Until October 2007, Oliver worked fulltime at Home Depot, ran an animal rescue at her house and led a church youth group. For a few years, she had been losing energy. “My family doctor said I was just getting older, but I knew it wasn’t just that. Something else was wrong.”
Oliver took matters into her own hands. She went to a local clinic and requested X-rays. They showed a lung tumor the size of a grapefruit that was the cause of her back pains and dizzy spells.
“I was really scared at first. My grandfather died of lung cancer just a week after he was diagnosed.” Oliver had two major cancer risks: She smoked since age 10 and was exposed to asbestos while restoring old houses. Oliver got over her fear and went to a cancer doctor.
Doctors at another hospital recommended Oliver have chemotherapy and radiation but because of scheduling problems wanted to put off the start of her chemotherapy treatment for a month. “However, after seeing my radiation oncologist, Dr. (Andrew) Turrisi, he was indignant with that plan,” Oliver says.
“Dr. Turrisi made phone calls and got treatment scheduled for the next day. I think he totally saved my life. Because of my fear I didn’t want to start treatment anyway, so I would have waited. But he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Nichelle, you are starting treatment tomorrow.’
“Dr. Turrisi is absolutely amazing. I can’t say enough about him,” she says. “The first time we met, he got tears in his eyes. He hugged me, took my hands and said: ‘We are going to make this better; you can trust me on this.’”
Dr. Turrisi is the chief of radiation oncology at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital, where Oliver received treatment. He is available for consultations and second opinions on diagnosis and treatment on all types of cancers, although he is an expert on lung cancer.
“We give personal care and have the latest equipment – all right here in your neighborhood,” he says. “Patient communication is key, because we know cancer can be frightening. We want to be your trusted partner in finding the best treatment possible for you.”
The sooner you find the cancer the better, because it is easier to treat. “I would have had so many fewer visits and so much less medicine if it had been found sooner,” Oliver says.
“It sounds crazy, but having cancer was the best thing that happened to me,” Oliver says. “My priorities are so much different. I’m not a workaholic anymore. I have a different relationship with my husband, my kids, my youth group, even my animals.”
This story first appeared in Sinai-Grace Hospital’s Healthy Living magazine. Click here to read more Healthy Living stories.