Healthy Living

Cancer survivors gather to share stories

by Bradley Hartsell

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Tyrone resident, breast cancer survivor and CTCA at Southeastern nurse Ruth Gether-Simil points at her gold leaf on the Tree of Life in the hospital lobby.

The Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan honored its five-year cancer survivors on Friday. The rain was steady early in the morning, but a tent was set up to accommodate the ceremony. CTCA national board member Ann Stephenson Holsonback and Jan Pedersen, an ovarian cancer survivor, released doves into the misty morning as a symbolic gesture to both commence the ceremony and commemorate their survival. After the ceremonies — capped off by the unveiling of the Tree of Life, a gold-leafed tree hung in the hospital lobby — three survivors sat down at a table and swapped stories of their treatment, their experiences and their hopes.

The CTCA at Southeastern opened in May 2012 in Newnan. Before the facility opened, many patients were traveling to Tulsa, OK, for treatment. For Amanda Spence, that meant a 10-hour drive from her home in Union, Mississippi. Now, she can be to the facility in Newnan in half the time. Spence was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Traditional hospitals, including chemotherapy and follow-up visits, had her thinking she was out of the woods, but cancer returned in 2007. Another round of traditional chemo and radiation once again gave the Spences hope, but the cancer returned again in 2011. After the Spences researched their options, CTCA seemed their most promising option. “We started making twice-a-month road trips to Tulsa (before CTCA at Southeastern opened). But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I walked through the doors and knew for a fact that was where I was supposed to be.”

Since making the change, Spence says she feels more informed and in control of her treatment. Despite her ongoing battle with breast cancer, Spence is bubbly and warm — you would never guess she’s fighting cancer. On Friday, Jim Cordwell and Ruth Gether-Simil, from Newnan and Tyrone, respectively, sat with Spence and talked about their treatments and gossiped a little about hospital minutia. Cordwell, who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 13 years ago, has been with the CTCA for over nine years and has been to almost every facility available. His cancer was gone for six years before returning recently, in which it was easily treated. At the moment, he’s without his cancer. “The key is five years. [Every] five years is to the point where technology changes and more things are advancing in medicine. Every time you can hit that five years, you’re closer to, maybe not a cure, but close to a cure.”

Gether-Simil was first diagnosed with breast cancer in Boston. She’s now a nurse with the CTCA at Southeastern and is actually Spence’s care manager. When Spence walked into the room, the two exchanged a warm hug, Gether-Simil beaming to see Spence — who is still battling her cancer but is optimistic about her treatment — doing so well. For Gether-Simil, she enjoys being able to give back to other patients as she’s gone through what they are going through. “To share and to give back [to other patients], that is so uplifting for me,” she said.

Like the doves earlier that morning, the three scattered from the table in all different directions. They would probably like to just go to their homes for good and not see these people again, at least not in this setting. But for now, friends and hope are welcome as these three continue to celebrate life.



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