When asked how he made it through his experience with colorectal cancer, Victor Ruiz first mentions his wife of 32 years, Joan. “I couldn’t have made it without her support. Everyone needs someone to be there with them during trips to the doctor, to help keep track of meds and treatment. But I’m especially lucky to have had Joan help me get through all of this”.
Then…Victor went on to attribute his success in beating cancer to the great communication between caregivers at different Tri-Cities facilities. “In the course of my treatment I worked with Dr. Luay Ailabouni (Kadlec Surgery), Dr. Juno Choe (Tri-Cities Cancer Center), Dr. Stanlee Lu (Trios Oncology) and Dr. Juergen Mueller (Trios Gastroenterology)…all were great and all talked to each other about my case. Communication was essential to get me where I am today”.
And where is Victor today? He’s in an ‘Active Surveillance Program’ that includes regular check-ups, a healthy diet and continued participation in the Tri-City Court Club – Tri-Cities Cancer Center WellFit™ Program. Victor explained that the WellFit Program is available to cancer survivors or those who have recently become deconditioned or chronically fatigued as a result of their treatment and/or the disease. Victor radiates good health today but said his muscle tone and energy bottomed out towards the end of his chemotherapy. “I had muscle flab and not enough energy to even mow the lawn. The WellFit Program is a great program that all patients should consider.” He also jokingly noted that any difference in his pre- and post-treatment energy levels could be explained simply by his “being a few years older.”
Although colonoscopies were a regular part of his standard health care, Victor noted that only 46% of Hispanic males make use of this important diagnostic tool, a very low number compared to other populations in the community. “By not having this simple procedure, they’re potentially complicating their lives and the lives of their loved ones. All persons should talk to a medical expert to determine how often it should be done in light of their family history and health. It helped save my life and can do the same for others.”
The communication and coordination between physicians very much impressed Victor who illustrated his point with this story. Dr. Jimmy Chua of Trios, who was treating Victor for an infection, was aware of the tumor recently found by Dr. Mueller. After addressing the infection, and with Victor in the room, Dr. Chua picked up the phone to call Dr. Luay Ailabouni. Victor said “The phone call was like, ‘Hello, Luay? I’ve got somebody you need to see.’” Victor said he could not imagine this type of communication occurring in a big city. “They treated me like a real person and friend they were concerned about, not just a patient to be taken care of.”
Victor and wife Joan are now back to their regular routine, with Victor taking care of their big lawn and fruit trees, rooting for his New Orleans Saints and training their Great Pyrenees show dogs (Victor, Joan and their dogs have won national championships). “Early diagnosis and great local support, that’s what got me through this.” said Victor at the end of our discussion. “That, and having Joan with me through the whole thing.”