My name is Loren Ebert and I’m a patient of Dr. Vacirca’s here at NSHOA.
My cancer story started in February, 2015. I was experiencing a dull pain on my right side....nothing major, just a bit annoying but after 3 weeks of trying over-the-counter meds with no relief I finally decided to go to the doctor. The pain was a mystery so a colonoscopy was scheduled for the following week. In just a few days the pain was much worse and I was doubled over. There was a blockage in my intestines that couldn’t wait. Fast forward 4 days later and I’m at Mather Hospital having a colon resection to remove a baseball sized tumor and 14 swollen lymph nodes! Pathology confirmed Stage 3 colon cancer (due to a gene mutation called AFAP). I was 45 years old and in otherwise perfect health.
My head was spinning… confused… angry… scared. What do I do now?
My surgeon, Dr. Colleen McCloy of Surgical Associates of Long Island, arranged for me to meet Dr. Vacirca to discuss treatment options. She could have sent me anywhere, to any oncologist, or even to Sloan or Stony Brook. At the time I didn’t realize just how lucky I was to be referred to Dr. Vacirca and NSHOA. After that first meeting with Dr. V, I had a game plan. I would start 12 treatments of chemotherapy for the next 6 months. I would go to the infusion center once every two weeks and sit for 5 hours while getting my chemo infusion. I would then take a chemo pump home for two days. The pump is a small device that slow drips chemo via a port in my chest. After two days I would go back to NSHOA and have the pump removed. It sounded overwhelming and scary but Dr. Vacirca was very reassuring and helped calm my fears.
The next 6 months was no walk in the park, as any chemo patient can tell you. It takes as much mental strength as physical… if not more. But under such challenging circumstances, I always felt positive and focused because of the doctors, nurses and staff that I came in contact with. They helped me in so many ways- not only with monitoring me closely and managing the numerous side effects of chemo, but also being the best cheerleaders and supporters that I could have asked for. I’ve seen them calm patient’s fears, give hugs and even some tough love when needed… all things above and beyond what is in their job descriptions as nurses, I’m sure. And all because they truly care. I have since discovered that many of them are cancer survivors themselves. They truly make a huge difference in the lives of cancer patients.
For the next 10 months, all of my tests and scans were clear! Unfortunately it just takes one stubborn cancer cell to resist chemo and start growing again. In July, 2016 Dr. V found a tiny little spot on my liver during a routine petscan. Once again a game plan was discussed and I started another round of 12 chemo treatments. This time it is a different cocktail of drugs with new side effects.
I just finished my 8th treatment and the chemo is working! The liver spot has shrunk in half! To be extra vigilant, a liver ablation will happen in the next few weeks. Dr. V hooked me up with Dr. Lien, a Surgeon at Mather Hospital.
I’m feeling great. I still see Dr. V and Nurse Diana regularly. NSHOA has become a second home and they have become like family to me. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I had been initially sent to Sloan. I would have had to travel into Manhattan several times per week. Most likely via train by myself (my husband couldn’t quit his job after all). I would have missed a year of my son’s life…his baseball games, his band concerts. I was able to be present and for that I am forever grateful.
Throughout my treatment I knew I wanted to do something to “pay it forward”- to give back and help somehow. I learned about the Patient Advocacy Program at NSHOA, run by Nicole Gregory and thought it would be a great place to start. With their support, I decided to create goody bags for the chemo patients in NSHOA’s infusion centers.
For those of you that are lucky enough to have never been in the infusion center, patients typically sit for 4-6 hours (sometimes much longer!) hooked up to an IV that drips chemo and a cocktail of other drugs into our bodies. The nurses truly help you feel as comfortable as possible but for many it can be uncomfortable, scary and boring. You are often cold, nauseous or dizzy from these drugs. You are tethered to an IV tower so you may only get up to use the restroom. Some patients come with a friend or family member. Some come alone. To help comfort the patients I thought goody bags containing useful items would help:
Bottled water, mints, books, crossword puzzles, tissues, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, Chapstick, pen/paper, granola bar, snacks and chocolate!
I personally deliver each bag, sit with the patient and give them hope and comfort if I can. To date, I have delivered over 616 bags with the help of generous donations from my friends and family! I would love to continue making and delivering bags. If you would like to donate please contact me at NSHOAgoodybags@gmail.com
Thank you Dr. Vacirca, Nurse Diana Youngs and everyone at NSHOA!