An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Zen Vuong | December 4, 2019
City of Hope’s eponymous float embodies the 2020 Rose Parade theme, “The Power of Hope.” There can be no hope if there is no future. The leading-edge treatments and compassionate care City of Hope provides give people the gift of time to live their best life.
Nine patients will ride on the float. They came to City of Hope to beat the odds and live a long life filled with joyous moments with family and friends.
South Pasadena, California, resident Jeff Carpenter was 56 years old when he was given a grim diagnosis: lung cancer that had spread to his brain. Carpenter was astonished because he had never smoked a day in his life. In the emergency room, he was told he had three to six months to live.
As a man who had devoted 11 years to building his own airplane, Carpenter knows what it means to be resilient and dream big. He came to City of Hope, underwent intricate brain surgery, radiation therapy and leading-edge targeted therapy that eliminated all tumors in his lungs and brain.
Now 59 with no evidence of disease, Carpenter and his family are working on turning a 10-year-old dream into reality: They have purchased land overlooking the eastern Sierra mountains and are working on plans to build a cabin there. Carpenter reflects on his cancer journey as he prepares to start the new year on a rosy note aboard City of Hope’s Rose Parade float.
After your diagnosis, what were your main worries and challenges?
I thought I wasn’t going to live much longer and a lot of people depended on me. I worried about keeping a stream of income for my family and saving the jobs of my employees. I didn’t want my illness to interrupt their lives.
So, I gave away half my business to a colleague in the hopes that he would be able to keep the business afloat. As it turns out, my company is now five times bigger than it was then. I guess there’s something to be said about doing what is in the best interests of others.
Why did you decide to come to City of Hope?
I was diagnosed late on a Friday afternoon. The emergency room was filled with my wife, parents and hospital staff. My general practitioner was alerted and he rushed in. Given that it was a Friday afternoon, he didn’t want a “C-level” oncologist getting to work on me over the weekend. He would assemble the “A Team” on Monday. My parents had good friends who had recently been treated at City of Hope. They contacted City of Hope and at 8 a.m. on Monday, I had been set up with a slate of appointments for the following day. I googled the doctors I was scheduled to see, called my GP and told him I had my own “A Team.”
What would you like to share about the specialized treatment you received at City of Hope?
There is a sense of family I feel at City of Hope. I look forward – whether in their offices, the hallways or in the cafeteria – to seeing members of my care team. They always have a smile for me.
Even outside the hospital walls, it continues. I was at a lung cancer walk this year speaking to my oncologist Dr. Salgia when it started to rain. He paused our conversation to lift my hood to protect my head from the drizzle. What a caring gesture!
I will forever be amazed that these people face the mountain that is cancer every day. Then, get up the next morning and start climbing again.
There is now no evidence of disease for you. After undergoing all this, how has your perspective on life changed?
I pack more into my days; there’s a sense of spending my time wisely. I am also more kind, empathetic and patient.
Independence is important to me, so a few weeks after my brain surgery, I decided to take the train to run some errands. I needed to go one stop to pick up my prescription and some other things from the drug store, but even that short trip was a struggle, especially at the slow pace I was capable of walking. Nothing was going right that day, and I didn’t accomplish any of the errands I had set out to do. Then, it started raining.
I returned to the platform for the ride home. When the train finally arrived, the door in front of me was the only one that did not open. I tried to run to the next door (forgetting for the moment that I was incapable of running) and started to fall. I caught myself on the closing door and made my way to a seat. Every eye was on me. And, as I looked around the compartment, I realized each of them had their own deficiencies. One man didn’t have a leg, one woman was babbling to herself, some were vagrants and this was obviously their home for the day. These were people, so often stigmatized by society, I probably would have walked past and not noticed before. And now I was one of them. It was my very own Ghost of Christmas Past moment. I’d like to think all of this has made me a better version of myself.
Why would you recommend City of Hope to other people seeking treatment for cancer, diabetes or life-threatening diseases?
The doctors are the best of the best and they all talk to each other. There has been a well-coordinated (and incredibly successful) plan of attack against my cancer. Well aware of the anxiety that is part and parcel of this kind of diagnosis, they also treat me with kindness and sensitivity. My scans and blood work are all scheduled for the same day, and the follow-up visits come a day or two later. They ensure that the least possible amount of time is spent in suspense.
City of Hope has its act together. The care here has been tremendously compassionate – from the registration process to the receptionist who calls me by name for a blood draw. They are all pulling in the same direction – their mission is to help me get healthy and to retain a high quality of life.
How did “The Power of Hope,” this year’s Rose Parade theme, help bring you back to health?
By nature, I’m a pragmatic person and am not strung along by unfounded hope. We all know we’re going to die. But there is something that separates terminally diagnosed people from everyone else. We can’t push mortality to some far-off place where we don’t have to think about it. It is with us every waking moment and certainly in our dreams. For me, hope is an incremental thing. I see a bit of future open up before me, and some hope creeps in. With hope comes an engagement in living and things like gratitude and a desire to give back. These things are all building blocks of better health. With better health comes more hope.

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