Amy Louise Wasn’t Going to Let Cancer Keep Her from Laughing

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Amy Louise Sebelius is a drama teacher, actor and improv artist. She is full of life and laughter, but when cancer came knocking she had a choice, let it overcome her or continue laughing.

In mid-2016, Amy Louise started experiencing irritable bowel symptoms. “It was happening all the time. I wasn’t able to trust that I would make it to the bathroom,” says Amy Louise.

After some initial testing, her primary care physician referred her to gastroenterologist, Kashyap H. Trivedi, M.D., for a colonoscopy to determine the root of her issues.

While waiting to be sent home from her procedure, Dr. Trivedi appeared in the room to deliver the unexpected news that at the young age of 46, Amy Louise had colon cancer.

Just days later, Amy Louise met Nilesh Vora, M.D., oncologist, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center.

“I knew as soon as I started talking to Dr. Vora that Long Beach Medical Center was where I needed to be, and this was how I was going to get better,” says Amy Louise.

At the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center, not just one doctor, but a team of people work to ensure that each patient’s physical and emotional needs are met.

Battling cancer is an emotional journey, not only for the patient but for their family as well. For that reason, nurse navigators guide patients through their journey with cancer and help bridge the gap from medical care to personal and emotional care.

Amy Louise met her nurse navigator, Dea Kurtovic, NP, who would join her and Dr. Vora on her journey.

“It’s incredible that we have these services in Long Beach,” says Amy Louise. “If you get cancer, it’s great to know that people like Dr. Vora and Dea are there.”

Making Progress

Her first Positron Emission Tomography or PET scan showed that Amy’s cancer also had spread to her surrounding lymph nodes, rectum and liver.

Dr. Vora started Amy Louise on several months of chemotherapy treatments, which work by preventing cancerous cells from duplicating.

“Cancer cells show up as bright spots of PET scans, allowing us to determine whether the chemotherapy is working, if the cancer has spread, or the cancer has recurred,” says Dr. Vora. “While in treatment, we use PET scans to help us monitor the progress we’re making.”

At first, Amy Louise tried to keep working through the scans and rounds of bi-weekly chemotherapy sessions, but she was pushing herself too hard.

In November 2017, she was admitted to Long Beach Medical Center for dehydration. It was during that hospitalization that Dr. Vora would give her the life-saving advice – keep laughing. He advised Amy Louise to take some time off from work, but to continue to focus on her improv and the things that bring her joy in life.

“It was in this conversation that I had a breakthrough in understanding myself and this disease,” says Amy Louise. “I wasn’t going to get better at this rate. But, like I vowed to myself when I first got diagnosed, I was going to be the best patient I could be, and that meant going on leave.”

And a good patient she was. Amy Louise is finishing up her chemotherapy treatments in the Ambulatory Infusion Center at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute. Her latest PET scan showed minimal signs of the cancer remaining, meaning the treatment is working.

She may need surgery in the future to ensure the cancer is completely gone. But, for now, she’s still focusing on the joy by regularly performing with her improv group. And if her impressive list of talents wasn’t already long, she can now add cancer conqueror.

Nilesh Vora, MD
Featured physician:

Nilesh L. Vora, MD

  • Oncology - Medical, Oncology & Hematology