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Routine colon cancer screening saved Lisa Marie's life

From hard conversations to recovery, Lisa Marie shares the fears and joy of her cancer experience.

Category: Cancer

When a Regular Screening Leads to Hard News

Lisa Marie Berthel remembers the phone conversation clearly. She had had a routine colonoscopy at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center and within a couple of days, she got a call from the doctor. He broke the news to her as gently as possible. “I’m sorry to tell you,” he said, “but it’s cancer.”

The diagnosis was stage 3B colon cancer, the stage when the cancer has begun to spread into nearby organs and tissues.

After receiving the news and telling her husband, Don, Lisa Marie’s thoughts went immediately to how to tell her sons, Elias and Sam, that she had cancer.

It was a hard conversation. “My children are everything to me. I just can’t picture myself not being here to see them grow and become what they’re meant to be. In my mind, I’m thinking I have so much to teach them,” she says.

COMPASSIONATE CARE AT BAYSTATE REGIONAL CANCER PROGRAM

Lisa Marie met with colorectal surgeon Dr. Kelly Tyler who explained the surgery for removing the cancer and answered Lisa Marie’s questions. Baystate’s oncology specialists and supporting caregivers are part of the Baystate Regional Cancer Program providing patients with coordinated, expert care and support throughout their cancer journies.

“I was a nervous wreck before the surgery,” Lisa Marie says. From the time she arrived though, she says Dr. Tyler, the anesthesia team, the nurses and others introduced themselves and made her comfortable. “They were just so sweet,” she says.

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CHEMOTHERAPY CLOSE TO HOME

After surgery, Lisa Marie started six months of cancer treatment. She would need regular chemotherapy and blood tests, which meant a lot of travel to appointments. The busy mom was thankful she could receive colon cancer treatments 10 minutes from home at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center where medical oncologist Dr. Chandra Loke followed her care closely. “I had great support. Dr. Loke and all the staff on the cancer floor at Mary Lane are fabulous,” Lisa Marie says.

The care team worked together to provide the latest cancer treatments. They shared information, studying her history and monitoring her current needs. “Advances in cancer care are happening at a lightning pace and it’s gratifying we’re able to bring those changes back to patients almost in real time.” Dr. Loke says.

Lisa Marie was impressed by how coordinated her care was. “To me, it showed that patients are a priority,” Lisa Marie says. “They wanted to make sure I’m healthy and whatever I’d done at Baystate in Springfield bounced back to Baystate Mary Lane. It all goes into happy harmony. Knowing that they’re all united for me makes the difference,” she adds.

KEEPING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Lisa Marie believes the support groups offered at Baystate Mary Lane were key to staying positive during her cancer journey, which was difficult and scary at times. She encourages other cancer patients to try attending.

“It made so much of a difference for me. If I hadn’t had that group, I would have wallowed in everything I was experiencing. When you’re going through something that’s happening to other people at the same time, it’s enlightening and that support is amazing,” she says.

Even if people aren’t comfortable sharing their own story in a group, Lisa Marie recommends attending a support group just to listen to what others are going through. If someone is shy or hesitant about visiting a group meeting, Lisa Marie offers to go with them.

Advice from her uncle who had pancreatic cancer also kept her strong. He told her attitude is everything when you’re going through cancer treatments. His motto was: Remain positive and upbeat. You can’t let it beat you. He inspired Lisa Marie and is the reason she has a streak of purple, the awareness color for pancreatic cancer, in her hair.

SHARING THE JOURNEY, A CAKE, AND BALLOONS

At Lisa Marie’s last chemotherapy appointment, there was a party with cake, balloons and roomful of people who’d supported her.

“Whether a person plays a large or small part, it makes such a difference in the healing and moving forward,” Lisa Marie says. “Having friends, family and Baystate—it just completed the whole picture.”

ABOUT THAT COLONOSCOPY PREP

When people say they don’t want to do the colonoscopy prep and go through the procedure, Lisa Marie makes it a point to share her story, including on Facebook. “I feel like I’m here to do something and bring awareness,” she says. I run into people who know what I’ve gone through and I’ll ask them if they’ve had a colon cancer screening. “If they haven’t, I tell them, ‘Get your butt to the doctor, literally. It could save your life, like it did mine.’”

Learn more about the Baystate Regional Cancer Program.