Monday, May 23, 2011
Cancer Diagnosis Leads Lafollette Woman on Journey
Life is full of intersections, points where people and places and moments collide and your life is never the same. For Kimmy Sue Nelson, it began with a change in her insurance that prompted her
Kimmy Sue and Tim Nelson stand in front of the CALM House, one of two Hospitality Houses at Methodist Medical Center where cancer patients and their family can stay while receiving treatment. Nelson, who lives in Lafollette, has spent eight weeks at this "home away from home."
to look for a new physician to use for her annual mammograms. Even though Nelson is from Lafollette, her cousin encouraged her to go with her to the Oak Ridge Breast Center, and the two women made their appointments together. It was then, in January 2011, that Nelson was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. They had caught it early, but Nelson would still need to undergo surgery and radiation treatment, and she chose to use the cancer services at Methodist Medical Center for her care.
When she received her diagnosis, Nelson met with clinical breast radiologist, Sandra Ridings Hesser, MD, and Debbie Bowles, RRT, manager of Methodist’s Comprehensive Breast Clinic, which provides a streamlined treatment process for patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. When Nelson met with Dr. Hesser and Debbie Bowles, arrangements were being made for her continued care through the network of the Comprehensive Breast Clinic. Bowles gave Nelson a folder filled with detailed information about what to expect, and scheduled Nelson for a consultation with surgeon Dr. Alan Tripp on the very day of her diagnosis. She was also scheduled for an MRI, which would offer physicians a clear picture to plan the surgery and ensure they removed all of the cancer.
The Comprehensive Breast Clinic helps patients make the necessary arrangements for the next steps in the treatment process following a breast cancer diagnosis. It’s an invaluable service that removes much of the added stress, confusion, and delay that can come with the overwhelming news. The staff at the Comprehensive Breast Clinic makes arrangements for appointments with the necessary physicians and services, often the very day of diagnosis.
Nelson was grateful for the efficiency and speed of the care. Within a week’s time, she was scheduled for surgery where Dr. Tripp would perform a partial mastectomy. Looking back on the experience, Nelson notes that when you hear you have cancer time begins to slow and the wait seems longer and more terrible. “The sooner the better” was Nelson’s attitude toward surgery and the subsequent treatments.
Thanks to the staff of the Comprehensive Breast Clinic, and the individual offices Nelson visited for her care, she found peace of mind and quality care. As a nurse, Nelson is accustomed to knowing which physicians to see, what steps to take next, and who’s the best of the best. However, Nelson’s nursing experience is in Ohio, and as a relative newcomer to the area, she didn’t have the comfortable familiarity with the medical community that she was accustomed to.
“I was at a loss,” says Nelson. She relied on the suggestions of her physicians for her continuing care and she was pleased with their responses. As each physician made recommendations and referrals for her subsequent physicians, Nelson found comfort in hearing them reference their own use or their family’s use of that very doctor or facility.
“If these people would recommend it, I trust them,” notes Nelson of her physician referrals. “I felt comfortable with it and have been happy with everything.”
Nelson has especially appreciated the personal touch that she has encountered with each physician’s office. Whether it was Dr. Hesser and the Breast Center, her surgeon Dr. Tripp, or her radiation oncologist Dr. Donald Arwood at the cancer center, Nelson found that they encouraged questions and that if she called their offices, they all made an effort to respond to her that very day.
“Everybody made it personal,” says Nelson. “They cared enough to take the time to work with me.”
Following surgery, Nelson began treatment at Thompson Cancer Survival Center at Methodist where she received radiation treatment. She would require multiple treatments over a period of weeks, and she knew the two hour commute to and from her Lafollette home would be difficult. Nelson’s cancer diagnosis was complicated by an existing condition. She has multiple sclerosis, or MS, and takes medication that makes it almost impossible for her to drive.
But thanks to the Hospitality Houses of Methodist Medical Center, Nelson would not have to endure the stress and wearing effects of the long commute. The Hospitality Houses provide lodging for cancer patients who must travel for treatment at Methodist. Guests stay free of charge, as long as needed. Each Monday, Nelson’s husband Tim drops her off at the CALM House, one of Methodist’s two Hospitality Houses. He returns each Friday to pick her up, but because Nelson is staying at the house alone and can’t drive, she still needed help to make the short trip from the Hospitality Houses to the cancer center for her radiation treatments. It was then that Debbie Scarborough, manager of the Hospitality Houses, told Nelson about Road to Recovery, a program offered through the American Cancer Society that provides volunteer drivers to transport cancer patients to their appointments.
The convenience of the house and the benefit of the drivers have made all the difference to Nelson and her recovery process.
“I could not have made it without this,” says Nelson of the Hospitality Houses where she has stayed for eight weeks. “Without this place, without the drivers [from Road to Recovery], I’m 99 percent sure I’d have had another exacerbation of the MS.”
Nelson notes that with her existing MS condition, and the dizziness created by her required medication, it would have been difficult enough just making the long drive for her regular radiation treatments. Add the escalating gas prices into the equation, and Nelson says it would have been almost impossible.
But things keep coming together for Nelson in spite of the hardships of coping with her breast cancer diagnosis, of managing her MS, and receiving her cancer treatments so far from home. She has found support and rest at the Hospitality Houses and she has found financial support from the American Cancer Society, who not only provides her with transportation in the form of Road to
Recovery, but who also provides financial assistance with medical bills and co-payments for medications, as well as support groups like Look Good…Feel Better, which is held at Thompson Cancer Survival Center.
“I realize that I’m lucky,” says Nelson.
She calls the Hospitality House her “home away from home.” Nelson says that her minister said it best, commenting, “You need this because it is forced rest.” Nelson knows that if she were at her own home, she would try to take care of her family and the house. At the Hospitality Houses, she has found peace and a place to heal.
Nelson says, “You can rest and relax… there are pictures on the walls… throws to wrap up in…special touches that make the difference.”
She also credits the landscaping around the house for helping her to recuperate and regain the strength that she needs to fight the cancer. She can often be found in a rocking chair on the front porch of the house or listening to the calming sound of the garden fountain next to the screen porch.
“You can’t let yourself forget about the beauty of life around you,” says Nelson.
A lover of nature and flowers and photography, Nelson has spent relaxing afternoons taking pictures of the spring blooms that colored the landscape of the two houses.
“I’ve posted pictures of my home away from home on my Facebook page,” says Nelson.
She also used her talents in the kitchen to help give back to the hospital. She baked and decorated eight dozen cupcakes for a bake sale that was held at the hospital as part of its “We Care” campaign, which supports the Chaplain’s Benevolence Fund.
Nelson has truly found the best place to stage her battle against cancer. From the support of her care givers at Methodist, to the peace of mind gained from the Hospitality Houses, Nelson has found a way to put aside her fears and worries and to find a blessing during one of life’s hardest trials.
“In such a horrible time, it’s been such a wonderful experience.”