“I used to think that you had to go to NYC for anything serious, but after my experience, I don’t know why anyone would go anywhere but the Littman Cancer Center. They saved my life.”
Lillian Damon, a Cornwall resident for many years initially protested the addition of the Littman Cancer Center at the St. Luke’s Cornwall campus. The blizzard of February 2010 marks not only one of the worst snowstorms in Orange County this decade, but also the beginning of Lillian’s battle. With ongoing breathing issues, and two fractured ribs from a fall on the ice, Lillian had gone for a series of tests to determine the cause of her persistent problems. The diagnosis: cancer.
Lillian’s mother was diagnosed with the same type of cancer twenty years prior. She died a mere 21 days after diagnosis.
July 26, 2010 marked the first day of what would be intensive treatment for Lillian. She received Chemotherapy every three weeks, four times per week, July through October. Lillian also had concurrent radiation treatments on a daily bases Monday-Friday for six weeks from Cornwall Radiation Oncology Services at the Littman Cancer Center.
Throughout Lillian’s rigorous treatments, she noticed a strong sense of teamwork; between the nurses, the physicians, and the entire team. Lillian said the bedside manner of the caregivers she encountered was terrific. She could sense a commitment of devotion and compassion to each patient. Whether she was in the Infusion Center receiving a blood transfusion, sitting through chemotherapy or radiation, Lillian felt that her every need was taken care of.
Lillian has been in remission for five months, gaining a little more confidence and strength with each passing day. Lillian and her husband Charles recently returned from a cruise to the Bahamas and Turks and Caico’s. A trip she never thought she’d take just a few months ago.
“I had so many things I wanted to do after retirement. I put them off because of my cancer, but now I don’t have to.”
As a teacher, I always did research and asked a lot of questions. But, since being diagnosed with cancer, I feel the less I know the better. Sometimes you don’t want to know the answer to the question asked. Dave Coffey was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in January 2010. Only, six months after retiring from 37 years of teaching high school special education.
Dave began chemotherapy and radiation treatment right away. The radiation he received from Cornwall Radiation Oncology Services lasted for ten weeks. He is still currently undergoing chemotherapy so the cancer does not spread. Dave’s chemotherapy is every two weeks with one week off in between. It’s a light dose and Dave experiences some fatigue but has learned to carry on!
The staff at the Littman Cancer Center never let me lose my positive attitude. My family had a hard time accepting the cancer diagnosis.
They were so uplifting. They made me feel good because they cared about my well being. I am so grateful for the support and compassion they showed me.
Now that Dave is feeling better he can focus on the joys of retirement and giving back. As a Vietnam veteran I want to help other veterans. I have always had a love for reading and want to volunteer at Castle Point VA Hospital in Dutchess County reading or even scripting letters. Really I will do anything to help.
“Even though I was sick, I found that I walked in and out of Cornwall Radiation Oncology Services at the Littman Cancer Center with a smile on my face. They were the greatest bunch of people you’d ever meet. It was a great experience, considering the circumstances.”
At 28 years old, James Watkins didn’t think much of the stomach pains that lasted for about a month. At worst, he figured, it might be an ulcer. When his symptoms worsened, James headed straight for the Kaplan Emergency Room at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital’s Newburgh campus. There, he learned he had three large masses in and around his stomach and later was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was especially difficult since a year earlier, his grandmother passed away from cancer at SLCH.
“The first thing I thought about was am I going to die, when and how,” James recalls. “I thought of my then-two-year-old daughter and what would happen to her. It’s about the scariest thing you can go through.”
James traveled outside the county for his chemotherapy treatments because the Infusion Center at the Littman Cancer Center was under construction. After learning about the comprehensive services offered at the Littman Cancer Center, he concluded his treatment at Cornwall Radiation Oncology Services. The Littman Cancer Center provided technologically advanced treatment with the use of TomoTherapy, but it was the nurses, physicians and therapists that made James feel like a part of something larger, like a family member.
“I felt like they were my sisters. One even invited me to her house for the holidays,” he said. “They’re the greatest bunch of people you’ll ever meet in your life. Even though I was sick, I found that I walked in and out of the Littman Cancer Center with a smile on my face. It was a great experience, considering the circumstances.”
Today, James is cancer free and in August 2011 celebrated his daughter’s fourth birthday. “She’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the staff over there. They helped get me back home as healthy as ever.”
“Cancer has helped put my priorities in order. I now know what’s really important in life and have little time for what’s not.”
For many of our friends and neighbors, seeking cancer care and support in our region has been difficult, with either limited or no choices. Patients and their families no longer need travel outside the area for specialized cancer care.
Greer Cooper, a Newburgh resident and mother of three, fought the fight of her life in 2008 after being diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. Greer was forced to seek treatment outside her community because there was no cancer center — at the time — that offered the comprehensive clinical care and support services she required to fight the disease. She made several, exhausting trips to Manhattan for treatment, often feeling alone, tired and overwhelmed.
“If there’d only been a single point of service, think of all the precious time that would’ve been saved. My experience is not unusual, but I was fortunate to have had the resources and support to seek treatment outside the community,” she says.
Today, it’s doing the things that make her happy that’s most important to Greer: writing, nurturing her spiritual growth and spending time with her family and friends.
Greer’s story is quite common. There are many examples of similar stories in our daily lives. With new cases of cancer being diagnosed every day, it’s reassuring to know that care is now available in our community.
“I definitely am not the same person today as the one diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. Cancer has altered my life so much. Today, if I can change something I perceive as negative, I will — if not, I make the best of it or find something good.”
Jenifer, who, on the same day, had a biopsy and received news that the biopsy showed a malignancy, recalls her first thought: “Never get the news that you have cancer on a Friday — it makes for a very long weekend.” That weekend was followed by nearly a year’s worth of traveling to and from Westchester County and New York City for treatment. “I went down there [NYC] because that’s where the technology and specialists were at that time,” she says.
“Having access to the latest technologies, well-trained and most-caring professionals, and support services that care for the entire family under one roof is key,” Jenifer asserts. “By providing all of these things, SLCH is really making a commitment to caring for the whole cancer patient.”
12-Year Cancer Survivor