A Mexico vacation isn’t much farther from home than Gigi Brignoni’s regular trips to City of Hope.
As one of the world's leading cancer centers, it's not unusual for City of Hope to see patients from all over the world. And many Southern Californians think nothing of driving an hour or two to keep an appointment on our Duarte campus.
But for Evangelina "Gigi" Brignoni, her commute to City of Hope every few weeks brings her all the way from Omaha, Nebraska.
It's a distance of about 1,300 miles -- every one of them proof of the important role City of Hope plays in this survivor's story of victory over breast cancer.
"You will be cured"
September 2004 was a memorable month for Gigi Brignoni. It was the month when years of hard work were rewarded with a Ph.D. in education. And it was the month when, in a routine self-examination, she found a lump in her breast.
"My HMO sent me to a hospital in the Whittier area where they confirmed I had breast cancer," Gigi recalls. "But I wanted a second opinion."
With plenty of practice being a student, Gigi did her homework. She researched cancer centers, spoke to friends and relatives and assembled recommendations. City of Hope was the clear choice.
"But what really sold me was how quickly City of Hope got back to me, and how wonderful everyone was," she says.
"I was worried and impatient for action, and they understood that.”
Tests at the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women's Health Center at City of Hope confirmed that Gigi had stage 3 breast cancer, and that her cancer had spread into her lymph nodes.
"My cancer was pretty big," Gigi says simply. "But my doctor was absolutely confident. 'You will be cured,' she told me.
"That's when I knew for sure City of Hope was the right place for me."
Another big day
Gigi began chemotherapy and prepared for a mastectomy. Through it all, she was impressed by her medical team and all the people she encountered at City of Hope.
"Everyone there treated me with dignity and had such hope and optimism," she says. "Dr. Portnow was just wonderful, and Dr. Tan has been too."
Jana Portnow, M.D. is a City of Hope oncologist who works with our brain and breast cancer programs. Mark Tan, M.D. is a surgeon in our division of reconstructive surgery.
After four cycles of chemotherapy, Gigi's mastectomy was performed on March 8, 2005.
"It's a day I'll never forget," she says. "It was International Women's Day, which seemed like a good omen. And my niece was born on the same day "We got two chances at life that day."
|Gigi with the "just wonderful" Dr. Jana Portnow at City of Hope.|
After her mastectomy, Gigi had three more chemo sessions, followed by a series of reconstructive procedures that continue today. But while all that was happening, a surprising new opportunity presented itself.
"I was working at Chapman University in Orange training student teachers," she explains, "but I really wanted a full-time professorship. I heard about an opening at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. I had never considered living in Nebraska. But they needed me, it was a good fit and when they showed me the schools I'd be working with, I just fell in love.
"I had concerns about being away from City of Hope," she says. "But you can always work around an obstacle. That's one thing cancer has taught me.
"And City of Hope is so accommodating," she adds. "Of course there are doctors in Omaha, and I have great ones I go see. But City of Hope saved my life! I see Dr. Tan every month or two, I'd say. When I go to California to see my family, that includes City of Hope.
"I'm alive, and I have City of Hope to thank for that!"
City of Hope has been able to assemble the talented team of researchers and caregivers who cared for Gigi Brignoni because kind people like you are generous in your support. And now we ask you to renew your support of City of Hope for the new year. Please use the enclosed reply form to send a partnership gift today.
Thank you for your compassion. It leads to happy endings for cancer survivors like Gigi!