After Sherry Britton was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2007, she underwent four months of treatment at a hospital in Bangor, Maine, then traveled to a medical facility in Boston.
Britton, who had gone to the doctor for a chest X-ray for a slight cough, isn’t sure how she developed the cancer. She grew up in a mill town, worked in the automobile industry and smoked cigarettes, though she had kicked the habit 12 years earlier.
Nonetheless, medical staff at both hospitals agreed on her prognosis.
“They said there was nothing they could do,” she recalled. “They gave me eighteen months to live and sent me home to get my affairs in order. I was forty-nine at the time. That was now five years ago.”
After returning home from that sobering news, Britton saw a television commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
“What have I got to lose?” she thought to herself.
It was Memorial Day weekend, and Britton expected to leave a message.
“Somebody live answered the phone,” she said.
On that Tuesday, the day after the holiday, she was at CTCA’s Philadelphia hospital, at 1331 E. Wyoming Ave. Soon after, she began chemotherapy and radiation treatments for non small-cell lung cancer.
On Jan. 2, 2008, she had her last treatment. She’s been in remission ever since and credits the traditional care and non-traditional methods for her recovery.
“It was all the love and caring they give you here,” she said. “They wrap their arms around you. I took all the vitamins and supplements they recommended and attended laughter therapy classes.”
Last Friday, Britton, now 54, traveled from her home in Lincoln, Maine, to attend Celebrate Life 2012, CTCA’s annual ceremony that honors five-year cancer survivors.
Richard Stephenson founded Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 1988 in memory of his mother, Mary Brown Stephenson, who died of cancer six years earlier.
Stephenson was not happy with the care his mom received and implemented what he called the “Mother Standard.” All employees are expected to care for patients the way they’d want their mothers treated.
Today, there are CTCA hospitals in Philadelphia, Illinois, Oklahoma and Arizona, with a fifth soon to open in Georgia. There’s also an outpatient treatment and wellness center in the state of Washington.
The hospital’s motto is, “Care That Never Quits.”
Before last week’s celebration, there were tree-planting and dove-release ceremonies. In addition, survivors and their caregivers were given commemorative lapel pins to pass along as a symbol of hope to patients currently undergoing treatment at CTCA.
Britton and several dozen other survivors were recognizable in their blue shirts.
Yusuf Lee, 68, traveled from California with his wife Darcel to be at the ceremony. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2007 while at his doctor’s office for what he thought was a routine colonoscopy.
At the time, he was living in New York. He believed that doctors there were rushing him into surgery. He wanted to weigh his options.
Ultimately, he arrived at CTCA’s Philadelphia hospital for treatment and liked his dealings with medical staff members.
“I was nervous, but they said, ‘You have a choice. Let us go through the options, and it’s whatever you decide,’ ” he said of the experience. “I felt empowered.”
Norristown’s Herbert “The Puzzle Man” Brown was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006 after undergoing emergency surgery on his gallbladder. Forty-three radiation treatments later, the former boxer was cancer-free and “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.”
After retiring from 38-plus years with the U.S. Postal Service, he began to volunteer at the hospital. His many duties include working on jigsaw puzzles with patients and putting smiles on their faces.
“We’re more than a team. We’re a family,” he said.
The May 18 ceremony featured a live band, dancing and lunch.
Emcee Marilyn Russell, the morning show host on 95.7 BEN FM, acknowledged the passing of disco music superstar Donna Summer, who died of lung cancer a day earlier. Russell also borrowed a line from the station by labeling the CTCA event a “Feel Good Friday” moment.
Survivors thanked everyone from the limousine driver who picked them up at the airport to family caregivers to medical staff to the charismatic Stephenson to God. They announced their names on stage before receiving a plaque from Stephenson and John McNeil, president and CEO of the Philadelphia hospital.
Stephenson, the board chairman, said CTCA’s competition is not other hospitals, but cancer itself. He noted that the hospital puts its results online at cancercenter.com
The staff tells the truth to patients, and there is no bureaucracy.
“It’s not about insurance companies. It’s not about regulators,” Stephenson said, adding the company slogan, “It is always, and only, about the patient.”
Stephenson is happy that 98 percent of patients surveyed indicated that they would recommend CTCA to their mothers. He joked that the other 2 percent misunderstood the question and thought they were asked if they’d recommend CTCA to their mothers-in-law.
Cancer does not have to be a death sentence, Stephenson said. Before treatments begin, each patient is given hope.
“Hope costs nothing to give, but is priceless to receive,” he said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org