This Too Shall Pass...Camellia Haritunian
Camellia Haritunian put off having a colonoscopy, knowing she should, as her Mother died from colorectal cancer at the young age of 67. She finally made that appointment in January 2009 at the age of 55. One week later, Dr. D.P. Ready told her she had cancer and referred her to Dr.
A.R. Mohan, General and Vascular Surgeon for surgery. "I was numb, like I just hit a rock. I thought ‘what is next?’"
"I was scheduled to have a liver biopsy before surgery, and indeed it came back showing two spots on my liver (a large one at 5.3 cm and a small one at 1.25 cm). Surgery was scheduled for Friday, February 13, 2009. "People said 13 is an unlucky number, but I told them ‘it’s lucky for me—bring it on!’"
Her support team of brother, Ara; cousin, Fred; Odette (her best friend of 35 years); and her two aunts, Mary and Dr. Haritunian; Gloria; Nina; Armen and Ano; Alina and her husband; Catherine and Jay; Lida and her mom Julie; all of her nurses; along with other family and friends surrounded Camellia with love and flowers during her five day recovery in Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. Ivy Tuason, RN, MSN, FNP, Colorectal Program Coordinator, also visited her and explained what her diagnosis entailed. Her cancer was a Stage IV, which meant it had already spread.
Dr. Mohan did another surgery to place a port into her chest, making chemo easier to deliver. After consulting with her medical oncologist, Dr. Chanduri, chemo was started on April 14th.
After her second round of chemo, Camellia developed some complications that ended up having an additional surgery by Dr. Mohan to remove hemorrhoids. Ara and Camellia did a lot of research on the Internet to educate themselves about cancer and looked into supportive vitamins and healthy eating. They changed their eating habits to include more fruits and vegetables and quit drinking soda and ingesting things with artificial colorings. They now have an entire file of research on these subjects! Camellia’s feels, "Knowledge is Power!" She and her brother Ara attended the Relaxation and Imagery group to help lessen their anxiety and listen to their body to promote healing." Ara went with her, and states, "the Imagery group is helpful for the support person—we get anxiety, too." Kathy Yeatman-Stock, the Licensed Clinical Social Worder helped support them and sat with Camilla while she received her chemotherapy.
In November 2009, Camellia was one of the models in the Celebrating with Style Fashion Show. "It was so much fun and that’s when I met Peggy Rees another survivor, who became a good friend of mine."
Chemo continued until February 15, 2010 (by now she had 18 rounds of it). The goal was to shrink the liver tumors so they could be surgically removed. This time Camellia went to Cedars Sinai Medical Center to see Dr. Steven Colquhoun, M.D., F.A.C.S. who is the Director of Surgical Oncology and Liver Transplants. "He is a very cool and wonderful doctor and I am so glad he was able to help me," said Camellia. After a few visits, surgery was scheduled for April 15, 2010. Dr. Colquhoun removed the lesion from her liver; her gall bladder was removed as well as repairing a hernia, which occurred after her second chemo. Once again, her support team and the nurses at Cedars Sinai were there to care for her during the six days she spent recovering.
This journey has shown Camellia just how strong she is. "Nothing scares me anymore. I went through this, I can go through anything. Women are stronger than men, we can tolerate more pain and we can still support others while struggling ourselves. The only time I cried was when I first shared my diagnosis with Odetta. After that I kept focused on what was next. I believe everything is temporary, and that helped me know that ‘this too shall pass.’"
The next step, after healing from surgery, will probably require another round of chemotherapy, when all is over Camellia plans to celebrate and go to New York City with a few friends and family members in the Fall of 2010. "I want to do all the fun things there as well as eat good food and walk in Central Park. Pictures are good, but I want to physically BE in New York."
Keep On Keeping On - John Eminhizer
John has always been a healthy, active guy who enjoyed riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle, flying his plane and running his own roofing business for the last 20 years. In November 2005, John and his wife, Dorothy were getting ready to go to Kauai to relax after their oldest daughter’s wedding when he noticed blood while in the bathroom. It only happened the one time, so they dismissed it as stress from working and the wedding.
