gentle and generous way offered advice and told me everything would be okay. So as I suffered through nausea and hair loss and faced the prospect of bilateral modified mastectomies, I knew in the aftermath things would be okay.

As I recovered from surgery, my concerns for my daughter grew because she never expressed a lot of her feelings. When she met my doctors at the meeting where we established my treatment plan, her only question was whether I would lose my hair. She took great delight in helping me choose a wig when the time came, but she was seeing her mom who had been healthy and active feel sick most days and I knew it must be having an effect on her. She assured me that she felt confident in my treatment because she had in her words “met my doctors and knew she could trust them.”

I had family members and our priest talk with her but I still felt that she needed more. I was getting so much out of my group and I knew that’s what was missing for her. Enter the Tree House Gang. I had been waiting all summer for the call to say the group was starting up, and we were eager to get involved. The Tree House Gang proved to be a wonderful outlet where she was able to express herself and share her feelings with other kids who were going through what she was experiencing. One of the highlights was a tour of the Radiation Oncology Department. My daughter accompanied the group on a tour there and told me she had met a very nice lady. Well the very next day I started radiation and my radiation therapist was none other than “the nice lady” my daughter had met the day before. Needless to say, I formed a good relationship with her during my treatment.

There were other fun activities as well. The children drew three designs for Christmas cards and one was selected. It was great to see the finished product. The DeKalb Medical Cancer Center printed cards from the selected designs and they were packaged and made available for sale during the holiday season. My daughter was very proud of her cards, and her friend from Radiation Oncology bought a packet and had my daughter autograph a card for her. I don’t know if she was more excited by this or by going on a hayride sponsored by a Girl Scout troop two weeks before Christmas just for the Tree House Gang.

I continue to attend the breast cancer support group and even though my daughter no longer attends the regular sessions of the Tree House Gang, we stay connected and never miss the special occasions that come up. The good thing about it all is that she can come back whenever she wants to. As a cancer survivor I feel lucky to be part of such a wonderful network at the DeKalb Medical Cancer Center, and the healing and hope I receive at the pastoral service every 2nd Tuesday of the month goes far beyond the hospital walls.

Susan FoxI was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in late September and had extensive surgery in early October. The diagnosis and surgery knocked me off my feet. I was terrified. I was afraid to be alone. I was lost.

A close friend made some calls to others she knew that had had cancer. The director’s name at the Cancer Center at DeKalb Medical kept coming up as someone who was a wonderful resource. I called and made an appointment to see her.

I was diagnosed, operated on and received chemotherapy at a variety of institutions. However, it was with DeKalb Medical’s Cancer Center Director and her wonderful support staff that I began to find my soul, the pieces of myself that I had lost on the frightening medical journey I was on.

I continue to meet privately with the director to help me deal with the emotional difficulties of a cancer diagnosis. I have met with the cancer nutrition specialist to help me stay healthy through the rigors of chemotherapy and with the genetic risk specialist to help me understand how my family history may have impacted my health. I have attended the American Cancer Society's Look Good…Feel Better program at the center to help weather the storm of what chemo does to your looks and self-esteem.

I attend the Cancer Support Group, which gives me hope and an understanding of how to live with cancer. The people I have met in this group are so brave, so grounded and able to find the joy in the everyday. They are truly an inspiration!

It is here, with the DeKalb Medical Cancer Support Group and support staff that I am defined by my person, not by my disease.

Tamara LopataWhile doing a routine self-exam of my "girls" in July of 2008, I found a strange lump that was new to the neighborhood. Since it wasn't painful, and the rest of the lumpy neighbors sometimes were, I thought I'd better get the bad boy checked out. Good thing I did because it was cancer--the worst neighbor you could ever want visiting your girls!!

My primary doctor scheduled a mammogram and recommended that I see a surgeon at DeKalb Medical, which I was happy to do since I’d had such a great experience delivering my son there 11 years earlier. My surgeon discovered that the bad boy hadn't unpacked his bags yet. He was Stage 1 but he had a big appetite. He was HER2 positive and Estrogen and Progesterone positive, all characteristics that made it grow faster than some other types of breast cancer. Yes, there are several different types of breast cancer, which is one of the many things I learned while on my cancer detour.

