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Pat: Thymoma Cancer Survivor

Dedicated to tomorrow's reward
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After feeling poorly for several weeks during the spring of 2006, I went to see my doctor. She listened to my breathing and said, “Pat something does not sound right.” Over the next five months I had several tests, biopsies, and scans done at a healthcare facility in my area, and initially received a diagnosis of lymphoma. They then thought it might be a virus, and a few months later, testicular cancer. Finally, after further tissue study I received the correct diagnosis of stage IV thymoma. My first thought was, “What is this thing?”

I soon found out that thymoma is a very rare cancer of the thymus gland, with about a thousand cases diagnosed a year in the United States. The healthcare facility I had been working with did not have any experience with this type of cancer. I knew I needed to receive treatment from a cancer center that could handle my rare type of cancer. Living in the northeast provides many excellent options for dealing with thoracic cancers.

My initial call to Yale Cancer Center was answered by Linda David, Patient Coordinator for the Thoracic Oncology Program, or as I like to call her, ‘my angel.’ I knew there was something special about Yale Cancer Center and decided that Yale was the place for me.

I was told that my path to treatment would be a long road of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. I began chemotherapy treatment in October 2006, and over the next several months endured three cycles of chemotherapy, a 7-hour thoracic surgery, 30 radiation treatments, and two more additional cycles of chemotherapy.

During this time at Yale Cancer Center I never felt like a patient with thymoma, I felt like a person. Dr. Frank Detterbeck, Dr. Scott Gettinger, and Dr. Lynn Wilson all coordinated my care. The combined efforts exhibited by the Thoracic Oncology Program were extraordinary. It did not matter which physician I was seeing, every aspect of my treatment and care was known by the entire team. I was not just a patient with cancer, but a person that had worries, concerns, and a family.

When you receive a diagnosis of cancer, you are not only dealing with the diagnosis, you are entering into an education process as well. I had to learn how to manage my care, how to tell my two young daughters that their Dad has cancer, and what it takes to survive. It was daunting at first, but I knew I would not only be receiving top-notch clinical care, but personal care as well.

After finishing my treatment in June of 2007, I went through the “What now?” phase. Over a year of my life, and my family’s life, had been consumed with cancer, and it was hard to get back to ‘normal.’ A big part of my recovery was finding ways to give back, and staying involved. I rode in the Connecticut Challenge charity bike ride a month after concluding treatment, which was a very draining but extraordinary experience for me. Being able to ride with other cancer survivors and to receive their support was very rewarding. For the 5th anniversary ride in 2009, I plan on riding 75 miles in the Connecticut Challenge in order to support cancer survivorship programs. I have also been able to raise funds to start a Thoracic Cancer Tissue Bank that is being administered at Yale Cancer Center under the leadership of Dr. David Rimm. Whether it is helping a newly diagnosed patient, raising awareness, sharing my story, or raising funds for cancer research, I do not plan to walk away from my cancer; I plan to fight against it for myself as well as others.

I have had several opportunities to share my story of hope at various Yale Cancer Center events, including the “Naming” Ceremony for the new Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven. It was almost a year to the day that I started my treatment, and that day in October 2007 was a magical moment for me, as well as for my family. It was an honor to be able to meet Joel and Joan Smilow whose generous gift will ensure that the extraordinary people of Yale Cancer Center will have a world-class, state-of-the-art facility that will empower patients to become thriving survivors. It helped to conclude my year of cancer treatment and all that I had been through and it enabled me to share the hope that others can move past a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Thanks to the wonderful people at Yale Cancer Center, it is truly a miracle that I can share my story of hope with others. Living to tell my story is the first miracle, seeing the level of treatment for cancer care at Yale rising before my eyes is the second.