Working Together to Beat Cancer

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Kim York wasn’t supposed to end up at Hoag, but after doctors at another hospital found a large cancerous mass in her rectum, she didn’t want to be treated anywhere else.

“I didn’t know anybody at Hoag; I just knew it’s where I needed to be,” the 56-year-old said.

Although challenges with her insurance prevented York from at first making the transition, she kept fighting and eventually the stars aligned, bringing her to what she calls “The A Team” – a group of Hoag surgeons, oncologists and nurses who energetically took on her case.

“The support system is amazing,” York said. “I just feel like I’m surrounded with beautiful people full of hope and encouragement.”

When York met Hoag colorectal surgeon Babak Rad, M.D., she said there was an instant connection.

“He was probably the most real doctor I have met,” she said. “He held my hand and was very compassionate. He said, ‘I’m going to get you through this.’”

But York had a tough road ahead.

The cancer had metastasized to her liver and she would need four surgeries over 14 months to remove it, along with aggressive chemotherapy treatment.

She remembers committing to getting up every day, putting on her makeup and getting dressed – a routine she believed would mentally help her take on each day.

“My family knew that if they didn’t see that happen, it was a bad day,” she said.

What her family didn’t know was that on the bad days, even the really awful ones, York got up and got dressed anyway.

“You just do what you have to do,” said York, who has been married 32 years and has two daughters, ages 24 and 28.

With that mantra in mind, York told her doctors to do what they needed to do to help her successfully fight cancer.

That is where Hoag’s multidisciplinary approach and highly skilled experts came in.

“As specialists, treating colorectal cancer is our primary focus,” said Dr. Rad, program director of Hoag’s Colorectal Cancer Program. “Hoag has a comprehensive program that consists of a multidisciplinary group of physicians who are committed to working together to provide the best possible outcome for our patients.”

This approach is why York believes she is still here today.

“Dr. Rad saved my life,” she said. “He’s a genuine man and a gifted surgeon. And the nurses and doctors at Hoag Family Cancer Institute are some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life.”

York has been cancer-free for nearly two years, but she is still going through maintenance chemotherapy to keep the disease at bay – a decision she left to fate.

“I flipped a coin to decide whether we were going to continue being aggressive with my treatment,” York said. “I’m doing everything possible to keep it away. I didn’t want my kids to think I could’ve, would’ve or should’ve done more.”

Much has changed since York was diagnosed in February 2014 but she wouldn’t trade her experience – even the most difficult parts.

“The last two years have been the hardest of my life but they have also been the most rewarding,” she said. “It’s been a beautiful experience and I am grateful.”

A woman who once shied away from birthdays, York now looks forward to each celebration – every passing year a testament to her will to fight.

“I used to be worried about a new wrinkle on my face or how my body changed,” she said. “With every birthday, people better be showing up with cards and cake because they mean something now.”

Her experience also has inspired York to mentor others embarking on a similar journey – she now volunteers at the Hoag Family Cancer Institute.

“I’ve just held their hands and listened to their stories,” she said. “To help them has been a fabulous thing. I’ve gotten so much from Hoag, I just wanted to give back.”

Hoag’s Colorectal Cancer Program comprises a team of highly skilled surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, endoscopic gastroenterologists and nurse navigators trained to provide optimal treatment plans for each patient.

“Hoag is an institution that takes great pride in providing our patients with the best possible care,” Dr. Rad said. “Not only do our patients have access to highly skilled and compassionate physicians, they also receive a lot of support through a dedicated nurse navigator and extensive support services.”

Part of a comprehensive plan also includes encouraging patients to know their risk factors and get routine screenings.

Patients without a family history of colorectal cancer should get screened every 10 years starting at age 50. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer need to be screened at an earlier age and on more frequent intervals.

“Everyone needs to be screened,” Dr. Rad said. “Screening is a very important part of preventing colorectal cancer and that’s the goal: we want to prevent it.”

For more information, call 888-556-8364.