As cancer patients, we deal with many ups and downs related to our condition, from learning about your devastating diagnosis to dealing with the side effects of treatments.
While I’ve experienced that emotional rollercoaster with my peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis, one of my most painful moments was losing the specialist I had placed so much trust in.
Dr. Samuel Bieligk, a surgical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), with experience in treating peritoneal mesothelioma, saved my life after I learned of my diagnosis back in 2010.
His dedication and treatments gave me the strength I needed to survive, but now he’s no longer at CTCA.
What am I supposed to do now? How do I find a doctor I can trust again? Will my cancer return? These and other questions flooded my thoughts.
After two HIPEC procedures and two years of chemotherapy treatments, my stubborn mesothelioma continued to grow and aggressively attack my body.
I was determined to fight, but I had nowhere to go. At the time there was not one oncologist in my hometown who had experience in treating my cancer.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare diagnosis, and there are few doctors who know the disease, and even less treat it.
One afternoon, after sobbing and praying, a CTCA commercial caught my eye. I called out of desperation and learned the organization not only treated my disease, but also accepted my insurance.
I was referred to mesothelioma specialist Bieligk. Hallelujah!
I booked my flight on a Tuesday without hesitation, and I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by Thursday.
During my conversation with Bieligk, I expressed my determination to live. If an unprecedented third HIPEC was necessary, I was ready.
Bieligk was convinced I was a fighter. I knew immediately I was blessed with a physician who would fight with me, and for me, until the end.
His words were, “As long as you’re up to it, we will fight!”
I began yet another series of chemotherapy treatments in March 2012. Bieligk advised another HIPEC procedure wouldn’t be an option unless the majority of my tumors were removed.
I decided to undergo more chemotherapy sessions to shrink the tumors before proceeding with my third HIPEC.
After three months of my custom chemo cocktail, I received the best news of my life: There were no signs of cancer! My body fell numb the exact same way it did when I received my diagnosis in 2010.
Because Bieligk was willing to give me a chance and not throw in the towel, I was given another chance to live.
In addition to God, I credit Bieligk for giving me life again. He often joked he was ready to retire, and I always told him he had my permission to retire in 70 years.
While sorting my mail one afternoon in April, I opened a letter from Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Normally these letters are appointment reminders I ignore because my iPhone app takes care of that. This time, it wasn’t a reminder. The letter informed me Bieligk was no longer with them.
I started crying immediately.
Hundreds of questions rotated in my mind, and all of them freaked me out: What is going to happen to me now? Am I going to die? Who is going to fight for me?
Peritoneal mesothelioma is such a rare disease. Who else in the world knows how to aggressively treat it? Who will give me another HIPEC procedure if necessary?
The letter assured me I would be paired with another competent physician when I return in November, but I had my doubts. I’ve fought too hard to be given a new doctor who may not have the same drive as Bieligk.
Although I credit God with my healing, Bieligk was the vessel He used to save me and restore my faith.
This experience taught me that cancer is a constant fight. If it’s not the side effects of treatment or the insurance company fighting you on everything, it’s suddenly learning you have a new doctor.
But what keeps me going is my desire to live and be there for my family. I won’t let cancer take that from me.