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Renina de Phillips Story

Finding Joy While Living with Cancer

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Spreading joy is Renina's passion. She spent 30 years teaching at a Montessori pre-school, and anyone who has shared time with Renina knows she almost always has a song on her lips. In April 2021, Renina's vision began to blur and she was struggling to read. The letters she had spent more than half her life teaching to toddlers were now difficult for her to see.

Renina's primary care provider did some preliminary testing and told Renina she likely had a terminal illness. Renina sought a second opinion at another health system and learned she had stage IV lung cancer that had spread to her bones and her brain. She would need surgery to remove her brain tumor and to start treatment immediately for the tumors in her lungs and bones.

Faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis and brain surgery, Renina needed to decide where to have treatment and she had to decide quickly.

Deciding Where to Receive Treatment

With so many health systems in the Bay Area, some patients may hesitate in their decision on where to seek medical care. Renina started her cancer treatment with the health system that diagnosed her, but she chose El Camino Health for her brain surgery.

Renina has family members who had positive experiences at El Camino Health, and her next-door neighbor of 35 years is a patient at El Camino Health's Cancer Center. After witnessing her friends and family receive exceptional treatment, Renina knew El Camino Health would be the best fit for her surgery because she would be receiving the highest quality care in a friendly setting.

Lifesaving Surgery in a Comforting Environment

El Camino Health Board-Certified Neurosurgeon, Edward Rustamzadeh, MD, PhD, performed surgery on the largest tumor that was causing Renina's vision issues.

Through the companionship and care of the nurses in the intensive care unit (ICU), Renina made the most of her recovery.

"I had so much fun in the ICU," says Renina. "The nurses sang Broadway songs with me and it was like I was at a concert. I was so happy."

Renina left the Los Gatos campus in good spirits, ready to continue with treatment of her remaining brain lesions and lung and bone cancer at the health system that provided her initial diagnosis.

Coming Back to El Camino Health

"In September, I got very weak," says Renina. "I was not eating well and vomiting. My son took me to the emergency department at El Camino Health in Los Gatos."

The doctors at the emergency department did a workup on Renina to pinpoint what was making her so ill and treated her for low sodium levels. She improved and was able to go home, but in their testing, they discovered more information regarding her lung cancer.

Oncologist Elie Richa, MD, collaborated with Renina's oncologist from another local health system to develop the most effective plan to treat Renina's cancer. Renina would continue her brain cancer treatment at the same facility, but move her lung and bone cancer treatment to El Camino Health where she would receive targeted oral therapy for her lung cancer and begin to receive injections for her bone cancer. Her goal was to receive the best treatment at facilities close to home, and her doctors collaborated to make sure her preferences were met.

El Camino Health strives to always act in the best interest of patients, including collaborating with other health systems to create optimal treatment plans.

Moving Forward with Joy

Renina is still undergoing treatment and has an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scan once every three months to monitor for the presence of cancer. Renina's brain lesions are improving, and the bone and lung cancers have both shrunk.

Renina trusts the doctors and nurses at El Camino Health Cancer Center to handle her cancer treatment and keeps her focus on living her life.

"I'm not worried much about my sickness," says Renina. "When I go to the senior citizen center, they tell me I don’t look sick. I greet them with a song, and they say, 'You're always happy.'"

"I was always happy-go-lucky and making others laugh. Even now, I can still make them laugh."