Rich Pelletier wasn't one to routinely visit doctors. But he prudently did have a check-up upon turning 50 years old. To his surprise, his first routine colonoscopy resulted in a diagnosis of colon cancer, which had also spread beyond the colon wall. Treatment required surgery to remove part of the colon, followed by six weeks of chemotherapy, 20 days of radiation therapy, and then six more weeks of chemotherapy.
Pelletier says that all that treatment was a tough experience and he wouldn't want anyone to have to go through it. But if you have to go through it, the Comprehensive Cancer Center is the place to go. He said that the doctors and nurses were all great. In particular, he credits the nurses for turning such a difficult process into a positive experience. He says, "They were like angels-never once was I afraid. I was well taken care of."
He calls his doctors "a winning team." Although they were not in same room with each other, his doctors were always in communication and always knew what was going on with him. Pelletier acknowledges that at one time the expectation was that if you had cancer, Boston was the place to go. "But," says Pelletier, "if you have Dr. Safran, you don't have to go to Boston. You're going to get the same excellent care, without the inconvenience...from Cumberland it's a 10- to 15-minute drive. From surgery, through treatment and doctor visits, I got just as good care as if I went anywhere else."
He also expresses appreciation for his social worker Margaret Smith. Even more so than when he was in the course of treatment, he found that afterward he realized the psychological impact of the illness, and he benefited from speaking with her about the experience he'd been through.
In reflecting on the course of his illness and recovery, Pelletier says that on first hearing the diagnosis, he worried more about his daughter, son and wife, and the fear that they would have to take care of him and worry about him. But the positive aspect was the realization that your family really does love you, and that with a strong family, you can get through anything. He also says that you find you have more friends than you'd realized. The outpouring of concern and offers of help touched him.
Despite the seriousness of the diagnosis and the involved treatments, Pelletier managed to continue living his life without significant interruption. He has long been involved with the Cumberland Youth Soccer Association. As equipment director, the day before his surgery, he made sure that uniforms for 1,200 kids were picked up. And after his course of treatments, he's right back making sure that the kids have the equipment they need to keep playing soccer. In fact, Pelletier believes that staying involved helped him through his ordeal, saying, "It's nice being around young people because it makes you feel young, and that helped my outlook."
He also got right back to work during his treatments, working from home, and returned to work and business trips as soon as his treatments were completed.
Now that he is doing so well, he says that the most important thing that resulted from his experience is that so many of the people who know him became aware of the importance of being checked and have gone to have a colonoscopy. Pelletier feels very fortunate that he went to have his colonoscopy when he did at age 50. He feels blessed that he did not wait, and that his outcome prompted so many others to also have the examination. He is grateful to be able to carry on with the normal activities of his life, but with an enhanced sense of how precious life is.
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