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Central to Moffitt Cancer Center's Promise is that we provide compassionate care by seeing, hearing, and supporting our patients and families. Amy Bondon was one of our patients who had cervical cancer followed by severe complications. Amy was a healthy, independent woman who suddenly found herself alone and frightened in uncertain circumstances. It was the kindness shown by Moffitt team members who saw her fear, heard her concerns, and supported her that allowed her to successfully traverse her cancer journey. This led to Amy becoming a patient advisor in our Patient and Family Advisory Program to help others in need with the same kindness and support she received.

Thank you to our Storyteller:  Amy Bondon

To our Narrator/Host: Loreen O’Brien

And to our Production Team: Kathi Barden (podcast project leader), Anne Bidelman, Donna DiClementi, Robin Gordon (Patient Advisor), Randy Isaacson (Family Advisor), Loreen O’Brien, Terry Payton, and Cristina Perez

For more stories, search for "Pep Talks with Moffitt" wherever you get your podcasts, or tune in and subscribe via our show page

Podcast Transcript

My name is Amy Bondon. And in 2019, early January, I was just arriving in Florida to enjoy a couple of quick down months as a snowbird. Uh, my job gets real slow. So they let me come down here, and I was soaking up the beautiful warmth coming from new Jersey.I had a wonderful 30 mile bike ride. Um, went home, had a great big salad, went to bed.

I'm a health freak. I felt like a million bucks and kept thinking, oh, I'm so lucky to be in Florida. I'm so lucky to be strong and able to ride my bike 30 miles and, um, maybe one in the morning. Woke up with excruciating stomach pain. And I'm not somebody, honestly, that ever got a stomach ache in her life and, uh, thought maybe it was food poisoning and, um, just decided to tough it out until morning.

I was so very, very sick and, uh, proceeded to go to my PCP a couple of days when I could get myself out of the house, and they really couldn't figure things out. Finally got a, you know, a very sharp GYN after the colonoscopy didn't show anything.

She called me at 7:00 that night. I'm alone, and the phone rang and she said, uh, she was new at her job. I don't think she'd ever had a patient with cancer. Um, I had to call you and tell you you're full of cancer. Looks like you might lose your, colon, your reproductive organs. I mean, it was just out of the blue.

 So at that point, she scheduled me with a gynecologist who said, I'm not messing with this. I would like to send you to Moffitt. And at this point, I never been sick. I didn't know what Moffitt was. And he said, you can, you know, I've got a doctor. And he said, he's very kind. And he said, he gave me he was going to give me a choice. And I said, stop. You you had me at kind. And, um, that was the beginning of my Moffitt experience, uh, team kindness, I could say.

And I came in and saw Doctor Hoffman. Was scheduled for surgery. He would have done it right away, but I was so malnourished. He asked me to try to get some weight on and he waited for three weeks.

 They did a radical hysterectomy and they said, um, it was more extensive. We'd like to keep you for observation for 1 to 2 days.

Doctor Hoffman was very clear just to kind of, you know, keep an eye on things to make sure that nothing progressed. And then, you know, I don't know that anybody expected that my GI wouldn't start up again. And I got so much sicker quickly, having never had major surgery now, I was sort of it was almost, uh, like surreal to me that, that this whole thing was happening.

And when you talk about fear, uh, I knew, uh, from my insurance company, they were pressuring Moffitt to kick me out because they said, you don't need more than 1 to 2 days for hysterectomy. And, of course, I only knew that part. And I'm alone and scared. You know, you think, what, am I going to be put out on the curb? And I remember Doctor Hoffman's fellow went to bat for me. I was just so blown away. And Doctor Hoffman and he both said, don't worry. We are the ones that will say when and right then. I mean, that was just the beginning of at least I'm not going to be in a wheelchair on the curb.

And then it was so clear that this, this wonderful, renowned surgeon was you think I was his only patient? He was there at 430 in the morning. He was there at 8:00 at night. He's a surgeon. He'd been operating all day long. And he said to me, I'd like youto meet. I don't remember exactly, but he wanted me to meet one of his associates that he discussed the case with because he said, this is my concern that this might happen. And, um, so I was, you know. What did I know at this point?

This very nice gentleman comes in and pulls up one of those little miserable folding chairs from the side of the room and pulls right up. And he had this adorable little bow tie on, and he was so kind. And he was right next to me, right. You know, and I was sort of I didn't move because it hurt too much to do anything. And I still didn't really get who he was. I knew he was Dr. Gonzalez. This is the chief of surgery at Moffitt, apparently, which I didn't know.

But when we got around to the emergency surgery, about 24 to 48 hours later, I had this peace because I just felt like I was in such good hands. These two lovely gentlemen were going to take care of me.

The suture line and where they took my appendix let go and my cecum literally ruptured. And I was rushed into emergency surgery nine days later. Now my 1 to 2 day stay has me in ICU. And even though I was told there's a high degree likelihood I wouldn't survive three days, the third day I was out of ICU and back on the floor.

