Be Driven

Michael McCarty, this year’s patient speaker at the annual Shine a Light on Lung Cancer event, credits his survival to a single, desperate message he sent from a hospital bed to transfer his cancer care to St. Joe’s.

Photo_Michael McCarty
Michael McCarty (left) was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012, when his children were 13, 11 and 7 years old. Today, his cancer is managed with a variety of targeted therapy drugs.

Over the course of his six-year lung cancer journey, Michael McCarty has been to the brink of death and back. And though he accepts the sober truth that time is limited, he tells people, “it’s never too late.”

Michael was diagnosed in September 2012 with non-small cell lung cancer – a type of cancer that occurs mainly in current or former smokers. As Michael would soon learn, it’s also the most common type of lung cancer seen in non-smokers like him.

He was just 43 years old. His children were 13, 11, and 7. He was given 18 months to live. Continue reading “Be Driven”

Be Present

One year after sharing his hopeful story, Kenn Sheats opens up about facing cancer recurrence

Sitting in a corner of Joe’s Java, Kenn Sheats sips on a latte. Sporting a baseball cap and button-down shirt, he’s trimmer than a year ago – a sign that his body has endured much change over the last 12 months, since the first time he publicly shared his cancer journey.

Kenn Sheats 05_RESIZED“I want today to be the best. Maybe tomorrow will be better, maybe it’ll be worse. We’ll deal with it tomorrow, you know?” he said. Something in his smile suggests this pearl of wisdom was learned the hard way.

Today, Kenn is on the other side of his battle with mantle cell lymphoma, which took him on many twists and turns. His calendar is now full of follow-up visits, regular lab work, meticulous medication tracking and a much-anticipated return to his job as a patient access training coordinator for Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. And, for all of it, he says, he is grateful. Continue reading “Be Present”

Be Hopeful

John Huling returned to his favorite fishing hole after beating throat cancer

John Huling loves nature. When he’s not fixing cars at the auto repair shop, he’s either casting a line at the lake or tending to the vegetable garden at his Milan home.

John_Huling_01In 2016, John began experiencing severe ear pain and trouble swallowing. At first, John’s doctors didn’t find anything wrong. Seeking answers, he ended up at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. A CAT-scan revealed a tumor pushing on a nerve on the inside of John’s throat leading to the constant pain he was feeling.

The cancer diagnosis hit him like a sudden tug on his fishing pole and cast his future in doubt. Within hours, however, the cancer team at St. Joe’s Cancer Center had mobilized and developed a treatment plan for John.

“They told me about the tumor around midnight on a Thursday. By Friday afternoon, I already had a biopsy and was preparing for a trach,” John said. “I was overwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting this and it all happened so fast”

“There were times I felt stressed. There were times I was afraid. I am very thankful to you for helping me through all of it. You listened. You cared. You all became like family to me.”

The trach, a surgically created hole in the front of the neck, provided relief from the mass impacting his airway. John met radiation oncologist Eva Bieniek, MD, and the rest of the St. Joe’s cancer team. He underwent weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, while relying on a feeding tube for nourishment.

Throughout his treatment, John took time off work as a mechanic but found solace tending to his vegetable garden. At first, John couldn’t speak and communicated through notes to his family and health care team.

“You and the entire team met with me to talk through my treatment plan, which addressed many of my questions and eased my fears,” John wrote in a letter to Dr. Bieniek. “There were times I felt stressed. There were times I was afraid. I am very thankful to you for helping me through all of it. You listened. You cared. You all became like family to me.”

This past summer, John returned to his favorite fishing hole and reflected on his cancer journey. The mist was thick in the cold morning air but the lake was pristine and calm. The sun was slowly starting to rise, like the new hope John had.

“I love to fish and that day was extra special. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know if I’d have another summer to fish. But now, I’m cancer free. It’s been a life changing year but I have a new lease on life.”

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

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Be Blessed

A routine self-exam leads to life-saving treatment for mother of two

Michelle Docherty found a lump in her breast during a self-exam. How could this be? Almost a year ago, Michelle’s mammogram was clear.

Things progressed quickly for the 47-year-old mother of two from Lake Orion.

Michelle called her OB/GYN on a Friday and saw her physician on Monday morning. A mammogram and biopsy occurred within days. On her kids’ first day of school, she got the call – breast cancer.

“My doctor told me it was curable,” Michelle recalled. “She said to remember that, even though I would be going through a lot of scary things. It was jarring to say the least. Right away I thought of both of my kids. I didn’t want to do anything that would distract them from school. I was also thinking of my husband. My life. I wanted to be here.”

“I just had an overall feeling that I was in fantastic hands.”

Michelle_Docherty_01The day after her diagnosis, Michelle and her husband met with Amy Kirby, MD, surgeon.  Michelle was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2.

