Battling with Stage IV Cancer and the Journey to a Full Recovery
Advocacy Chuck Colletti, volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, talks about how his young daughter inspired him to find every way possible to fight his cancer diagnosis.
When you were diagnosed, what were the very first thoughts that went through your head?
I thought, ‘This has to be a mistake, I don’t feel sick. Stage IV cancer? There is no Stage V, right?’ Shock, fear and total disbelief. Pretty much a surreal feeling like I was watching myself in the third person being told the news. I actually believe it took a few weeks before I accepted the diagnosis.
You have a very young daughter. How did she have an impact on your journey to recovery?
My daughter was actually six months old when I was originally diagnosed with cancer. She has been the focal point of my journey. I had her when I was almost 50 years old, and then six months later I get diagnosed with stage IV cancer. There was definitely a reason she was put into my life. She is the fuel for my fire. I put it in my mind from the get-go that losing this battle was not an option because Gabriella needs me as much as I needed her.
How did you determine CART-cell therapy was your best option?
I have done a lot of research from the beginning of my journey on everything to do with blood cancers. Cradle to grave, basically including: fitness, diet, mental health, holistic and traditional treatments, drugs and alternative medicines and, last but not least, clinical trials. The thing about CAR-T was that the success rate they were having was incredible, so when I learned that Hillman Cancer Center had this trial going on there really wasn’t any question about what option we were choosing. One of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s most vital services is their Information Resource Center, staffed by Information Specialists who can assist patients and caregivers through cancer treatment, financial and social challenges and give accurate, up-to-date disease, treatment and support information. LLS Information Specialists are master's level oncology social workers, nurses and health educators.
Now that you’ve been in remission, how do you continue to advocate for the Blood Cancer community?
I walked into The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Chapter in Pittsburgh shortly after being diagnosed with blood cancer, unsure and afraid, confused and worried, but when I walked out, I knew that there was something different about my outlook. UPMC medical teams have been wonderful and gave me a feeling of knowing I had the best possible medical care available to me but LLS gave me the information, support groups and actual “people walking in my shoes” to talk with and that in turn gave me the confidence to prepare my mental attitude for my upcoming battle.
I started going to fundraisers and visiting LLS on a regular basis. This turned into me holding my company customer appreciation golf outing with benefits going to LLS, and being the mission speaker at the Duquesne Club Corporate Light the Night breakfast. I also spoke at the LLS Blood Cancer Conference October 2018, was featured in the Father’s Day LLS newsletter, and am doing a short documentary for Health Central, as well as any other interviews or requests to help them.
Cancer changed me and changed me for the better. I found a silver lining in the dark cloud of drugs, treatments, tests and statistics. My silver lining was that now I have a platform to help others and without LLS to open opportunities like this, I would just be Chuck Colletti fighting my own battle. Instead I’m Chuck Colletti, survivor and advocate for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, helping by inspiring and spreading information to others so that they may fight another day.