DeKalb Medical uses a team approach to treat breast cancer. Over coffee I met with the surgeon, the medical oncologist, and the radiation oncologist to create a customized treatment plan. Just in case the bad boy had any friends floating around my body, my doctors recommended doing chemo first, then a lumpectomy on whatever portion of the lump remained, followed by radiation. I was excited to participate in a clinical trial of Abraxane and Navilbene as pre-adjuvant (before surgery) treatment. As hoped, these chemo drugs plus Herceptin shrank the tumor dramatically. The clinical trial called for weekly chemotherapy which actually made it easier to tolerate, and I was able to work and manage my family. The remaining cancer cells were removed with a lumpectomy and then six weeks of radiation completed my trifecta.

While it was a lot to go through and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I was actually somewhat sad when the treatment was over. I had developed close relationships with many of the nurses and patients at DeKalb Medical. I’ve even dropped by the Outpatient Infusion Center a few times to see my nurses there. The moral of my story is simple: Get regular mammograms, do self-exams, and don’t mess around if you find something. Bad boys can’t beat us if we beat them first!

IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Get to know your girls, if you don't already! Get your partner in on the action too. I'm sure he wouldn't mind a little extra time on the playground to do some “research”! And if you find a new neighbor, get it checked out. It’s probably nothing more than a bump in the sidewalk, but don't be afraid to find out. Knowledge puts YOU in control of your health, not whatever it is that has moved in on your girls. Your family and friends are counting on you to be around for the long haul, so take action! And don't skip your mammograms. The girls liked to be photographed, even if it is a bit of a tight squeeze!!

I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, specifically small lymphocytic lymphoma. The treatment for this type of cancer is a combination of chemotherapy drugs. I was to be given these treatments monthly for a number of months. Unfortunately, I had a severe allergic reaction to one of the drugs the first time I had them.

I received the chemo sessions in a 3-day series, once every four weeks. When I underwent the treatment, my skin broke out in blotches and itchy raised welts. The only thing that relived the rash was high and long-term doses of steroids. Even a month later when I went back for each successive treatment, I was still broken out in a red, painful rash from the prior chemo infusion.

At this point a friend of mine told me about the Chemo Desensitization program at DeKalb Medical. I asked my oncologist about it, and she convinced me to go ahead and give it a try. I only had one chemo treatment left and, quite frankly, I wasn’t optimistic about the chemo desensitization working.

I spoke with the program director, Dr. Gottlieb, two times prior to coming in for my chemo desensitization and last infusion. The first visit with him was an initial consult and the second visit was just before treatment. He clearly explained the process and gave me some medications to take prior to coming in to the DeKalb Medical Outpatient Infusion Center.

Choosing to receive treatment at DeKalb Medical made a world of difference. By getting the chemo agents administered via the desensitization process, my body didn’t react nearly as bad. I still had a very mild reaction and turned pink, but it didn’t itch or hurt and never turned bright red as before. This also meant I didn’t have to be on the steroids for as long as I did with the first three treatments.

Although the chemo desensitization was lengthy – two 8-hour days – it was so worth it. The staff members at DeKalb Medical’s Outpatient Infusion Center were very nice, as were the accommodations. I had a nicely decorated private room with a bed, television and comfy chair for my companion. (Most infusion centers just give you a recliner chair.)

If you’re struggling with a reaction to your chemotherapy, I highly recommend the Chemo Desensitization program at DeKalb Medical. Don’t be afraid to try something new, especially if the negative potential risks are very low. This treatment made my life so much easier, and the quality of care was wonderful!

As a nurse and mother of three children, nothing is more important to me than the health of my family. Because my father and several of my siblings have had cancer (including breast, pancreatic, kidney and colon cancer), staying healthy means staying proactive and taking preventive measures such as genetic testing.

