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Cancer Patient Stories

Mitzi VorachekMitzi Vorachek’s Story

Mitzi Vorachek and her husband, Jim, left big city jobs in Houston, Texas, and moved to Red Lodge, Montana, with plans to hike, ski, fish and travel together. When Mitzi was diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancers at age 57 she said, “I realized my mortality in spades! I knew I might not see my dreams lived out. Jim’s and my life changed forever.”

Thanks to excellent medical care, Mitzi has been able to realize some of those dreams over the past eight years. She went to her Billings Clinic Red Lodge physician with what she thought was a bladder infection. After a week of antibiotics she still had pain. Her doctor then referred her to Billings Clinic specialists where an ultrasound revealed a mass on her ovary. She had a complete hysterectomy, appendectomy and removal of the lining of this area. Because she knew the success record of nationally-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, she went there for a second opinion and opted to have her radiation treatment there. Finding that her recommended chemotherapy treatment would be the same at Billings Clinic, she returned and had chemotherapy and oncology care in Billings.

“I soon realized that the Billings Clinic Cancer Center was becoming a national center of excellence. In 2006 they recruited Dr. Randall Gibb, the first gynecologist oncologist in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. He became my doctor and it’s great knowing I have a specialist right here who cares for just my type of cancers.” (Due to the high demand, a second gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Patrick Connor, joined Billings Clinic in 2009.)

“Billings Clinic offers a similar team approach to care that I’d received in Houston. The doctors, nurse navigator, infusion center, radiation therapy and hospital inpatient unit are all under one roof.” Vorachek appreciated that a group of specialists collaborate at ‘tumor boards’ where patient cases are reviewed to determine the optimal treatment plan. “Knowing that you are cared for by a team and not just one person makes you and your family feel valued and cared for.”

“I also loved that I am part of this team. My family and I were included in all decisions. Also, having places for family and friends to congregate is so important. The inpatient area is comfortable and gorgeous! My brother came up to visit me the last time I was hospitalized and said, “I think I’m going to have to move in here!”

“I’ve had two reoccurrences of my cancer, one five years after my diagnosis and one in 2008. The last time, Dr. Gibb called my first gynecologic oncologist in Houston to discuss a chemotherapy treatment that he hoped would be more effective in treating my cancer. I love that he talks to doctors all over the country to discuss the best options.”

“The fact that Billings Clinic has received the NCCCP designation by the National Cancer Institute means everything to me as a patient,” stated Vorachek. She is referring to Billings Clinic being selected by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2007 as one of 10 organizations to participate in the Comprehensive Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP). As a program site, Billings Clinic offers more than 100 clinical research trials; is connected to similar organizations to share data and outcomes; has electronic medical records; and provides education and screenings.

Mitzi is doing well and shared, “Since my diagnosis I watch the sun rise every morning because it’s a new day. I take a few moments and mark each day. I saw my daughter get married and now have two grandchildren, ages 18 months and 5 months. I’ve seen my oldest daughter complete her doctoral degree and become a professor. I continue to work as an advocate for victims of domestic abuse. All of these things make life more precious because I didn’t think I’d see my dreams unfold.”

According to Dr. Gibb, “We have the experience and a team of physicians, physician assistants, nurses and a care navigator just for gyn cancers, so we can provide personalized care and attention for each patient.”

“A huge benefit to Billings Clinic is cancer-specific teams,” added Dr. Gibb. “We also have teams of cancer experts for breast, prostate, colon, lung and other types of cancers. These teams include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons and patient care navigators who work together — all under one roof.”

The physicians and staff at Billings Clinic Cancer Center continue work to expand survivorship and symptom care programs, enhance health care advocacy, support the investigation of new therapies through clinical trials, improve information sharing through electronic medical records (EMR), and enhance patient care, especially for rural and underserved communities.

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