ORCUTT, Calif. - Marriage has bonded Thomas and Patricia Puerling for 57 years.
The Orcutt couple, originally from Santa Barbara, has spent a lifetime together building many happy memories with their two children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
However, the couple has also shared the difficult bond being a cancer patient. First, for Patricia more than four years ago, and later, Thomas in 2015.
"I never thought I would have cancer, and yet when you hear you have cancer, you're just like, oh really" said 77-year-old Patricia Puerling. "Cancer itself is such a small word, but it makes it so big."
In late 2012, Patricia was diagnosed with breast cancer. To help her beat the disease, the Puerlings turned to Mission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria.
"I've been very blessed with it because I didn't have to have a mastectomy," said Patricia Puerling. "I went through the radiation treatments and it was found there was nothing more there, so I didn't have to go through the chemo."
Over the course of her treatment, which included surgical removal, Puerling came to appreciate the family-like atmosphere she experienced at the five-year-old cancer center.
"Being involved with all of this here and not having to go out of town has really been wonderful, and the fact that Dr. (Monica) Rocco was so available and all of the other doctors that needed to help is very, very good and we've been very blessed to be here," said Patricia Puerling.
Just two years after Patricia received a clean bill of health, Thomas, 80, was diagnosed with rectal cancer.
"I was a little taken aback at first, but then I thought, well know, I'm going to be 80, that's not so bad, and they seemed to have everything here, so let's just go for it," said Thomas Puerling.
For the next year, Thomas underwent a series of treatments, including radiation, two surgeries and chemotherapy.
"It's all in one building," said Thomas Puerling. "The radiation is on the first floor, the doctors are on the second, and the chemo and infusion is on the third floor."
Like his wife, Puerling is appreciative for the personal care he received over his many appointments at the cancer center.
"Those nurses, you may not get the same nurse every time, but they all know you, they greet you, ask you how you are," said Thomas Puerlig. "They haven't missed a thing."
Once treatment was completed, Thomas was given a clean bill of health.
"The surgeon, Dr. (Robert) Bosshardt, he came in with the news with the biopsy, that I was cancer free. Wow, you could have given me a million dollars and it wouldn't have meant anything and he said you want to go home tomorrow and I said yes!" Thomas Puerling said.
As they reflect on their experiences at Mission Hope, the couple hopes the community is aware of the impact the center and its staff makes for Central Coast cancer patients.
"I'm very grateful," said Patricia Puerling. "In my prayers, I thank everybody there everyday. "They're all wonderful. The doctors, the nurses, everyone of them is so helpful and willing to answer your questions and to take care of you."
"It's a lifesaver, yes it is and thank god for that!" said Thomas Puerling.
As Mission Hope success stories, the couple has been asked to be the official ambassadors for the Day of Hope.
The annual fundraiser held each April raises money for Mission Hope through the community-wide newspaper drive.
Hundreds of volunteers through the Santa Maria Valley and neighboring communities sell $1 special edition Santa Maria Times over the course of several hours.
"It's helping everyone in the community," said Patricia Puerling. "It's building friendships. It's making everybody feel like they're loved and that somebody cares and there is hope and the big thing is there is hope no matter what."
The Puerlings are living proof of the hope that's provided daily for other cancer patients at Mission Hope.
"I wish hope for everybody because it's there," said Thomas Puerling. "You shouldn't be despondent because you have cancer because it's just a word."
The Day of Hope will be held in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Lompoc and Nipomo on Tuesday, April 11 from 7 a.m. to noon.
For more information, visit https://www.supportmarianmedical.org/dayofhope