Silvia answers Helpline calls, lending a unique and valuable perspective to callers. This article shares some of her experiences with managing both her father’s and mother’s battle with cancer.

Thirteen years ago, my life suddenly changed when I found myself entering the world of “cancer.” I was young, busy, and healthy. I had never been sick, and neither had anyone else in my family. Then we found out my mom was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (head, neck, and throat). When my family found out about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, we went through the typical series of emotions—shock, fear, confusion, and despair. 

We relied heavily on the guidance of her physician, who was selected by her insurance, not our family. Little did we realize, her physician was overloaded with many patients just like her, and could not offer her the individualized care she needed. We did not know how naive we were about healthcare. Decisions and choices were being made without the necessary research and knowledge to do so. Two years later, my mom passed away. There are no guarantees that we would have had a better outcome had we traveled a different path. However, my retrospective analysis tells me that it would have. Perhaps my mom would be here today enjoying her grandchild. 

Fast forwarding several years, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 81. Due to our previous experience with my mother, my sister and I learned our lesson and we very quickly took control of our father’s healthcare. We thoroughly researched his situation and made a point to understand his diagnosis. We compiled a list of questions and we pursued answers, without concern as to whether or not we would offend or take up too much of the doctor’s time. Whenever there was any gray area in our understanding, we asked for more comprehensive clarification. We looked into alternative treatments, areas less investigated, and always questioned each and every option, answer, and suggestion. We knew that our approach to dealing with our dad’s illness needed to be informed and educated. My sister and I unequivocally believe that this path was empowering and rewarding, unlike what we experienced with our mom. Seven years later, my dad is now 88 year old; living a wonderful, healthy life, and very much enjoying his grandchild.

On my dad’s journey, we chose a prominent urologist and sought a second opinion to confirm his recommended treatment plan. We were referred to a prostate oncologist by a close friend. After our two-hour consultation with him, it became clear that the best path for our dad was an “out of the box” treatment approach. Our father was being offered the consideration of individualized care that he needed, not the “standard treatment protocol.” Through our dad’s oncologist, we were introduced to PCRI. The introduction was fortuitous. 

The lessons learned through our experiences resonated with the very mission that PCRI embodies—to help prostate cancer patients and caregivers research their treatment options. I found the PCRI principles so in line with my personal values and, in 2011, I had the opportunity to join the PCRI team. In my role as a Helpline Facilitator, it has been a joy to help individuals in their most vulnerable time; to pursue the knowledge and treatment options they need. Enabling them to fight cancer, one decision at a time. 

My journey as a daughter, caregiver, and advocate has taught me that “It is imperative that you take control.” The PCRI Helpline is here to help you accomplish this.