Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Makes CTCA Different?

Whenever I talk to someone with cancer so someone who used to have cancer, any type of cancer, young or old, there is usually one common theme: they have all, at one point or another, had a bad experience at a healthcare facility. It's sad really, you're going through so much and the last thing you need to be doing is fighting with a doctor or a nurse or the stupid tech that treats you with zero compassion because she thinks her life is worse than yours. Ok, well maybe that last one was just my experience. But I'm sure many of you can relate. I even had a great care facility (I was treated at Johns Hopkins... hard to get much better than that) and I still had a few moments where I was just in shock at the behavior of some people. In the instance I mentioned previously, I had been out of surgery for a couple of days but I was still at the point where I could barely stand up and I was still getting used to the temporary ostomy I had unexpectedly woken up with. This tech came in to empty my ostomy bag and told me to get up so she could do it. When I told her that I couldn't really get out of bed yet she got really annoyed and said she couldn't do it while I was laying down. My mom then offered to do it because she could tell the girl had an attitude, but the girl then put her hand up and told my mom no, and then preceded to open the bag and let all of the "waste" pour over my bed, tummy, and fresh surgery wounds. Then, in a really cocky voice she said, "I told you you needed to get up." Thankfully it happened right in front of my physical therapist who then immediately took care of the situation with the head nurse. But really, who can deal with stuff like that when they just found out they have CANCER? Especially if they are alone and have no family there to fight for them. I know I would have been lost without my mom.

Before arriving in Phoenix I knew little about Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). I had briefly looked into it when I was diagnosed but I got an appointment at Johns Hopkins before I really had much time to learn about it. So I was pretty blind going into this. Just so you know what we were there for and such, CTCA put on a blogger summit for a small group of people who operate cancer blogs (I think there were 9 of us). We toured the facility, spoke with patients and doctors, ate the same food the patients eat, and were shown services such as Tai Chi classes and meeting with therapy dogs. The weekend was meant to show us what CTCA has to offer. In going there, I was looking to answer one main question in my mind: What makes CTCA different?

It didn't take long to get that question answered, but it will take a few posts to explain all of it. But to begin, as I heard many patients say that weekend, CTCA is more of a spa than a hospital. It is very homey... not at all like a hospital. For example, here is a picture of the inside of CTCA:

Kind of like a nice hotel or something right? When you first walk in you are met by a greeter that usually even knows your name before you tell them. That is because by the time you arrive, your registration is already completed... you do that in the limo or town car that they pick you up from the airport in, after you land from the flight that CTCA booked for you. While staying in Phoenix for treatment (and remember there are other locations... Chicago, Tulsa, Philadelphia, and Atlanta is soon to come) there is a hotel located in the hospital for $40/ night or you can stay across the street, and in walking distance of the hospital, at the Marriot for $50/ night. Here are some pictures of the hotel rooms inside the hospital:

CTCA operates on a "from bench to bedside" mentality. They believe in offering the newest treatment options, compassionate medical care, and mental/ emotional care. Now, I'm sure many places say that right? But have you ever seen it? I certainly hadn't. But over the next fews posts I want to explain what I saw here and why I believe CTCA actually IS different. I'll write again about medical treatments and nutrition/ naturopathic care, but right now I want to focus on the compassion that I saw there and what "extra" stuff that CTCA has that other hospitals don't.

So when you make your appointment at CTCA, like I said before they cover your travel (flight) to get there if you don't live locally and they pick you up from the airport and take you to your hotel or the hospital. And after arriving for your appointment and being greeted, you are taken to the clinic for your consultation. According to the patients your wait time before being taken back to see the doctor is next to nothing, as apposed to the hours that many of us have experienced elsewhere. Once taken back to your room you will be seen by EVERY SINGLE doctor that you need to see. That includes the oncologist, surgeon, nutritionist, naturopathic doctor, and mind/ body therapist, to name a few (obviously you don't HAVE to see all of them but they are available to EVERY patient... regardless whether or not your insurance covers each one... if CTCA accepts you as a patient you can utilize any doctor and any service... AMAZING!). This team of doctors meet prior to your appointment so that they know your chart BEFORE entering the room... for those of us with long medical histories this is huge... we know how annoying it can get to have to explain over and over again what our histories are.

The goal is also to have everything that the patient needs under one roof and to offer a personalized medical plan to make sure your treatment is the most effective it can be and that you have minimal side effects. Again, this is huge... how many of us have later found out we had the wrong surgery, or shouldn't have had surgery at all, or were put on the wrong chemo, or weren't told about other options? TOO many of us! This just shouldn't happen. Patients should be told all of their options and allowed to make decisions about their own treatment.

