Monday, November 14, 2011

Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Just to fill up our cancer calendar (and to make sure we're doing everything possible) my mother and I went to Philly to explore the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) a few weeks ago. It was actually an extremely positive experience, especially considering that the commercials had a high cheesy factor.We went to explore the possibility of an ovarian cancer vaccine called ovax for my mom. (Note: my cancer was not evaluated, but discussed some). With every doctors appointment we learn a little bit more about cancer and how to treat it. What we learned in this trip could fill a couple of blog posts, but I'll just cover some of the highlights of CTCA for anyone interested in reading.

The cost of almost everything was covered. The only thing we had to pay for was $75 for the hotel (total for up to 6 days - not per night) at the Radission which was very nice and I thank them for the free champagne from 5:00 to 7:00 daily. Ok back to the cancer center. Travel to and from the hotel was covered. Meals for both my mom and me as the caregiver were covered. Cafeteria was awesome and even had tons of vegan food for my mom to enjoy.

First off, they said that in order to do the vaccine they have to have a sizable tissue sample collected a certain way during surgery. Surgery, however, can't be done for the sake of the vaccine; it has to be medically recommended for the benefit of the patient notwithstanding the clinical ovax trial. Given the latest scan we got today, my mom probably won't be a surgical candidate because she doesn't have enough cancer. (Never thought I would say that phrase "not enough cancer".) Ok but back to the treatment center runnings...

The three day orientation we experienced was a little bit of a cyclone of different meetings with all different kinds of people who work together to treat the patient. It was a very holistic treatment plan. I used to think that "holistic treatment" was code for crunchy granola treatment not approved by western medicine. No offense to my Eugene, Oregon readers. I love crunch granola as much as the next dirty hippie. However, I've come to appreciate that holistic just means they're treating the whole person instead of just the cancer. So, in addition to two oncologists, my mom was also evaluated by a nutritional, a naturopathic (aka herbal supplement guru), a physical therapist, and a pastoral counselor. They also has occupational therapist, massage therapists (for both patient and caregiver!) Reiki therapists, and exercise therapist people.

The idea is to empower the patient to take an active part in their own treatment. Every doctor and therapist can talk to each other and records are integrated. Instead of your oncologist saying "you should get some exercise", they can refer you to an exercise person who has programs and classes. Then your oncologist can check up on you. Speaking of that, note to self: exercise more (and by more I mean at all). One of the ideas that my mom found really interesting was that stress in the body is an impediment to healing. So that needs to be treated just as much as the cancer does. She in particular found the pastoral counseling interesting. I was taking a nap in the car. Sorry. I was in a lot of pain and very tired.

At CTCA, 80 to 90 percent of the patients are from out of state so we weren't alone in that regard. We met A LOT of very friendly people. I think it was a criteria to work there. Overly friendly and bubbly. I was actually relieved when I found a receptionist that rolled her eyes every now and then. Nice to know one of them was human. CTCA also boasts a higher than average success rate. You can actually go to their website and look up the national average survival rate and the CTCA success rate. For those of you looking up colon cancer stats on my behalf, just know that I don't fall into a statistical category because only .9% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are below the age of 34. I was 27 at diagnosis and 29 now. (Median age of colon cancer diagnosis is actually 71 years old - go me for beating that?) Ergo, none of the stats apply to me.

Other highlights from the trip included:
  • Seeing my mom's high school bestie Ellen at Cheese Cake Factory
  • Registering at Crate and Barrel
  • My mom getting a  dress for my wedding - She looks beautiful
  • And Surprising my cousins in Reading, PA. Much love that they dropped everything within a moments notice to spend time with us :)
Unrelated, I finally got my computer back from the Geek Squad up and working so hopefully I'll be back to blogging on a more regular basis and everyone can go back to not reading them on a regular basis. New oncologist is good so far. New treatment sucks. Also, I have a PET Scan later this week that will hopefully tell me that they made a horrible mistake, I don't have cancer, and instead have been producing metastatic gold in my lungs that can be harvested to pay off my student loans. Not likely, but here's hoping! I'll let you all know how it goes at any rate.

Vanity Update: Only 1 more pound until I reach my wedding goal weight! Totally unrelated to any effort I've made.


  1. This center sounds extremely interesting! I strongly believe in taking a holistic approach to even little things, like a headache. I am glad we got to catch up on Sunday!! :)

  2. I tried to reply to this last night via phone, I guess it didn't work so well! Anyway... it was great to hear your thoughts immediately after the trip, so glad you stopped by to visit!! The girls loved seeing you too, they think about you more than I realized. One of Delaney's homework papers had her write a sentence, and her sentence was "My ant and cousin are very ill." I do share the positive with them too! My point in telling you that is so you know the little people are pulling for you too... XOXOXO