Bruce and Sarah Cooper, a bright, energetic, funny couple from Andover, Kansas are all smiles and optimism when they talk about their life experiences, which is inspiring since the two are all too familiar with the hardship that a cancer diagnosis carries. The two addressed over 200 employes of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center at the July "Hope, Joy and Pride" orientation. They recounted the remarkable impact that the CTCA had on their lives, and showed just how valuable an asset the CTCA at Southeastern can be to cancer patients throughout the Southeast.
Bruce got the call in February 2011, his doctor confirming that a biopsy had revealed prostate cancer. It was shocking for him, as it is for anyone, but it also carried a sense of "here we go again," because Sarah had been diagnosed with breast cancer ten years before, to the week.
"It was pretty creepy," Sarah said, but it was also abundantly clear that the next step would be to call the CTCA.
"We chose to go back to CTCA," Bruce said, "and one of the reasons was not what they could do for me now, but what they did for us ten years ago. How they treated us made us say 'yeah, we'll go back there.'"
Sarah found out about her diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer in 2001. She was working as a fitness instructor and did health care programming for a local hospital. Coincidentally, she and Bruce had known a little bit about CTCA because of their involvement in running and bicycling. Sarah says she had been involved in Race for the Cure for man years and had gone to Tulsa, one of the CTCA locations, to participate in a race about five years prior to her diagnosis.
"They (CTCA) had this amazing booth with a legitimate, honest to gosh chef serving fantastic food. It was fresh, chocolate dipped fruit, and I thought 'awesome place.' So I kind of kept that in the back of my mind."
The delicious food and "cool swag" left an impression on Sarah, and with a little more research she knew, upon being diagnosed, that CTCA could offer the sort of comprehensive treatment she would need.
"When I got my diagnosis I remembered that they offered more than just medical treatment. I knew I wanted more, I wanted psychological treatment. I believe in the whole body/mind/spirit philosophy, so that's why it appealed to me. So when I was diagnosed Bruce got on the phone and immediately called on a Thursday, and we had an appointment by Tuesday morning."
For Bruce and Sarah, choosing CTCA meant going to Tulsa for an extended stay and leaving behind a
14 year old daughter and 16 year old son to take care of their ranch in Cedarville, Kansas.
"Leaving them was a decision we had to make. We had a family business, but our 16 year old was more than capable of handling the responsibilities on the ranch, and they were up for taking care of it and wanted me to go."
So the couple went to Tulsa, first spending four days for evaluation and development of Sarah's treatment plan, which included a partial mastectomy surgery in the first week. She then got three weeks off and returned to begin chemotherapy on a twenty-one day rotation.
"I would be there a week taking fractionated dosage, which is a full treatment of chemotherapy spread out over five days so that it as easier for my body to tolerate it."
Sarah says that was "perfect" for her, as chemotherapy is often times done in a much more condensed time frame that she though would have made her too sick. The adapted schedule is an example of the individually tailored treatment plans that CTCA puts together for each patient.
Sarah finished her successful treatment on a Saturday morning, the same day Biking Across Kansas began. On Monday, she and Bruce joined the ride.
"I was weak, I was exhausted. But I needed that."
Bruce laughed, "BAK always seems to be involved in our cancer treatments. We look at the schedules and say 'dang, this is going to screw up BAK."
For Bruce, the treatment at CTCA had gotten even better in the ten years since Sarah was originally treated. His favorite aspect was the accupuncture.
"I'd never had it and it was nothing I had considered but it was fantastic."
Sarah laughed at this.
"Bruce found a new addiction, accupuncture. My gosh. He'd just zone out and would get this silly little grin."
That was one little element in many unique offerings at CTCA, which are all designed to provide the patient with exactly what he or she needs to feel relaxed.
"The complementary services are all about keeping the patient healthy enough to withstand the treatment process. There can be malnutrition, infections. It's really hard on the body," said Bruce.
Sarah agreed and recalled one doctor that told her, "if a patient wants fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning because that's what reduces her stress level, then by gosh we will have fresh squeezed orang juice, because that's what they need to be healthy."
Both also agreed that the environment at a CTCA hospital is unlike any other.
"CTCA has such a culture of healing that you can just feel it in the building," Sarah said, reflecting that "Bruce would be so anxious when he was getting ready to go in for treatment, but when he'd walk in the doors he was just a different person, because that was a place of healing. He knew something positive was happening when he walked in those doors. He would be calm."
The Coopers were obviously glowing in their views toward CTCA, but they also offered general advice to anyone facing a cancer diagnosis.
"I would highly recommend getting a second opinion," Sarah said, "because you need to check out as many options as you can. I think a common complaint is 'I don't want to travel,' and I always say you would travel to go to a funeral, you would travel to go to graduate school, you would travel to go to a wedding, why would you not travel to save your life?"
Bruce nodded, adding "some people say 'well I have such a good doctor,' and I say my doctor was great too, but he wasn't a cancer specialist. I want somebody who's seen thousands of cancer patients and done thousands of surgeries."
For the Cooper's, the process of healing has been successful. Sarah returns to CTCA for an annual mammogram, and has had no recurrence of her breast cancer. Bruce has finished successful treatment but has not yet been completely released from treatment, though he says all the signs are good.
Hopefully, for cancer patients all around the Southeast, the new CTCA in Newnan can do as much for them as it has for the Coopers.