From clinic’s patient to clinic’s partner: The road of Olga Vysotskaya
Olga knows one thing for sure: cancer is not the end. Being a cancer survivor, she has gone through several surgeries – oncotomy and breast reconstructions followed by a step-by-step rehabilitation to improve both physical and mental health and finally got over the disease. Later Olga moved from St. Petersburg (Russia) to Finland to become a partner of Clinic Helena, the place she was a patient 5 years before. Olga Vysotskaya is willing to share her optimistic story with other women facing oncology, especially those diagnosed with breast cancer.
Olga found the tumour herself. One morning in March she discovered a suspicious lump during a self-check. Feeling slightly nervous, Olga rushed to make an appointment with Scandinavia clinic in St. Petersburg to get a mammography. During her visit to the clinic, Olga also had an ultrasound and histological analysis. The possibility of a malignant tumour was voiced already at the ultrascound scan. Unfortunately, the histological analysis confirmed it: stage II breast cancer.
Stinging fear was the first thing Olga felt after hearing the diagnosis. “Will life go on, just without me? What will happen to my little five-year-old daughter, how will my adult son deal with it? ” These terrible thoughts kept falling over Olga hitting her to the ground. Still, she managed to pull herself together. “Now my task is to get well”, she realized. “If I fail to kill the disease, then I will never know how my children will get on in life without me; but if I succeed, we’ll stand together.”
Healing not only with a lancet but also with a personal touch
Half-awake at first but gaining more and more confidence, Olga started to look for oncologists. Her father, a doctor himself, was of great help: he had right friends in the right places and understood that treatment should be approached with a cool head.
Olga had her first appointment with a professor in St. Petersburg in March 2014. The consultation lasted for about half an hour. The doctor immediately suggested a standard treatment plan including chemotherapy, XRT and surgeries, without working through her individual case. One could see in his eyes that he did not believe in success but his intention was to “continue treatment as long as possible” even though it was necessary to remove the lymph nodes, immediately reducing the body resistance.
Along with visiting Russian hospitals, Olga found several clinics in Israel and Germany. She felt they were more inclined to look at her individual case but still regarding it more as a commercial project. Olga’s friend, a doctor herself, suggested her to go to a free consultation with Dr. Helena Puonti at Women’s Health Day in St. Petersburg in April 2014. Olga took all the scans and images with her. At the consultation that lasted for three hours, Dr. Puonti took a deep look at the disease giving Olga a feeling that she was already performing the operation in her mind. There was confidence in the doctor’s knowledge who had an unmatched understanding of the female body happened to be a “warm” person healing not only with a lancet but also with a personal touch.
Olga realized that she was ready to get a surgery at Dr. Puonti’s clinic. They began to discuss the surgery already during the consultation and in less than a month, on May 8, Olga had an surgery in Savonlinna, Finland, at Clinic Helena. As it turned out during the surgery, there were no metastases, the lymph nodes were preserved, but Olga’s right breast was removed. The surgery was just the first step on her long road to recovery and return of the quality of life: it was a only the start of a process that took more than three years.
The surgery was followed by six chemotherapies and then 25 XRTs that Olga did in Finland. She drove to Savonlinna and back to St. Petersburg every three weeks, and then for another five weeks for radiation therapy. Olga says that in terms of its effect on the body, chemotherapy is something similar to a strong flu: first there is a relapse and then a recovery. A week of flu and then you get back to the normal pace of life only at the end of the second week. But here it all starts again.
Negative feelings are further intensified with hair loss, ulcers, and progressing insomnia. But there is also something that gives strength to live on: love for the loved ones, for life itself and even for work. After all, despite her condition, Olga continued to work in order not to allow negative thoughts to take over her mind. She could also feel support from specialists who understand the condition of a person in their way to recovery, the fear that the illness persists, and one wrong move can force back to the starting point.
Back to normal
Next spring, after a year of treatment, Olga went to Sicily to see her friend because she felt healthy. Still, in total rehabilitation took almost five long years. Five years of life when breast cancer and the recovery did not let the woman go. After the surgery, Olga reflected a lot about preparation and recovery. She kept thinking how much easier it would have been for her if she knew what awaited her, if she was ready for a step-by-step recovery and had a chance to talk to all kinds of specialists. She could feel how important it is to approach the surgery not with a hit-or-miss method but with the help of a psychologist who understands the situation the patient finds herself in and can help to get out of a doom loop of negative thoughts by setting the mind to recovery.
After the surgery and chemotherapy, Olga was unable to find a hospital in Russia that would offer her a comprehensive recovery program. For Olga, it was important to combine psychological assistance, a set of special exercises, and a special diet. The psychologist bring the patient’s state back to earth explaining that her state is absolutely normal and adequate to the point at which she is.
The physiotherapist helped to get physical condition back to normal, the nutritionist to restore the body immunity with diet and medication explaining why this is all for. Sexologist’s support is also important especially after mastectomy: how to accept your new body, your condition, what to do if a woman is young and wants to have children. It is necessary to begin selecting treatment protocols based on these data that are crucial for later life.
The patient needs to be taught to talk about her illness with loved ones as it may be challenging to talk about it without getting overemotional. It is important to involve the relatives so that they learn to discuss the surgery and the illness treating them as a matter of fact. It is also important whether the woman wants to work (if her condition permits). Work is important both as a way to give a feeling of a normal life and as an additional goal for recovery. And if a breast plastic surgery is necessary, it gives rise to even more questions: when the surgery can be performed, under which circumstances etc.. Olga returned to Dr. Helena Puonti three years later to have a breast reconstruction surgery. And such operation, too, requires preparation.
The most important difference is that oncology diagnosis is always perceived negatively and many are afraid to talk about it. Moreover, the need to visit an oncologist every three months during the first period after the illness also affects negatively the psychoemotional state. With Finnish approach, the patient gets surrounded with a sort of a heat field shielding them from sorrow and stress and setting them for new frontiers even during post-treatment visits to oncologists.
New life mission
Throughout her career, Olga has been in consulting business being a partner at largest global consulting firms in Russia, Europe, and the US. After getting over the disease, she realized her life mission: to help women find the right doctor for them in a complex oncology case and then plan a rehabilitation program allowing the patient to return to normal life as soon as possible.
A strong sense of initiative coupled with understanding of such matters helped Olga shape her new goal: she became a partner in Clinic Helena in Finland. And indeed, Olga’s first-hand experience and the way she has gone herself make her the right person to explain what to do and offer support during the recovery.