Be a Survivor

Three Bouts with Cancer Hasn’t Stopped Birmingham Resident Shawn Williams from Enjoying Life

When Shawn Williams was diagnosed with melanoma in the early 90s, her life immediately changed as she began a journey as a cancer survivor. Since then, her journey has included two additional cancer battles and the cancer care team at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland provided the support, compassion and personalized care needed to fight each diagnosis.

“A cancer diagnosis is often seen and felt as a crisis. You’ve survived the news and shock of a cancer diagnosis – you’re a survivor,” says Suzanne Jermstad, MSN, FNP-BC, AOCNP, ACHPN, an advanced oncology nurse practitioner at St. Joe’s, who works with cancer patients actively in treatment.

Williams underwent surgery in 2003 to treat ovarian cancer and was prepared to resort to drastic measures when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She was referred to Amy Kirby, MD for further consultation.

“Dr. Kirby looked at my ultrasound, examined me and the took me into a conference room,” says Williams. “She spent an hour and a half with me. I remember her kindness and compassion. She told me, ‘we’ve already discussed you in tumor board and you’re going to see Dr. Goodman.'”

“At a time when you feel so out of control, they make sure you feel in control – and that’s so important,”

Shawn_Williams_07When she shared her desire to forego chemotherapy treatment and have a mastectomy instead, Judie Goodman, MD, a  hematologist-oncologist at St. Joe’s didn’t try to dissuade her – she listened and provided options.

“At a time when you feel so out of control, they make sure you feel in control – and that’s so important,” says Williams of her cancer care team at St. Joe’s.

After discussing her options and learning that her cancer was 100 percent curable, Williams opted to undergo chemo and have a lumpectomy, realizing a more radical course of treatment wasn’t necessary for a full recovery.

As Williams survivorship journey continues, she has returned to doing the things she loves, including hiking in Sedona and enjoying sunrises and sunsets. Pursuing normal activities can be critical to recovery and St. Joe’s provides the resources and support to help patients continue to do the things they enjoy.

“After a diagnosis, patients experience a multitude of emotions – they are fearful, worried, anxious,” says Jermstad. “The mental battle plan is just as important as the physical battle plan and we provide the tools to fight that mental battle. We encourage patients to do what they can to keep their life normal and continue doing what they love to do.”

St. Joe’s offers resources for cancer survivors at every stage of their journey, including breast and lung cancer nurse navigators, new patient orientation, survivorship classes, a breast cancer support group and personal appearance classes for cancer survivors. These resources allow patients to continue to receive support even after they complete treatment, as they establish their “new normal” as survivors.

“That’s where ‘survivorship’ comes from: after treatment, patients felt the loss of that safety net that was there for them throughout their treatment,” says Jermstad. “There was a gap when patients would finish treatment and drop off the radar – and they felt that.”

Williams recognizes the importance of survivorship support at all stages of treatment. After receiving exemplary care from St. Joe’s cancer care team as a patient, Williams is now able to give back to current cancer patients through participation on St. Joe’s Oncology Patient Advisory Council and her work as a mindfulness instructor. She focuses on helping patients improve quality of life by staying present and enjoying the positive aspects of life, even in the midst of cancer treatment.

For more information about breast cancer prevention and treatment programs at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, visit stjoeshealth.org/cancercare-breast. To speak with a representative, please call 1-877-712-HOPE.

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Arlene Shy credits the doctors and nurses at St. Joe’s Ann Arbor Cancer Center who gave her full confidence she was receiving the best care

Arlene Shy had always been a good, responsible patient. She sensibly scheduled a mammogram every year, confident early detection would be her best defense against breast cancer.

But Arlene learned in March 2014 that those annual mammograms weren’t as effective as she believed – her doctor at the time was still capturing the images on film. A second mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy at the Women’s Health Center at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor revealed Arlene, in fact, had stage 3 breast cancer. It was a rare case that showed a primary tumor in each breast.

Though the news was unsettling, Arlene marveled at the way her care team at St. Joe’s came together. She was diagnosed on a Friday and immediately met with her medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and surgeon. She had her first appointment on Monday, and by Tuesday, she had her chemotherapy port placed in her arm.
“I had a sense that all of my doctors were talking to each other. They were on the one hand very compassionate, but very firm,” Arlene said.

“As I was leaving our last visit, wanting to thank you, I said, ‘I feel you saved my life.’ Your reply, ‘That’s what I do.’ So true!”

Arlene_Shy_10Doctors chose to start Arlene on six months of chemotherapy to tackle the cancer as soon as possible. She had a month to recuperate before she had a double mastectomy. Three months of radiation rounded out the treatment.

Arlene credits the strong support team who helped her through the nine months of meticulous appointment-keeping, intense treatment and upheaval of normal life. John, Arlene’s husband of more than 40 years, accompanied Arlene to every treatment. Angie, Arlene’s beloved granddaughter, purposefully held her wedding back until Arlene completed chemotherapy. And, to Arlene’s surprise, numerous relatives and friends reached out to her with compassion and empathy.

“When you have cancer, you realize how many other women have gone through this,” she said.

Arlene is now four years cancer-free, and has been able to enjoy outings to concerts and the theater again. She even looks forward to her follow-up visits because of the strong bond she’s developed with her care team at St. Joe’s. They always struck the right combination of hope, love and honesty in handling her care.

“From our first appointment, when I asked serious questions, you gave me straight answers. Always, you have been clear, kind, compassionate,” Arlene wrote to her radiation oncologist, Dr. Marie-Adele Kress.

“As I was leaving our last visit, wanting to thank you, I said, ‘I feel you saved my life.’ Your reply, ‘That’s what I do.’ So true!”

For more information about breast cancer prevention and treatment programs at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, visit stjoeshealth.org/cancercare-breast. To speak with a representative, please call 1-877-712-HOPE.

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St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Seeking Artist Donations for Cancer Center Project

AACancerCenter_withLandscapingANN ARBOR – St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is seeking artwork from Michigan artists to decorate its soon-to-be renovated cancer center. The hospital’s art committee is opening a call for submission, asking local artists to consider donating a piece of original art to be displayed among a total of 200 to 300 pieces throughout the cancer center.

“Our vision is to include creative, uplifting artwork gifted by our local artists to support patients, friends, family and staff on their healing journey,” said Dave Raymond, regional director of planning and design at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. St. Joe’s Art Enrichment Committee is working with Pictures Plus, an Ann Arbor art and frame shop, to help curate and install the artwork.

St. Joe’s opened a call for submission after several artists inquired about donating art as a way of expressing their support for the cancer program. The hospital will also be purchasing art for the cancer center.

“This new cancer center will serve the surrounding community, and we want to give local artists a unique opportunity to create a healing environment with their art,” said Kathryn Savitskie, art consultant from Pictures Plus, who is overseeing the submission process. Continue reading “St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Seeking Artist Donations for Cancer Center Project”

Save the Date: See, Test & Treat 2018

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SeeTestTreatSaturday, April 14 | 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Women’s Health Center
5320 Elliott Drive, Ypsilanti, MI 48197

  • Cervical cancer screening
  • (Pap test), ages 21 – 64
  • HPV test
  • Breast exam
  • Mammogram, ages 40 – 64

For more information, call 734-712-7881 or visit stjoeshealth.org/see-test-treat

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