That’s why I chose to have cancer genetic testing and counseling at DeKalb Medical, and so did my son and one of my daughters. All three of us were positive for the BRCA-2 gene mutation which makes us at least twice as likely to develop certain cancers.

I believe that obtaining genetic testing and counseling has given me and my children a powerful advantage that will positively impact our family for generations to come. It’s a simple blood test that can arm you with the information you need to live the healthiest life possible and reduce your risk of cancer.

Each of us now knows what we need to do to plan for a long and healthy life and support our immune system. I want to thank DeKalb Medical for the expert care and counseling they provided us. Their support system is great. Even though they counsel thousands of people a year, you’ll never feel like a number at DeKalb Medical. You’ll feel like family. Thank you DeKalb Medical for giving me the knowledge I need to protect my family.

- Lisa Massey, B.S.N., R.N.

Goldie PittsOne day in 2003 I left work around noon to go out and get some lunch. On the drive, I was involved in a car accident. Although the wreck was bad and my car was bent in half, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was taken to a local hospital and had a series of tests run to check me over, inside and out. When the doctor came to see me he said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have bone cancer.”

I was immediately scheduled to see an oncologist. He told me that DeKalb Medical was where I needed to go so that I could have a stem cell transplant–the best known treatment for my kind of cancer. From the minute I walked into DeKalb Medical, I could tell it was a special place. I was at the lowest of lows, and the staff just threw their arms around me and made me feel safe.

I had my first stem cell transplant with Dr. Richard Leff. He was very compassionate and helped me feel at ease about my treatment. His staff was great and helped me deal with the more technical issues like working with my insurance company. I spent time in the inpatient unit, as well as many appointments at the Outpatient Infusion Center. In both places, the staff were phenomenal. There are not enough good words to say about their caring attitudes.

I went into complete remission and stayed that way for four years. In 2007, my cancer returned. I went back to DeKalb Medical and had a second stem cell transplant performed by Dr. Melvin Moore. Again, they helped me to achieve complete remission and I am still there today. I will continue to follow up with Dr. Moore on a regular basis.

Thanks to the physicians and staff at DeKalb Medical, I will celebrate my 65th birthday this week. I have the utmost respect for them and truly believe you could not find a better place in the universe for the care of any kind of cancer.

Margaret TI had a screening mammogram at DeKalb Medical in 2004 and was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Based on the ensuing diagnostic tests, I was told I had two tumors and one lymph node involved. I had a lumpectomy and began chemotherapy. I also began radiation therapy with Dr. David Holladay, one of DeKalb Medical’s “Top Docs.” I am pleased to say that the treatment worked and today I am in complete remission.

But the physicians are not all that’s great about DeKalb Medical. As a cancer patient, you spend a lot of time being still during tests, scans, procedures, surgeries, chemo and radiation. As you near the end of treatment, you often develop a strong motivation to get moving. The Cancer Center at DeKalb Medical offers a great opportunity to help you do just that.

The post-cancer exercise program, Return to Wellness, is a co-ed class taught by a licensed physical therapist who is aware of and sensitive to the issues of cancer survivors. We are all facing different side effects from surgery, chemo, radiation and medications. Some of us have complications, such as lymphedema or neuropathy.

The exercise program is a combination of stretching, Yoga, Pilates, and low-impact aerobics. Not all of us can “do it all,” but we can move at our own pace and do what works well for us. Here are some of the things I have gained:

  • Increased physical strength, stamina and energy
  • Many new friends, fellow survivors whom I treasure
  • On-the-spot input from the physical therapist regarding various joint issues, injuries and aches, including practical help on how to proceed
  • Lots of resources from the Cancer Center, including free monthly 30-minute sessions with a Healing Hands therapist
  • Great new ideas for exercising at home. We are strongly encouraged to exercise two more times each week on our own.

These doctors, the Cancer Center staff and this class have become a real community for me. If you are going through a similar situation, there is no better place to complete your cancer journey than DeKalb Medical.

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2675 North Decatur Rd.
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Decatur, GA 30033

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