Although Jean has a family history of cancer, like most people, she never wanted to think about the fact that it could possibly happen to her, too. So when she started feeling some unusual symptoms in early 2011, she blamed it on eating too much over the holidays and tried to ignore it.
But, after a trip to the ER in February 2011, Jean was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Her oncologist, Shane Dormady, M.D., planned a month-long course of treatment with chemotherapy and radiation, which would then be followed by surgery.
Once Jean had recovered from her initial treatment and was well enough for surgery, the surgical team prepared her for the operation to remove her tumor, which, fortunately, had not spread to any other part of her body. The first step was to perform a colostomy (bringing one end of the large intestine out through the abdominal wall), then remove the tumor. However, once the surgeon looked at Jean's tumor, he was unsure if it could be removed because it appeared to be growing on Jean's tailbone.
Because El Camino's Cancer Center has a tumor board, which is brought in on complicated cases, the board (led by cancer surgeon Shyamali Singhal, M.D.) was convened to discuss Jean's case. Dr. Singhal and the board told Jean that the cancer was, in fact, operable and that she had performed similar operations in the past.
To be absolutely sure that operating was the right decision, Jean consulted a second tumor board, which agreed with Dr. Singhal. So, on June 21, 2011, Dr. Singhal, along with Al Pisani, M.D., and Augusto Bastidas, M.D., operated and successfully removed the entire tumor. Jean was thrilled.
Although there were some complications a few months later with her small intestine that required additional surgery, along with an unrelated diagnosis of an early-stage lung cancer (treated with a short-form, targeted radiation known as CyberKnife at El Camino's radiation oncology center), Jean today has returned to her normal life and is doing amazingly well.
What she recalls most about her El Camino experience is how encouraging both Dr. Dormady and Dr. Singhal were throughout the entire yearlong ordeal. "A positive attitude is so important," says Jean. "Believe it or not, we even laughed together at times," because with a diagnosis of cancer, sometimes it helps to have those lighter moments to combat all the seriousness of the disease.
"This year, I also donated $5,000 in support of the Cancer Center," adds Jean, who also gives high praise for the oncology nurses who cared for her on the 4th floor of the main hospital. "They are unsung heroes, too," she says. "The whole nursing team, especially the nursing assistants (CNAs), worked so hard to take care of me. They were wonderful." Jean is now looking forward to a very healthy new year in 2012, and we wish her all the best.