The people I met though really topped it all off for me though. The courtesy I saw them show not only to us but to their patients was just incredible. I saw nurses escorting patients to and from radiation treatments, holding the patient by the arm, not pulling them, but comforting them before their treatment. Almost all of the patients were always smiling and to me this tells alot about a medical facility. They also make sure to mark milestones in someone's treatment... when a person finishes their radiation regiment they get to ring a large bell out in the waiting room and everyone applauds them. Even more incredible, when a former patient reaches their 5 year cancer free mark they and their families are flown out to the CTCA facility for an event called Celebrate Life. The former patient is given a gold leaf on the tree of hope located in the lobby with their name and hometown on it. The president of the hospital speaks at the ceremony and then the survivor speaks with current fighters in efforts of giving them hope. Who does that? Really? It all sounded too good to be true. But after talking with the patients there, I began to see that it is in fact true.

This just scratches the surface... I can't wait to tell you about everything else that they do there in relation to treatments, nutrition, and mind/ body therapy. I hope that this is the future of all medical care. And if I ever get cancer again, which is a huge possibility, I will be going there for my treatment.


  1. Reagan,
    My name is Steve Fanestil and I am a patient at the Zion/Chicago CTCA. Boy howdy, you have nailed it about CTCA. I was originally diagnosed (which took about 3 - 4 weeks for all of the testing and results) in Wichita, Kansas and was immediately told that I had Stage 4 prostate cancer (with a Gleason score of (5+5) 10 (as bad as it can get). Then I was told that I had 1 1/2 - 2 years to live. Needless to say that set me back on my heals at 58 years of age. My wife and I just sat there as the doctor left the room and I began to use some of the "french" that I learned in the oil fields.

    GOD works in some mysterious ways. As I was leaving the parking garage a friend from Colorado called (he melanoma) and told me that after having gone to MD Anderson, he was NOT going back and that he was going to try CTCA in Tulsa. Now a little side note. I lost my mother to breast cancer when she was only 55 years of age. Shortly after losing her my wife and I were watching TV, "Hill Street Blues" and a commercial came on for CTCA. After watching the commercial about how they "treat the whole body; not just the cancer. Nutritionally, spiritually, emotionally.....I told my wife that "if I ever came down with cancer.... THAT IS WHERE I WANT TO GO!" Now after being told that I was going to be dead in 2 years and the commercial had run 20 years ago, I had forgotten about CTCA..... until my friend "jogged my memory."

    When I got home the first call I made was to CTCA and the call was answered by the nicest young man that treated me like I was a friend or was family.... NO "PLEASE HOLD" OR "PRESS ONE FOR ENGLISH" or any of that other crap that you have to go through when you call a clinic or hospital. I told him that I just wanted a 2nd opinion, he said "No problem, how soon can we get you up here and who do you want to bring as a caregiver?" I said, "I didn't know how much it would cost to fly my wife up Chicago...?" Ryan (CTCA) said "NO, NO..... we will cover both you and your wife coming up here to Chicago." (Because of the insurance company that we have, I HAD to go to Chicago). I about fell out of my chair..... this was un-believable.... I had never heard of such a thing... Ryan said that "CTCA wants me and my family to not worry about anything other than getting well."

    Sorry I have started rambling.... anyhow, from a patient, from a different CTCA facility, YOU ARE RIGHT ON AND HAVE NAILED IT. There is no place like CTCA. Most of the patients, or as we are called by staff, "GUESTS" say that it is like coming home to family when we return to CTCA.

    I was pleased that after my initial visit (which I had every test and scan under the sun and saw all of the doctors and started my treatment within a week) I was told that they could not find an expiration date anywhere on my body and that only GOD knew when I as going to die. NOW, my prognosis is still somewhat the same.... because my cancer had metastasized in the bone marrow, they can't cure me completely; BUT it has been nearly 29 months and I FEEL GREAT and for now the cancer is being "held at bay." It was so much fun to return to the original doctor that told me I was going to die within 2 years, on the 2 year anniversary, and say to him.... "I don't look too bad for a dead man, now do I?"

    I look forward to seeing the rest of your posts about CTCA. In the words of Dorothy (from the Wizard of OZ) "There's no place like home, there's NO place like home." There's NO place like CTCA!!!!

  2. Steve, thanks so much for the awesome comment! It's great to have feedback from a patient there. I really hope if I am ever diagnosed again that I'll be able to go to CTCA for treatment.

    That's so awesome that you went back to your first doctor and said that to him!! There are so many things I would LOVE to say to the doctor who diagnosed me that was such a jerk.

    Thinking about you as you go through treatment. Keep us updated! And stay tuned for the next CTCA post! Thanks for reading :)


"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting..... 'WHAT A RIDE!'"