By Chuck DiPietro
In some ways, the hardest part of having cancer is the mental impact. Your mental health is what keeps you going every day. When you are struggling with mental health, it’s hard to keep fighting the physical part of your disease.
In November 2015, I finally went to the emergency department after two weeks of a high fever. Not only did I learn that I had cancer, but the tumor had damaged my colon, causing a life-threatening infection called sepsis. My care team responded immediately to stabilize me with antibiotics and painkillers, working to get the infection under control. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived.
But this emergency was just the beginning. Over the next five years, I went on to have ten major surgeries — including a liver resection and ablation, emergency bowel blockage surgery, and even detached retina surgery — and 18 rounds of chemotherapy and 63 radiation treatments.
My mental health was suffering. One day when I was sitting in Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center Delnor waiting for my appointment, I became overwhelmed with emotion. The staff called Shannon Brown, a social worker at LivingWell Cancer Resource Center, part of Northwestern Medicine. Shannon connected me with Kelley Navar, one of the counselors at LivingWell. I’ve been working with Kelley ever since.
If you are struggling mentally, it can be hard to get out of bed in the morning, let alone finish cancer treatment. The care I got from LivingWell was just as important as my chemotherapy or any other treatment, and Kelley is as important as anyone else on my care team.
My journey to good health continues, and I am grateful for the cutting-edge and compassionate care I receive at Northwestern Medicine.
I had a lot of help along the way, and now my wife and I are giving back. As a guitarist, my music has always helped me cope during times of struggle. When I lost the ability to play, I started a musicians’ support group at LivingWell to help other people like me cope with the loss. We also donate money to a number of organizations, including Northwestern Medicine.
We do what we can because we know it matters, and that feels good.