A Survivor Shares a
Lifesaving Lesson

June 1st is National Cancer Survivor
Day – a day to recognize, honor...

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Balancing Fatherhood
with Medicine

For Dr. Kevin Elliott, this Father's Day
will mark a poignant time...

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A Survivor Shares a Lifesaving Lesson: Vicki Tapia

June 1st is National Cancer Survivor Day – a day to recognize, honor and celebrate the many men and women who are either living with or have survived a cancer diagnosis. In honor of this special day, we wanted to share one survivor's story with you...

For Vicki Tapia, it began with a little cough. "I was at my annual physical with my primary care doctor," she says. "He asked if I was having any problems and I mentioned that I had been coughing a little bit – not a hacking cough, and just periodically, but still – just a nagging little cough. I thought it was maybe allergies."

Vicki's doctor listened to her lungs. He said he heard a little crackle and sent her for a chest x-ray. Within a month, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. "My doctor truly saved my life. Without him, who knows how long I would have been walking around with that tumor in my lung."

That was in October 2012. By the end of that month Vicki had been referred to Dr. Costanzo DiPerna with the Mercy Cancer Center. He diagnosed her with carcinoma of the lung. He operated and was able to remove the tumor and determined she would not need any additional treatment.

Fortunately, Vicki's cancer was caught early – it was stage one and had not yet spread to her lymph nodes or elsewhere in her body. Today – two years later – Vicki is cancer free and while she considers herself a cancer survivor, she knows that she will never be truly out of the woods. "I will always be at increased risk for cancer. But am I going to live in fear? No."

Vicki credits her positive thinking to her lung cancer support group, hosted by Mercy Cancer Center, which she has attended every month since the week after her surgery. "My support group has really been such a huge help to me. We can relate to each other and what we are going through... There is a stigma attached lung cancer and within our support group, we know the truth – that this is not a smoker's disease. As great as our friends and family may be, it is really the other people in the support group who understand our journey."

Part of Vicki's journey has been facing the fact that her own mother died from cancer when she was just a bit older than Vicki is today. Vicki's mother's breast cancer put Vicki at a higher risk for cancer of any type. In fact, that was the only risk factor Vicki had for the type of cancer she was diagnosed with. "I grew up watching my mother battle cancer," Vicki says. "I gained much of my strength from her. Seeing her fight for those years made me stronger today."

Vicki hopes that other women will learn an important lesson from her story: Advocate for your health. "I was very fortunate that my doctor listened to what I told him – even though I wasn't too concerned about it. I am healthy and cancer free today because he took action. But every month in my support group I hear stories from other people diagnosed with the same type of cancer as me who were not so fortunate... They ignored their warning signs for far too long and they didn't push their doctor for answers. They got diagnosed much later than I did and now their prognosis is very different. Be your own advocate! Push for the tests, the answers, the diagnosis!"

Vicki considers herself "one in a million" and is grateful to the medical team that helped her beat her life-changing diagnosis. "I had a great doctor and a fantastic oncologist and the incredible team at Mercy Cancer Center... And – I had a positive attitude!" All factors that today make Vicki a survivor!

To learn more about the Mercy Cancer Center and the services they provide to patients and families, visit their website.

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Balancing Fatherhood with Medicine: Dr. Kevin Elliott

For Dr. Kevin Elliott, this Father's Day will mark a poignant time in his life as a dad... This Father's Day will be his oldest daughter's last at home before she leaves for college in the fall. "It is definitely bittersweet," Dr. Elliott says. "I am excited for her to experience college but it is bittersweet."

As that father of two teenage daughters (his younger daughter is 15), Dr. Elliott says he has gone through lots of trial and error as a parent. However, he says he has discovered over time that parenting in a supportive yet hands-off way works best for him and his ex-wife. "We never set expectations or guidelines about grades or performance," Dr. Elliott explains. "We discovered that what worked for us was leading by example – being confident and self-assured in everything we do, including as parents. They see us work hard and enjoy the benefits and so they have learned to work hard toward their goals too. Of course, they've also seen that sometimes you come up short and that's ok too."

Dr. Elliott has done such a good job leading by example that his oldest daughter will attend his alma mater, Tulane University, this fall. "I really enjoyed Tulane and New Orleans so much – going back there is like going back to an old friend. Over the years, my daughter has seen how much I got out of my time there and she's ready to experience that herself now."

Of course, Dr. Elliott says that part of preparing your child to be ready for college and the world beyond is teaching them what they will need to know once they are on their own. "You have to have rules and boundaries with kids, just to ensure that they will have the tools they need to be successful as adults," Dr. Elliott says. "They need to learn how to cook so they can make themselves a meal... They need to know how to clean up after themselves so that they are organized adults... It's all part of preparing them for life."

Dr. Elliott – who is board certified in Obstetrics/Gynecology as well as Gynecologic Oncology – says navigating parenthood has taught him to be more patient and attentive as a doctor. "Just like kids do not come into adulthood with any prior knowledge, so too with my patients – if they just received a cancer diagnosis, this world is new to them. They have no knowledge or experience to draw from and it is up to me to help them navigate their choices and to guide them on this path. It's important to hear their concerns and fears and support them in the best way I can."

Dr. Elliott's daughters have seen his dedication to his career and to his patients firsthand. "When they were younger, it was difficult because there were outings or events that I would miss or get called away from because of an emergency with a patient. But they learned they were always my top priority, even though my job sometimes needed my immediate attention. I learned to be creative with scheduling meetings very late or very early... getting to the hospital early in the morning so that I could spend the rest of the day with them... All of that helped me balance my job and my kids."

And while his oldest daughter plans to pursue a career in environmental policy, his younger daughter hopes to follow in her father's footsteps and become a doctor. "She has seen the sacrifice and the hard work this job requires, but she has also seen how reaffirming working in medicine has been for me. I absolutely encourage her to pursue that for herself!"

As he looks ahead for both his daughters, Dr. Elliott says he is ready to see what their future will bring. "A few years ago I was not ready... But now – I feel like they are growing up and they are prepared. They have earned their success."

To learn more about Dr. Elliott and his practice, call his office or visit the Dignity Health women's health website.

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