The Stories section of our blog is a place where we share stories about patient experiences. If you have a story you would like to share about your experience, we’d be glad to hear from you.

‘I Savor Every Moment’

When John Franco developed a splitting headache three years ago, he never imagined this would be the start of a year-long odyssey. At his wife Elizabeth’s urging, he went to see his doctor, William E. Straw, M.D., who sent him to PAMF’s Palo Alto Center for a CT scan.

“I am so grateful that Dr. Straw recommended a CT scan, even though everything seemed fine with me neurologically,” says Franco. “If it wasn’t for his diligence and instinct to take this step, I may not be alive today.”

The CT scan revealed the frightening reason why Franco had been having headaches.

“I met with neurosurgeon Paul Jackson, M.D., after hours,” says Franco. “He told me that I had a tumor the size of a tennis ball in the right frontal lobe of my brain. I was overwhelmed with fear….fear of dying, fear of the unknown, and fear of the uncertain future for my wife and kids living without their husband and dad.”

The very next day Franco had surgery to remove what, at that time, seemed like a benign tumor. However, when the tumor grew back, a biopsy showed it was a glioblastoma, the most common – and most malignant – brain tumor.

Additional surgery followed, and Dr. Jackson was able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. At that point, Franco was referred to a clinical trial of a new treatment regimen: three types of chemotherapy for a year, preceded by six weeks of daily radiation, under the care of PAMF radiation oncology specialist Gordon Ray, M.D. After a year, he had the option of continuing chemotherapy, or trying alternative therapies.

Franco chose complimentary alternative therapies recommended by PAMF social worker Colleen Travers. Since May 2010, John has kept up a thorough and varied regimen: healing touch massage therapy, nutrition counseling, meditation and herbal medicine.

“We wanted to see if my body could resist a tumor ‘comeback,’” said Franco. “Colleen Travers has offered incredible support, guidance and wisdom in every aspect of this journey.”

Two years after finishing treatment, the tumor hasn’t returned. Franco still has cancer and regular checkups. So far, the checkups have been very positive.

“This type of cancer never goes into remission and never goes away,” says Franco. “The doctors say the best scenario is that you come in for a checkup every few months for the rest of your life to make sure tumor hasn’t come back.”

During his treatment, John got laid off from his job as a land acquisition development manager at a local real estate development company and went on disability. Currently, he’s enjoying being “Mr. Mom,” taking care of his two daughters, Madison, 8, and Samantha, 7. He is also enjoying what he describes as the acute sensitivity he brings to his life. One of the positive parts of a difficult journey came from having to ask friends and family for help, which John says opened his heart and his life, rekindling relationships that had been dormant for years.

John Franco“I don’t take anything for granted and find happiness in the little things in life that present themselves on a daily basis,” says Franco. “I love my wife and kids as if today is the last day I will be with them. I can’t change the past or control the future, so I enjoy the now, the present moment, savoring every moment of now that I am able to enjoy.”

John’s positive attitude and strength have been inspirational for all the PAMF staff members who have treated him, according to Dr. Gordon Ray.

“It has been a pleasure and an honor to treat John,” said Dr.  Ray. “His ability to complete a rigorous course of treatment, including both aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, is a model for all of us on how to deal with adversity in life. I look forward to continuing to care for him and observing his continued progress for many years to come.”

‘Determined to Succeed’ – Weight Loss Surgery Leads to New Life

Geri Kaialoa lost 100 pounds through weight loss surgery and discovering a love of running.

Three years ago Geri Kaialoa never would have thought of putting on a pair of running shoes. But at 252 pounds she knew she had to do something to change her life.

Kaialoa, now a vibrant 47-year-young mother and grandmother, had started piling on the weight 12 years ago, when her mom became very sick. The stress and worry over her mom’s health had driven Kaialoa to eating – far too much. Over the years she’d tried every possible diet and exercise regime without success. The excess weight was also taking its toll on her health. Read More

A Perfect Role Model – One Family, Two Heart Surgeries

When Dick Henry found out that he needed open heart surgery, he was not afraid. His sole focus was on setting the best possible example and recovering quickly for a very special young person in his life – his 11-year-old granddaughter, Ella.

Dick Henry and his granddaughter, Ella, are enjoying life again just one year after their heart surgeries.

Read More

Weight Loss Lessons

Dina Barr lost 130 pounds with PAMF’s HMR Weight Management Program.

Dina Barr’s big dream was always to ride on one of the swings at the Great America theme park in Santa Clara. But at 350 pounds it wasn’t just a tight squeeze – it was impossible.

As long as she could remember Barr had been battling her weight – always on or off a diet.

“I was always really good at sticking to a diet and losing weight,” says Barr. “But I just could never keep it off. Finally, I just gave up.” Read More

‘I’m No Longer Afraid’ – Palliative Care Patient Story

She was an ombudsman for Santa Cruz County when Mary Ellen Hannah first heard of PAMF’s Palliative Care Program, and she was hopeful that it would help many in her community. She never thought that she herself would be a recipient of the services.

Today, she is grateful for the coping skills and new perspectives she gained from working with the program’s staff as a patient. “You have a choice in every thing that you do and I like that,” Hannah says in this poignant video. “I like having choices and being responsible for my life – and even for my death. They gave me the skills to make those choices. I stopped crying and feeling sorry for myself, because I was no longer at the mercy of life or death – I had choices.”

Palliative Care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from pain, symptoms and stress of a serious illness, whatever the diagnosis. Palliative Care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. This specialized medical service is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment. It can be offered in a clinical setting or provided at a patient’s home.

Headed up by Sharon Tapper, M.D., medical director of palliative care, the program was launched at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in 2011. PAMF has since added Palliative Care services to Palo Alto in June 2012, with future plans to expand the services organzation-wide.

Patient Story – Loving Life Again

Carrie Rasmussen after weight loss surgery.

At 250 pounds, paddling in a canoe was the last thing Carrie Rasmussen would have added to her bucket list – in fact, due to debilitating health problems and her ballooning weight she had lost all will to live.

Rasmussen’s weight gain started after giving birth to her second child. The pregnancy had been traumatic – she was on bed rest for five months and nearly lost the baby twice. Her miracle baby, Emily, was born healthy and thrived, but Rasmussen never bounced back from the experience. For the next 12 years she struggled with one frightening health issue after the other – temporarily losing all feeling in her legs, suffering from throat closures, breathing problems, chest pain, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Read More