Meet Denise

Newport Hospital’s Expanding Cancer Center Helps Lymphoma Patient Enjoy Life Again

Denise VieiraEach Thanksgiving morning, Denise Vieira and her family run Clooney Loop around Newport’s breathtaking Ocean Drive. A fitness trainer for more than 25 years, Denise, 49, was in top shape. But something was wrong that brisk morning in 2010, and she couldn’t complete the jog. She felt short of breath and had to walk the rest of the way.

Knowing how well she takes care of herself—no smoking or alcohol, regular exercise and a healthy diet—Denise attributed her lack of energy to taking a full set of classes at Community College of Rhode Island in addition to working.

“I really didn’t think about possibly being ill,” she recalls. “Within two weeks, my husband had to rush me to Newport Hospital’s emergency department.”

Unable to stand because of intense burning in her abdomen, Denise had a CT scan to identify the cause of her pain: a perforated bowel. But what they found next stunned Denise and her entire family—she had cancer. Additional tests confirmed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“When they told me I had cancer and I was going to have surgery the next day, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was absolutely floored; the lymphoma was already in stage 3.”

At the skilled hands of Dr. Alessandro Papa, one of the few oncologists serving the Island and neighboring communities, Denise underwent abdominal surgery to remove more than a foot of her small intestine where the lymphoma had created a hole in the lining. The team also took biopsies to determine if the lymphoma had spread beyond the abdomen.

“As critical as it was to provide the best treatment possible for Denise’s cancer, it was equally important for me and my team to care for Denise as a whole person and make sure her needs—and those of her family—were met every step of the way. Despite Denise having a complicated situation that required immediate surgery, followed by several months of chemotherapy, and with underlying lupus as well as an aggressive lymphoma—her entire care was able to be carried out at Newport Hospital with an excellent outcome,” says Dr. Papa.

Denise spent five days in Newport Hospital’s intensive care unit before moving to a patient room for another three days. The procedure left her weak and unable to take deeps breaths—a common side effect of an abdominal procedure.

“The nurses were always there for anything I needed, to help me work on my breathing, get out of bed and walk the hallways once I felt strong enough, or clean myself up. They also gave great back massages,” Denise says. “From the moment I arrived at Newport Hospital, everyone on staff was absolutely fantastic.”

In addition to the high quality of care Denise received at our hospital, support from her family and friends was pivotal to recovery. To help her get through the most difficult time of her life, Denise’s husband, two adult children, grandchildren and siblings were by her side every step of the way, providing love, encouragement and laughter.

Because Denise’s cancer had indeed spread to other parts of her body, she began 16 weeks of chemotherapy roughly a month after her surgery. It is now more than two years since she completed treatment, and her lymphoma remains in remission. Denise is back to enjoying life again, able to do all the things she loves.

“Having this care available in my community made me extremely comfortable. When you’re feeling sick, it makes a big difference to know you have just a short drive to Newport Hospital,” she says. “I’m lucky to be alive. From what the doctors told me, because of the perforated bowel, I was very close to not making it. My quality of life is much better now. I appreciate my family and friends even more after going through such an ordeal. Life is good. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.”

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