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Focus on Cancer

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Woman Beats Breast and Esophagael Cancer: Wants to Give Back

A 12-year breast cancer survivor, Gail Slappy was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in April 2009. Upon being diagnoses, Gail began receiving treatment at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center. When she retires from a teaching career this upcoming Spring, Gail plans on volunteering at the Abramson Cancer Center.

My name is Gail Slappy. I’m a breast cancer survivor. In April of 2009 I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

I felt fullness in my chest that wouldn’t go away. After repeated attempts at diagnosing myself, I went to my primary care physician. She referred me to Gregory Ginsberg, MD, from Penn Gastroenterology.

Following an endoscopy, it was determined that I had a mass at the bottom of my esophagus leading into my stomach. Dr. Ginsberg informed me that I had esophageal cancer.
I thought to myself, “Oh no, not again!”
I’m a 12-year survivor of breast cancer. I was shocked that I was having another recurrence of cancer.

The multidisciplinary approach

Then, Dr. Ginsberg and I began to talk. I’m familiar with Dr. Ginsberg because he has been treating me over the years. He told me how he would handle my cancer treatment. Then, a team of doctors came in and discussed how I would be treated. The team consisted of Ursina Teitelbaum, MD, a hematology/oncologist; John Plastaras, MD, a radiation oncologist; and Ernest F. Rosato, MD, a surgeon. We all discussed how my case would be handled.

I felt quite relieved and confident that I was receiving the best treatment possible. There was a comprehensive team of doctors, and everyone was consulting with one another about my treatment.

Compassionate care

Throughout my experience at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, I felt supported. Everyone was just so compassionate towards me and my care. I would receive phone calls at home asking how I was doing.

At my lowest point, I grew quite weak from the combination of radiation and chemotherapy. When I would go to receive therapy, everyone understood how I was feeling and treated me with the most compassion I could ever receive. One time, when I was receiving radiation, one of the radiation therapists talked to me so nicely. The nature of his voice and the way he spoke to me so calmly let me know I would be alright. It truly made all of the difference. He even said that I looked great even though I felt lousy and I probably looked lousy too! He was endearing and he helped me a great deal.

After I had my surgery, the nursing staff and the doctors in the hospital were so kind and gentle. They helped me through the whole process. Everyone was very concerned, very attentive, and genuinely interested in my care, my progress, and my recovery. People always asked what they could do to make me comfortable and how they could help me. That was the sentiment throughout my whole recovery at the hospital.

That’s why I like the comprehensive approach at the Abramson Cancer Center because everyone is in dialogue with one another. They are constantly updating each other on your condition, and making sure that you are okay.

Giving back
I’ve been recovering from my illness. I’m a teacher, and I plan to retire in June. Once I heal, I want to give back. I plan on volunteering at the Abramson Cancer Center. I want to help other individuals who may be diagnosed with cancer and help them get through it. I want them to know it’s not a death sentence or the end of the world. In spite of the seriousness of the illness, you can conquer it. You can be a champion.
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