But, in January 2006 he bled again. This time he went straight to Dr. Chai (his primary care doctor) who referred him to a gastroenterologist. He was awake during the colonoscopy and saw the irregularity in his bowel. He was told, "it didn’t look good."
When John and Dorothy went back to Dr. Chai they learned that the pathology report stated he had "rectal" cancer. Dr. Chai told them, "I’m going to get you through this" and he did just that – making several referral appointments for him. Shock, disbelief and dreary days followed. Dorothy feared for her husband and wondered how she and her children could cope. In addition to their oldest daughter, who was married that last November, they have a son who is 20 and two more daughters who are 12 and 8 years old. John did his best to emotionally support Dorothy while not alarming the kids, as he "didn’t want them to be sad." John decided to sell his Harley Davidson motorcycle and his plane because he thought he wouldn’t be able to enjoy those activities anymore.
Dr. Chai referred John to the medical oncologist, Dr. Richard Horns from Wilshire Oncology and to the radiation oncologist, Dr. Gorty, for consults. "After talking with these doctors, I felt as if there was hope. They explained everything, were very professional and assured me that I had every reason to be optimistic," explained John. Treatments started mid-February with combination chemo and radiation therapy. A pump delivered chemo (5FU) though a mediport that was surgically inserted in his chest. He was surprised and relieved that he never felt bad, never lost his hair and was never overly tired.
He never missed a day of work – he conducted inspections, walked on roofs and drove all over town! After completing his chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments he celebrated by bringing home a good bottle of wine to share with Dorothy. He has been celebrating every day since! "I attribute good doctors, being at the right place and first and foremost my faith in God as to why I am here today and have had very little side-effects," said John.
Then six weeks after having the chemo and radiation, he had surgery. John said, "Surgery was an intense ordeal…much more difficult than I thought it would be. I was prepared to have a colostomy bag, but thankfully that wasn’t necessary. I was in the hospital a total of eight days while recovering, but when I got the news that they ‘got-it-all’ I thanked God. The following week I was able to drive again, so I ended up going back into the office and started working. Although now, I have a different attitude about work – I’m still very responsible but I don’t take matters as seriously. Work isn’t the priority in my life like it once was." He is now finishing six more months of a daily chemotherapy pills that will complete his treatment.
John always looked for the blessing within the situation. He received so much support from his family, friends and health care team, which he thought was "amazing." He now has an opportunity to help others though their cancer journey. "I’ve met so many great people who are cancer survivors. They struggled through their treatments much more than I did and I admire them. I want to do what I can to help inspire those still going through treatment." John even consented to be a model in our Fashion Show! He never thought he would do something like that but he insists on being "obedient to the blessing" and helping others any way he can.
When asked what he wants others to know John said, "cancer is not like it once was…it’s not a death sentence. You can’t give up – just keep on keeping on and you will survive." John plans on buying another plane and returning to flying very soon! "I can’t wait to live…got to do all I want right now," John said with a big grin on his face.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Carol Rader was always fearful of doctors and medical tests, but in June 2002, at age 59, when her primary care doctor advised her to have a colonoscopy, she reluctantly agreed. It was that very colonoscopy that produced the results she had feared her whole life, a cyst and the possibility of cancer. Carol is an intelligent, strong, and capable businesswoman, wife, mother, and grandmother, but dealing with the possibility of a cancer diagnosis rendered her physically and emotionally immobile.
While the surgery to remove the cyst was uneventful, it was waiting to hear back from the doctors that really took a toll on her life, her personality, her work and her ability to live life to the fullest. A few days later her fears grew when she received a message on the answering machine from the doctor’s office requesting she call back and make an appointment. Not only did the message send chills down her spine, but fear in her veins as she noticed it was Friday and nearing six o’clock.
The doctor’s office would be closed until Monday. "How am I going to make it through the weekend?" Carol thought. After what seemed like the longest weekend of her life, Carol met with the doctors and they told her she had colorectal cancer. Now, her greatest fears had completely been realized; the very real diagnosis of cancer. Thankfully, her husband of 30 years, Lew, and her family were there to support and reassure her through this very upsetting time.
