Erma and Joe Cogan were ready to embrace their retirement in 2010.
The West Providence Township couple had purchased a camper and headed out on a three-month tour of the country.
“That was our dream,” Erma Cogan, 68, said from her home near the village of Mattie.
Part of the trip’s preparations included a visit to her family doctor and the usual routine screenings. Erma Cogan may have been more conscientious than many because she was an eight-year breast-cancer survivor at the time.
None of the tests raised any red flags, so the couple set off on their dream vacation.
When they got home, Erma Cogan’s doctor asked her about one of the screening tests he ordered before the trip.
It seemed the hospital
hadn’t sent him the results.
The test showed signs of an abdominal problem, not related to breast cancer.
The doctor ordered additional tests, but they were inconclusive.
Another round of tests included a full-body computed tomography scan.
“It showed in the armpit,” Cogan said, recalling the suspicious spot near her shoulder on the CT scan.
A needle biopsy showed no cancer, but her oncologist,
Dr. Michael Voloshin of the UPMC John P. Murtha Regional Cancer Center in Johnstown, investigated further and diagnosed a new cancer, spreading into Cogan’s arm.
“It was in a really tough place, wrapped around my vein in my arm,” she said.
Voloshin referred her to Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, where doctors used magnetic resonance imaging to map out the tumor.
The Pittsburgh surgeon explained the challenge presented by the insidious cancer, pledging to do his best to remove the malignancy.
“My husband said, ‘You have too many people praying for you. I know you are going to make it,’ ” Cogan said. “I trust in God in everything. It just pulled right out. He got it all.”
The surgery was followed by another round of chemotherapy, which Cogan said affected her more than the 2003 follow-up therapy.
“The treatments are harder on you than the operations,” she said. “It’s an ordeal losing your hair.”
Cogan credits her family and her faith in God with helping her through her two bouts with cancer.
The circumstances that led doctors to find her second cancer must have been ordained, she believes.
A routine mammogram and chest X-ray before her vacation did not show any signs of cancer.
If the unrelated test hadn’t led doctors to do the CT scan, the new tumor would have gone undetected.
“It was a miracle,” Cogan said. “It was all God. I would have been gone.”
Cogan’s daughter, Christina White, used her experience
as a magnetic resonance imaging technologist to help her mother understand various tests.
Her aunt, Betty Mack of Davidsville, hosted her during the chemotherapy treatments in Johnstown. Mack lived in Johnstown at the time.
“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Cogan said. “Both times I had to take my treatment, she let me stay with her and drove me to every one of my treatments.
“She was my supporter – she was just there when I needed her. I couldn’t ask for a better family.”
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