Richard Smith, a U.S. Navy Veteran, has lived with cancer since 2012. “My first round was kidney cancer,” he said. “VA operated and removed half my kidney.”
After that successful surgery, Smith hoped his major medical issues were over. He even moved from Denver to New Mexico to become more active in the milder climate.
A resurgence of cancer
However, in 2018, Smith received another sobering diagnosis from the VA in Albuquerque.
“They told me I had stage 4 prostate cancer that had metastasized to my bones and brain,” he said.
Smith immediately started chemotherapy, radiation and, what he described as, an endless array of scans. However, this father of two said the facility there was unable to provide needed treatment, so the family moved back to Denver in 2020.
Smith’s doctor at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, started him on infusion therapy. Smith said he will need these treatments for the rest of his life.
Thankful for staff support
Despite visits to the infusion clinic every three weeks, Smith maintains a grateful attitude.
“They saved my life,” he said.
He also praised the infusion staff, from the front desk clerk, Victor, who greets him with a comforting, “We got you!” to the supportive, friendly nurses.
Smith said everyone there is fantastic, transforming this essential medical treatment into a surprisingly pleasant experience. He said nurses keep snack tables stocked and a kind volunteer, Robert, provides patients with pillows and warm blankets during infusions.
Bonding during treatment
To hear Smith talk about his ongoing treatments sounds more like a gathering of friends than a medical procedure.
“There are always other patients in the same room,” he said. “We’re making eye contact, smiling. We talk about what branch we were in, what we did and what we’re going through. When I’m done, I’m high-fiving, sharing the gratitude and love expressed between us as comrades. That’s what I feel in there.”
He explained that each of the patients were experiencing the same thing in different ways.
“Going through cancer is something, but the camaraderie – it’s amazing to hear the stories,” said Smith. “It takes us as a group and individuals to keep each other going.”
Attitude of gratitude
Now, age 66, Smith expressed appreciation for oncology doctors Kent and Robinson, as well as infusion nurses Linda, Kara, Jamie and Paul. He said VA staff show love for patients in taking such great care of them.
Smith, whose faith also helps him maintain a positive outlook, wanted to ensure his sentiments were known.
“Everything together has become a part of the puzzle,” he said. “It’s not only been my family, but my VA team and my therapist. Everybody there has been such a support mechanism. That’s why I’m still here, I think.”
[STORY UPDATE: In January 2024, Rick Smith rejoiced in the news that, after a seven-year battle with cancer, his scans came back clean. Three weeks later, on February 7, Smith received his final infusion treatment and rang the bell to signify his complete remission. Without the tether of treatment every three weeks, this grateful Veteran plans to travel, visit family and thankfully ponder how to spend his days.]
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April Love is a Writer-Editor on the VISN 19 Creative Task Force. She began working for VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in 2016 and lives in Aurora, Colorado.