In 2000, at age 37, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Having lost her grandmother and her aunt to breast cancer when she was still a child, it was obviously a very scary moment for her (and me as well). We quickly went from doctor to surgeon to oncologist and followed all of their recommendations. Vicky did elect to have a bi-lateral masectomy as she wanted to reduce the chances of having to face this again in the future. The surgery was preceded by four rounds of chemotherapy and was supposed to be followed up with four more rounds. Vicky's body would only allow her to tolerate three rounds after surgery.
Vicky would have her chemo on a Friday, be sick all weekend and return to work on Monday because she knew we needed her income in order to survive as a family. We were surrounded by many friends and family at the time as well which helped to pull us through.
Vicky remained vigilant after all of the initial treatment was over and began the five year regimen of Tamoxifen with regular visits to her oncologist. In fact, she was so concerned with a recurrence that she kept seeing her oncologist for ten years, finding a new one after we moved to Michigan from Texas. After ten years and no sign of any recurrence we felt like there was nothing more to be concerned about.
We were wrong.
In July of 2013, as we were preparing to move back to Texas, we found out through a series of fortunate (read divine) events, that her cancer had returned. And this time it was in her lungs. We discovered later that it was also in her ovaries but we did not know that initially. Her cancer had progressed to Stage 4. A terminal diagnosis.
While the subsequent tests showed that there were "multiple" (meaning too many to count) spiculated spots in each of her lungs, we had caught it in the early stages.
Upon visiting with her local oncologist, his recommendation was to put her back on Tamoxifen.
We felt as if he was essentially telling her that there was no hope and that was not acceptable to us. There is always hope.
We contacted Cancer Treatment Centers of America and went to the one located in Zion, IL. (which is a little north of Chicago) for a second opinion. After running multiple tests, examining the biopsy and getting medical history, they recommended a treatment plan. It was far different from what her oncologist had suggested. As her new oncologist, Dr. T said, "If Tamoxifen didn't work the first time, why would I give it to you again?"
Thus began a two and a half year (so far) journey that saw us driving from Michigan to Zion every four weeks so Vicky could receive her treatment there. Her treatment team consists of an oncologist and her PA, a nutrionist, a naturopath (holistic healing) and a Care manager. She also has receives massages, Reiki treatments and accupuncture during our visits there. After the first four months, Vicky decided to have her ovaries removed in order to eliminate having to receive a medication that was used simply to keep the ovaries from producing hormones. It was then we discovered the cancer had spread to the ovaries as well. That was scary as none of the scans or other tests had indicated it was there. So we did a full body PET scan, a bone scan and a brain MRI, all of which showed no evidence of the disease anywhere else but her lungs.
For two and a half years things have been looking good. The treatments had shrunk the cancer and it had not been showing any activity on her quarterly CT scans.
Her most recent scans revealed some good news and some bad news.
The good news is there is still no evidence of active cancer anywhere in her torso, bones or other major organs. The cancer in her lungs is still there but is stable or "inactive" as it has been since treatment began.
The bad news is, the brain MRI revealed a lesion that was not there on her two previous brain MRI scans. We discovered this two days ago on March 10th.
The recommended treatment appears to be surgery, potentially followed by focused radiation.
Which brings me to my ask.
We have been blessed in so many ways throughout this journey thus far and have not needed to ask for any financial help. However, once Vicky was placed on Medicare Part A after 2 years on Socil Security disability, then the hospital can no longer pay for her transportation as it is considered an incentive by Medicare.
We are planning on driving up to Zion from Austin leaving on March 14th and staying there through March 25th. While there Vicky will have the brain surgery and physical therapy and then we will return to Austin.
Our income is enough to cover our monthly living expenses while at home but we have exhausted our funds for these trips to the hospital. We have used reward points, dollars and airline miles and now are asking for help.
Could Vicky have the surgery and radiation done locally? Of course she could. But CTCA is the place where her treatment team is, the place she feels most comfortable and the place she trusts most to take care of her every need. As you can imagine, these are all so important for the cancer patient.
That is why we are asking for your help. Any donation you can make will be used solely for the purpose of the trips and will cover:
Driving expenses to and from Zion
Meals while on the road (food is free at the hospital)
13 nights in a hotel (at $50.00 per night)
Some contingency funds in case a longer stay is required
Boarding for our two dogs for 13 days ($40.00 a day)
Additionally, if radiation is indicated, then we would have to return to Zion a couple of weeks after the surgery for that procedure. There are currently too many unknowns for the expenses in regard to that as it could require only a day or two or as much as three weeks.
Time is of the essence for us on this journey and any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Even if you cannot donate anything at this time, just sharing this on your Facebook page could help us to reach our goal more quickly.
We also request and appreciate your prayers.
Ron and Vicky Hassell
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