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I Travel the World Now That I Beat Cancer

October 13, 2015

Erlene Miller's story, in her own words.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. I had an excellent team who took outstanding care of me, from the mammographer, who was at Advanced Radiology at St. Joseph, to Dr. Bill Howard who did my biopsy and was my second opinion doctor. My treatment team was at GBMC.

Dr. Frank Rotolo did the lumpectomy. I told him that I felt well enough to go back to work after a week, but he would not allow me because I still had the drainage system in. I told him that I had prepared my students and purchased several oversized sweaters. I could do it. He still said no. After that, I met with Dr. Paul Celano, my Oncologist, who mapped out my treatment plan. I will never forget what he said to me. Dr. Celano said, "Just take one day at a time. If you are a person who has handled other situations in your life and did not fall apart, you will handle this too."

Dr. Celano also said that at my age, we were going to need to be aggressive and give me both chemotherapy and radiation. I was 46 years old. He said it would put me into menopause, and informed me that unfortunately I might not come out of it at the end of treatment because I was so close to the natural time for menopause. My niece was with me and she was very negative saying Dr. Celano should give me something for my emotional state. Dr. Celano must have read my body language or facial expression because he asked her to wait outside.

The nurses who provided the infusion could not have treated me better. I'm embarrassed to say this, but the nurses loved me, and I them, but I forgot this one particular nurse's name. You know you always have a favorite. The chemo treatment was fourteen days on and fourteen days off for about six to seven months. I told Dr. Celano that I had a busy summer already planned and that if he could work around my schedule, that would be nice. He replied, "We can do that."

I had written a proposal to become a candidate in the Governor's Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, a program that was very intensive and held at Towson University for one month, and I was accepted into the program. At the end of that program, I had a week's vacation scheduled to Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada. After returning from that trip, I had my second chemo treatment before heading to London, England and Paris, France for two weeks.

After returning from my Europe trip, I began my treatment program non-stop. I was in a week-long workshop in south Baltimore, too, and when school started in August, I went every day. I was never sick and did not lose my hair, though I will say it thinned out some. After chemo, I began radiation for about six to eight weeks, Monday through Thursday. I thought my chemo team was great, but Dr. Robert Brookland and his radiation team were phenomenal. Dr. Brookland greeted me every day with a hug, and his bedside manner was outstanding. He said he had never had a patient like me. I kept him posted on everything I was doing. At the time, I lived alone and took total care of myself except for once or twice when I had my niece come to change my bandages. I had a routine.

After my treatments for both chemo and radiation, if I needed a prescription or groceries, I would go to the Giant Foods near my home and sit in the chair by the pharmacy to wait for my medications to be filled. The only problems I experienced were tiredness after treatment and a few mouth sores from eating acidic foods. Once I learned that, I did not eat any more acidic items during treatment. The radiation did burn my skin, but I was told to use aloe vera gel and that worked perfectly. Dr. Brookland asked if I would agree to be featured on Channel 2 as a cancer survivor and I agreed. I requested permission from my principal and students' parents, and Channel 2 came to my classroom for the interview. Evidentially I made AP news because family members saw me on the news in New Jersey!

I will always love my treatment team because they saved my life. I am an almost 21-year cancer survivor. Oh, I almost forgot: My primary care doctor, Dr. Mark Stromberg, referred me to Dr. Rotolo and that got this whole ball rolling.

Since my treatment at GBMC, I continued to work. In fact, I seemed to have taken on much, much more. I was a renter at the time, and I did not have life insurance. I saw that my life was in shambles and I needed to get my business in order. I was separated with one daughter who counted on me.

First, I took out a life insurance policy. Next, I met with my financial planner. He helped me to get organized so that I was able to build my four bedroom, two car garage colonial in Harford County. I have since owned two Lexus vehicles, I put my daughter through Pennsylvania State University’s School of Engineering and my real estate sales took off. I love to travel. I have been to Barcelona, Spain; London, England, twice; Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; Jamaica; Aruba twice; St. Thomas; Barbados; Nassau; Paradise Island; Dominique; St. Marteen; Freeport and around 31 out of 50 US states. I am currently planning a trip to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, scheduled for 2015. I am retired and traveling is my life. In fact, as I write this, I should be packing right now for a trip to Boston, Massachusetts.

Thanks to GBMC, I feel relaxed and complete. I now have a Will, a Living Trust, an Advanced Directive, a Power of Attorney and Final Arrangements in place. I am proud of the love, care, expertise and professionalism of my treatment team at GBMC. They made an unfortunate situation bearable.
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