I Couldn’t Believe I Had Pancreatic Cancer
It isn’t difficult to believe that someone like Cheryl Foster, who has a passion for helping children in need, might be spared the distress of a life-threatening disease. Cheryl, a former systems engineer, dedicated herself to helping kids when she adopted her grandnephew and joined the Franklin County Child Development Council as Vice President of Technology. And, later, when she took on a new role with the agency - coordinating volunteers to establish three urban gardens at local schools - Cheryl helped young students learn about the health benefits of freshly grown vegetables. Cheryl thought the symptoms that brought her to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital’s emergency room were the consequences of being overweight and diabetic. She couldn’t imagine that the pain in her legs and the unbearable itching she was experiencing would turn out to be the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
When a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, Cheryl told herself, “This can be a death blow, or I can go forward, put myself in the hands of the doctors, and keep a positive attitude.” She braced herself for several rounds of radiation therapy followed by additional rounds of chemotherapy.
My Surgeon is the Most Compassionate Doctor I’ve Ever Met
“Meeting Dr. Matyas for the first time did a lot to lift my spirits,” Cheryl says. When Riverside Methodist surgical oncologist Dr. Jack Matyas came to visit her in her hospital room, Cheryl thought it was at the request of her physician who had already told her that he was “the best surgeon at this kind of thing.” But his visit was a coincidence. Dr. Matyas routinely visits patients to give them reassurance and personally answer their questions. “Every surgical resident should be required to take a course with Dr. Matyas to learn about bedside manner,” Cheryl states emphatically. “He is so warm and friendly…by far, the most compassionate doctor I’ve ever met. It gave me so much comfort to know he was there for me.” Every surgical resident should be required to take a course with Dr. Matyas to learn about bedside manner.
Dr. Matyas points out that Riverside Methodist places a high value on having medical staff who are not only exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable but who also understand that having genuine compassion for all patients is a crucial factor in their recovery. “The best physicians recognize that science and technical expertise do not always trump the power of a patient’s own attitude in the healing process,” he says. “We do everything we can to be reassuring, to treat them as we would treat a friend.”
My Entire Treatment Team Kept My Spirits High and Gave Me Strength
Cheryl praises the entire Riverside Methodist cancer care team – her dedicated patient navigator who guided her through every aspect of her cancer care plan; the upbeat receptionist who greeted her; the easy-going massage therapist who offered both physical and spiritual comfort; the efficient, encouraging clinicians who administered tests and medical therapies; and the gifted art therapist who helped her focus on beauty and expression. They each gave Cheryl what she needed to fight through debilitating side effects. They strengthened the positive attitude she needed to overcome the terrible setback that she would experience next.
You Have to Give Yourself Time to Heal
“I was pushing myself,” Cheryl admits. “I went back to work too soon.” Although she still had several rounds of chemotherapy left before she could undergo surgery, Cheryl returned to work coordinating volunteers and helping kids. The realization that her cancer therapies had made her weaker than she thought came almost too late.
It was Mother’s Day, and Cheryl wasn’t feeling well. Later that evening she passed out and fell. Her husband found her and called 911. By the time he returned to her side Cheryl had no pulse. Their medically-trained neighbor’s efforts saved her life, but Cheryl had fractured a vertebra in her neck. The injury left her in excruciating pain. She was unable to close her hands or lift her arms, and the swelling threatened to leave her permanently paralyzed. An orthopedic specialist informed her that she would need to stop her chemotherapy and postpone her surgery to remove the tumor so that he could operate on her fractured neck.
After consulting with Dr. Matyas, Cheryl agreed to have the neck surgery. She spent several weeks in the hospital with the Riverside Methodist physical therapists who worked to help her regain strength and mobility. Dr. Matyas visited her frequently. One day, after a CT scan, he told her the tumor was no longer visible. “Now is the time to do the surgery,” he said.
The complicated surgery took several hours, and Cheryl was told she would be in a lot of pain. A week later she felt great. “Even with all the feeding tubes, I had no pain at all,” she exclaims.
It’s A Long Journey, But I’m Not Fighting Alone
The Riverside Methodist cancer care staff was there for Cheryl throughout her lengthy hospital stay and still keeps in touch with her since her move to a long-term rehabilitation facility, where she receives daily physical therapy. Her cancer is in remission, and movement in her hands and arms is steadily improving.
Cheryl is grateful for the Riverside Methodist cancer care team’s compassionate commitment and gives them much of the credit for her steady recovery. It may also have something to do with Cheryl’s positive attitude. Even after months of hospitalization, she remains cheerful and eager to get back to work. Her eyes brighten as she declares, “At least there’s one good thing that’s come out of all of this. I’ve lost 100 pounds!”