"I couldn’t even say the word ‘cancer,’" said Carol. Her husband and family, co-workers, friends and staff at the hospital and the Cancer Care Center, gently guided her through the necessary tests and treatments. But for Carol, it was not the treatments or the tests that fueled her fear, but her inability to live life the way she had always planned.
"I had lost 10 pounds in just a few short weeks," Carol said. "I just couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even go about normal daily tasks like getting out of bed, doing laundry or putting on make-up. Talking to the psycho-oncology counselor really helped me pull myself out of the emotional slump I was in. It was not until after talking to her that I felt hungry again or felt like getting out of bed. Because of her I started ‘living’ again."
Although the surgery successfully removed all the cancer, she still needed chemotherapy and radiation to ensure that all the cancer cells were eliminated and would not return. Dr. Chanduri administered two doses of the drug 5FU over a four-day period with a pump that slowly infused the chemotherapy.
Carol had heard that chemotherapy would be taxing on her body and that drove her back into an emotional slump. She prepared for this by taking some time off work. After the first session of chemo, Carol returned home, went to bed and waited to get sick. Hours passed and she felt fine. She even got out of bed and went outside to participate in her favorite hobby, gardening.
Another day had passed and still, she felt remarkably well. "To heck with this, I’m going to the mall," Carol proclaimed. "I never got sick, and I couldn’t believe I was in the mall shopping while getting chemotherapy." After a week of chemo and continued visits to the psycho-oncology counselor, Carol made the leap back into her life and went back to work.
As with many different types of chemotherapy, Carol did begin to lose her hair, but all the while, she never felt sick. "My manager even gave me 10 different styles of hats to wear, but I didn’t want to look like I had cancer – I just wanted to be me." She had two wigs made that looked exactly like her own hair. These wigs helped her to feel like the person she was – not the mother, grandmother or businesswoman with cancer. She so desperately wanted to be the woman she had been just weeks before, that she would wait until her husband went to sleep before removing her wig for the night. Lew convinced her that she was beautiful and would always be beautiful to him, with or without a wig, with or without hair.
That very night she took off the wig before Lew fell asleep. Perhaps she could be the woman she was, even with cancer. Perhaps she could live her life, unafraid, and fight through the treatments. For the next three weeks, Carol stopped at the Cancer Care Center for radiation treatments on the way to work and her fears began to subside.
"For the first time in a while, I felt safe and the people at the Cancer Center did that for me. The staff really cared about getting me over my fears and on with my life," Carol said with a smile.
On Dr. Rao’s recommendation, she also had two High Dose Radiation (Brachytherapy) treatments a week apart. Although the treatment was uncomfortable, she trusted Dr. Rao and nurse, Carol Massey. "Carol held my hand for the entire length of each treatment, talking to me about all kinds of things to distract me. Her emotional and spiritual support really helped me through the treatments."
Having cancer has left Carol feeling very vulnerable. "If it happened once, it can happen again. If it does, I will do whatever the doctors at the Cancer Care Center say, and get all my follow-up tests from now on, but this time without so much fear."
Carol is now an advocate of colonoscopies. She stresses the importance of early testing and detection. Of course, the first person to get a colonoscopy was her husband, Lew. He did it for himself, but mostly he did it for Carol. "Early detection saved my life. It could have spread throughout my body and I might not have been so lucky. I’m confident that I had the best doctors and the right treatments, and I’m no longer afraid of cancer!"
Looking back, Carol realized that she was much stronger than she thought she ever could be. According to Carol, facing your fears head on makes you a better person – it makes you stronger. For her, there was no choice other than to stare cancer in the face, and fight. This is one fight Carol feared she might not win, but four years later, it appears she has. Carol has been cancer free since 2003.
Carol lives in Diamond Bar and still works in real estate. She lives with her husband, Lew, and has four children and seven grandchildren.
She still gardens every day and makes sure to stop and smell the roses!