You can believe everything the doctor tells you or you can be your own best advocate. This is something that Placerville resident, Sunny Atkins, has learned in the past 16 months, after her diagnosis with Cholangiocarcinoma in May 2012.
Bouts of abdominal pain led the usually healthy Atkins to her doctor. When her doctor didn’t think it was a problem, Atkins pursued additional testing after the pain reoccured.
“I was driving down the road when I got a call from her and she asked me to pull over because she had something to tell me. The Red Hawk Parkway will never look the same to me again,” said Atkins.
At the oncologist’s office the next day with her husband and daughter, Atkins said she was in denial, thinking that the cancer would be treated, she’d be cured and then she’d move on.
Stage 4 caused her husband and daughter to react, but Atkins had no idea that there was no Stage 5. Despite being told that the rare form of liver cancer was incurable and there was no chance of a transplant, Atkins remained unfazed.
Six months of chemotherapy shrunk the cancer enough for surgery in which Atkins’ gall bladder and a large part of her liver were removed.
“They thought they got it and for the next month I felt super-human — I had beaten cancer. During the chemo I put on two golf tournaments and a holiday party and didn’t miss a day of work,” said Atkins, who was executive director of the El Dorado Builders’ Exchange. “Work kept me going.”
The next medical appointment found the cancer back in Atkins’ liver and also in her spine. A super-duper radiation treatment did not work.
As cancer ate away at her spine and Atkins faced loss of mobility and control over her bladder, a surgeon suggested implanting a metal cage, two metal rods and 8 bolts to strengthen and support her spine and Atkins decided to do it.
“I had the surgery six weeks ago and it went very well,” said Atkins, 56, sitting on her living room couch. “I’m walking 1 1/2 miles a day and I have good mobility even though I’m still recuperating.”
But, Oscar, as Atkins named her cancer, is still around and this pilot, mother of two, grandmother to five, artist and wife of 22 years to her husband Rick, is researching outside the traditional medical box for the best alternative methods to treat the disease.
“People do chemo, then more aggressive chemo which makes them really sick and then they die,” said Atkins, “That’s not acceptable to me. There are lots of options, many of which are controversial but it’s better than what conventional medicine is offering.”
Determined to change the chemo/cancer scenario, Atkins and her support system of family and friends are putting on a fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Placerville Airport, 3481 Airport Road in Placerville.
“My wonderful friends and family are planning a fundraiser,” wrote Atkins in a recent blog. “We have a matching commitment of up to $20,000. So if we raise our own $20,000 they will match ours. Wow, thank you God for these wonderful friends. These funds will assist me to seek alternative treatments. The thought of stronger chemo that is only going to make me sick but not heal me is unacceptable. I hope to trail ahead for others in a cure for cancer. So it’s not just for me.”
In the home she shares with her husband who is a classic airplane restorer, photographs of vintage planes march up the wall. Atkins learned to fly after she met Rick Atkins, but has had too much on her plate recently to get back up in the air.
“Staying active and keeping my mind active is harder without working,” said Atkins who had to give up her job at the El Dorado Builders’ Exchange, “but I’m helping to plan the fundraiser because event planning is what I do. I don’t dwell on the fact that I have cancer — sometimes I even forget. I want to be cured so I can tell others how to do it. I’m here for a reason and maybe this is it.”
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the gate. They can be purchased in Placerville at Butter Cup Pantry, Diamond Pacific Lumber, Hangtown Ace Hardware, Jim’s Automotive, Mel’s Diner, Off Broadway, Placerville Antiques, Renfros and Powell’s Steamer Co. and Pub. In Cameron Park, tickets can be purchased at the Cancer Resource Center, El Dorado Builders’ Exchange and Headliners Hairdresser or purchase them at El Dorado Restoration in Diamond Springs. They can also be purchased online at blog.sunnyatkins.com.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.