Mary Hines knew breast cancer could happen to anyone. But that didn’t prepare the 47-year-old mother and grandmother for the anxiety-filled buildup that began when an unusual mass was spotted during a routine screening mammogram. When the next round of tests – first an ultrasound and then a core biopsy – revealed she had cancer, the news seemed overwhelming.
“It was a total shock,” recalls Hines, who felt numb as she faced a dizzying list of medical appointments and treatment decisions.
Through it all, she discovered an unexpected ally: Sherri Calhoun, RN, a breast cancer care coordinator at Providence Regional Cancer Center in Spokane. “She was a steady and calming influence,” Hines says. “She was there for me every step of the way.”
It Takes Teamwork
Each breast cancer patient at Providence Regional Cancer Center at Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital is matched with a registered nurse care coordinator. This staff member’s job is to address all of the patient’s needs, says Linda Thompson, RN, project specialist.
Care coordinators assist patients and families in understanding their cancer and treatment choices, arranging appointments, providing emotional support and obtaining spiritual support.
“Sherri took care of things so fast, it was amazing,” Hines says.
This personalized support is one component of comprehensive cancer care that covers prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and research. The program also offers the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists.
“Our team of physicians meets three times a week at tumor boards to create a patient’s treatment plan,” Thompson says. “A pathologist, radiologist, surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist sit in the same room and review each patient’s case holistically. You can see the advantage of having all those doctors at one table and reviewing a patient’s case and agreeing on what is the best treatment plan for this individual.”
An American Cancer Society social worker is also on staff to help patients navigate financial, transportation and housing needs.
Words of Encouragement
Cancer treatment can be frightening as patients face new doctors, new treatments and a great deal of uncertainty over what impact cancer drugs and treatments will have on their health, career, energy, appearance and family.
Fortunately, Hines could count on Calhoun to keep her informed every step of the way, beginning with surgery.
“I give patients a ‘surgical dress rehearsal.’ [We cover] what to expect during surgery and what to expect during a diagnostic workup. And, we review their pathology reports,” Calhoun says. “Then we discuss potential treatment pathways so they know if treatment might affect their life for two months, six months or a year. And we focus on their biggest worry that day, to hopefully help them feel better able to cope with that one issue.”
After surgery, Hines’ treatment plan included radiation and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for breast cancer can wreak havoc on a woman’s looks, causing hair loss and potentially sensitive and dry skin, a pale or sallow complexion, dark under-eye circles and nail discoloration.
“The hardest part for me was losing my hair,” Hines says. Before that occurred, Calhoun referred her to a boutique at Providence Sacred Heart, where she learned more about the physical and emotional effects of treatment and selected a stylish wig, scarves and lotions.
Throughout Mary’s chemotherapy treatments, she felt reassured by Calhoun’s friendly and caring calls. “As soon as I had chemotherapy, she called me the next day to make sure I was okay and to see if I needed anything,” Hines recalls. “She helped me sort out what side effects were normal and which ones weren’t.”
Now that Hines has completed her treatments and is cancer-free, she doesn’t mind getting older. It’s actually a precious gift made possible by the latest advances in breast cancer treatment – and the care of one very special nurse.