When we’re in the throes of cancer treatment or treatment of a chronic condition, making positive connections with medical professionals can make your experience so much more pleasant, almost satisfying. Sometimes I leave Perelman, or PCAM as we long timers refer to it, and I feel triumphant, like I conquered a huge challenge. Which I did – I showed up, I conquered that treatment, and I left on my own two feet.
Every three weeks, I go to Penn and see my surgeon’s physician assistant, Grace. And every two weeks, I know that in an effort to heal me, she is going to cause me 30 seconds of pain that will last 1-2 days. You may ask why I continue to go. The answer is simple: Grace is intelligent and compassionate, and she makes each visit a learning experience. That’s not to say that I don’t stress about each visit but knowing that the professional I’m going to see is one of the best in her class medically and she makes me laugh, does make a difficult situation much better!
I’ve had a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter line) for almost three years. It’s how I administer TPN (total parental nutrition). It’s in the soft underneath of my upper arm and it’s under dressing – that’s the medical term for all the different coverings that keeps it clean, dry and infection-free. Every Monday, a visiting nurse, Faith, comes to my home and changes the dressing. Faith is not just a visiting nurse, she’s a therapist too, not by degree but definitely by vocation – she sees me on my worst days and in my worst moods and shares in my most happy days too. She is part of the family. My daughters, if they’re home, always come downstairs to visit with her.
A hospital can smell and feel sterile, unwelcoming, but with the right staff, it can become your safe place. For me, it’s almost a second home. I don’t have to explain my tears if I’m having a bad day or apologize for my crankiness because I’m in pain and just don’t feel like being eternally happy-go-lucky. When I’m at my second home, I can let down my guard and just be unhappy about my situation. That pity party is usually short-lived; my friends at Penn listen with understanding not just in their words but with their eyes and by the time I leave, I’m flying high again.
If I’m early to an appointment, I stop at Gia Pronto on the first floor and get my favorite – a hot chai latte. The baristas know me, and I always get a warm smile. If the appointment is particularly stressful, I stop at Gia Pronto again for an iced chai latte – the barista never judges my frequent visits, he just smiles and makes me a damn good latte!
A hospital that can provide compassionate staff at all levels of patient care, that can make their patients feel safe and well-cared for, while providing premium care during life changing times, is hard to find. When I was first diagnosed with FAP colorectal cancer by my primary GI doctor, she immediately sent me to Penn. I knew if Penn was the hospital she chose for me that I was in serious danger. And I was. After my first appointment with the surgeon, whom I’ve been seeing now for seven years, I knew I was in the right place. Soft-spoken and brilliant, she is possibly the kindest surgeon I’ve ever met. She and my oncologist always adhere to the “do no harm” creed that they’ve committed to for life. Even when I plead for drastic measures, I am calmly reminded of all the good health I do have in my life and I settle down.
I know my experience is not unique. I’m also sure that there are plenty of stories that are counter-intuitive to mine and I wish that wasn’t the case. I do believe in being prepared – I talk to people, research on the internet (trusted sites), make lists of questions. I believe in being proactive in the care of me. Maybe doctors recognize my interest and one of my questions or concerns might lead to a progressive discussion of my treatment. I was perfectly healthy at one point in my life and I’m determined to get there again. I think with the help of all the staff at my second home, a pain-free lifestyle will be part of my future once again.
We hope you appreciate this patient’s story. Our guest author, Denise Teter, lives in Kimberton, Chester County, with her family. She is a survivor with FAP colon cancer. She has written several articles related to the cancer journey for the Philadelphia Inquirer. We are honored to have her share this article as we prepare for Colon Cancer Awareness during the month of March.