Pending the pathology that we would get back from the original hysterectomy, it was decided that certainly from surgery, they could tell that it was limited to the cervix. Most everything had been able to be removed through surgery. The staging was not done until after the pathology came back, but it was a cervical cancer, um, that had not advanced into surrounding tissues.

When I finally was told that I could start eating again, that was somewhere out of ICU. Um, they had determined the ostomy was working well enough. I think I had clear liquids and stuff and food was scary for me. It had caused an obstruction initially. I was very afraid of food. The nutrition people gave me a list of stuff, and now it was the first day that I could choose a breakfast, which was really, you know, who's scared of breakfast?

Deeta came up with my tea, and I'm looking at this soft GI thing, and I'm sitting there just literally on the verge of tears. I mean, I'm afraid of food. And what I'm seeing is just. And she said, are you going to order something to eat? And I'm looking at the banana thing, which is my only option from a fruit standpoint. And I said, uh, I can eat bananas.

And she said, I have it was either an aunt or a great aunt. And she eats a banana every day. And she was like 103 or something like that at the time. And then also that made me think of my mother, who lived to be 95. She liked bananas, but she knew they were good for her. So she made herself eat one every day. So I was kind of like buying into the banana thing. And then she looked at me. She said, she looks like you. And I went from being in tears to literally just cracking up. And I was like, okay, I'm going to have the banana. I remember that laugh. It may have been the first time I laughed. And who would have thought? I mean, it was just, you know, and it was just such a horrible choice of banana until she told me that story. And I have a banana every day.

I know I was at the point where every day they were saying you might be discharged. Like that was some kind of. And it probably is great news for somebody who has been sitting right there and, you know, their lovely, cozy home is awaiting them and their care giver and all that. Um, but it horrified me and I thought, you've got to be kidding me. I didn't even think anybody else was seeing that. I don't know. I didn't really think it was their problem that I was alone.

And this nurse angel, Lauren, she came around and she got down on her knees right next to me. So she was right at my eye level, and she just said, you know, I see the fear in you when they start to talk about sending you home. And it just it validated that someone else saw what was going on. She understood that there wasn't anybody there. She saw. She saw if she was watching me that closely. And she cared that much, not about whether my temperature was, you know, fluctuating or my platelets were still out of the ballpark. But that was so important and impactful for me.

It was just like this. This godsend of an angel came and told me what I needed to hear. She saw me when I was just so imperiled. And sure enough, her words stood. You know they didn't let me fail. And I got what I needed. The care and the connection, the family, the support system. I was not alone in this. At Moffitt, this was like my ship that that came in. I wasn't going to be left adrift. I had an anchor finally. And there were just teams upon teams, but there were also the same faces.

And now I volunteer.

I'm very thankful that I now get to, um, act as a peer visitor and a patient advisor with the Patient and Family Advisory Program, which literally puts me in patient facing roles in clinics, uh, in hallways, waiting areas for urgent care. And really, uh, the post-operative patients, I do inpatient rounding. And when I walk into those rooms and I say, hello, I'm Amy, and I'm a peer visitor with the Patient and Family Advisory Program. And I say, But I'm a patient just like you. And I've had four major surgeries, and I've been in that bed and I've seen some of the most shut down, just seemingly just. And they were terrified, just like I was. And, you know, I nobody would know that if they hadn't been through it. It's something that I've been given. So it gives me a way to connect. And I'm very, very thankful for that opportunity.

 I live in Ocala, which is 100 miles away. Generally, here by 6:00 and I love it then. This is my happy place. I can't wait to get here. I can't be Lauren. I can't be Doctor Gonzalez or Doctor Hoffman and do the amazing things that they do. But maybe I can be a little bit of the kindness and comfort that I so dearly needed that they gave me, and that you can't just assume people have that when they come in here. And sometimes they're not alone and they're still very much in need of that.

And I just pray before I come in every night before. Let me just be there for that. May I maybe be that little twinkle in that tough, long day?

And it's the simple things. I mean, yes, it's the very complex, the unbelievable skills are magnet nurses and all that. Yes. But the fact that they they connect, they take the time they they make. I've been made to feel like I was the only patient of the chief of surgery or of any particular nurse I knew. The kindness and the time that they take where they're not looking out the door. You feel like you are the only one there.

I've always said if there was one word, if you had to just put one, give me one word for Moffitt, I would say kind kindness. One easy, easy. And that's a huge word when it comes to cancer, there's no more unkind diagnosis, I don't think. I don't know, I hope not.

The kindness that I was enveloped by on every level, whether it was somebody bringing me my food or someone fastidiously cleaning my room or the chief of surgery. Five years later, I'll still run into Doctor Gonzalez and get a big bear hug from him. These people, they did what they said. They stayed with me.

And my family is bigger than anybody's.


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