“As we were going over my plan, it felt like an out-of-body experience,” recalled Michelle. “I remember thinking I know that she’s talking to me, it just didn’t feel like I was there. I remember at one point in the conversation she told me that the plan was to get me to 95 years old. Something else will take me, not this cancer. I said, ‘I like that. I’ll do whatever I have to do.’”

After that day, Michelle felt like she was living in the “land of appointments.” Thankfully, her husband was able to manage them for her. Her care was guided by Sarah Riaz, MD, an oncologist at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland. Michelle had 16 treatments of chemotherapy over a 20-week period, surgery, and finally six weeks of radiation treatments to burn out any remaining cancer cells.

Her new diagnosis: no remaining cancer.

“I just had an overall feeling that I was in fantastic hands,” Michelle said.

“My physicians, Dr. Riaz and Dr. Kirby, were warm and caring. These are very knowledgeable women and I knew I was in capable hands. I knew if I did everything they told me to do, I would be okay. They were very patient with me and answered all of my questions.

“They played such a crucial role in giving me my life back. I could tell I mattered to them.”

On Michelle’s last day of radiation treatment, her radiation therapist gave her a blue rubber bracelet with the encryption, strength.  Her son wears it every day.  He says it’s his most prized possession.

“Thank you doesn’t seem like enough,” Michelle said. “I almost see my breast cancer as an unexpected blessing. So many amazing people became a part of my life. My gratefulness far outweighs the bad experiences. Sometimes the road to getting better isn’t very pretty, but I’m going to be okay. It was important for my kids to see that sometimes life is really hard but you can always face it and get through it.”

Since Michelle’s treatments ended, she has started making more time for herself. She pays closer attention to her health and she believes she has a better outlook on life.

If you would like to learn more about St. Joseph Mercy Oakland’s cancer programs, call 1-877-712-HOPE or visit stjoeshealth.org/cancercare-breast.

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Be in tune with your body

Tanya McLeod credits God, family and St. Mary Mercy Livonia for courageous fight against colorectal cancer

Listen to your body. If something feels wrong, go to the doctor. These are the words 61-year-old Inkster resident Tanya McLeod lives by.

Tanya was feeling constipated, bloated and had stomach cramps. She felt pain near her tailbone when she walked. It wasn’t until she found blood in her stool that she knew this wasn’t merely the realities of getting older. She knew her body was telling her something so she made an appointment with her primary care physician.

During her exam, Tanya’s physician felt something abnormal and referred her for a colonoscopy. She received her diagnosis on June 24, 2015 – stage two colorectal cancer.

Accompanied by her husband, two children, mother, sister, and sister-in-law, Tanya met with radiation oncologist Samir Narayan, MD and his team at St. Mary Mercy Livonia. At this first meeting, they gained an honorary family member, she said.

“That day, we gained a family friend; more like I gained a brother. The whole staff is like my extended family.”

Tanya_McLeod_03“I was scared and feared the worst,” recalled Tanya. “All of that fear and uncertainty melted away when I met Dr. Narayan. I felt an immediate connection with him. With a smile that is so genuine it reaches his eyes, it’s hard not to feel comfortable with him.”

“That day, we gained a family friend; more like I gained a brother. The whole staff is like my extended family,” she continued.

Tanya underwent six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. It wasn’t easy. On the sixth week, she felt something was off but was so close to being done that she pushed it aside. But she couldn’t fool the radiation oncology staff.

“They knew when I came in that something wasn’t right just by how I was walking,” she said. “The office staff put me in a wheel chair and took me up to the Cancer Center. I was admitted and spent nine days in the hospital. I’m so thankful they were all so in tune with me and cared about my well-being.”

This minor setback didn’t get her down. After being released from the hospital, Tanya finished her treatments.

While in recovery, she faced a few more setbacks. Part of her colon and intestine were removed due to the side effects of the chemo and radiation. Through it all, she stayed positive and credits God, her family and the St. Mary Mercy staff for providing the help and support needed to overcome her diagnosis and become a survivor.

“As of Nov. 30, 2017, I am two years cancer free!” Tanya exclaimed. “I am so thankful I am still here. The Lord gave me a second chance at life.”

In a letter Tanya wrote to Dr. Narayan, she expressed her gratitude for him and his staff. She wrote:

I continue to thank God for each and every one of you. I am a new creature in Christ! I am courage! I am fearless! I am a survivor! I am remarkable!”

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

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Be Courageous

Kellie finds hope and healing with the breast cancer care team at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea’s Cancer Center

The diagnosis – stage 3 breast cancer – left Kellie Ulloa in shock and disbelief. The 47-year old mother of four from Grass Lake thought of all the possible outcomes to her health and future. But mainly, she felt terrified.

No one in her family had a history of breast cancer. And only five months before her diagnosis, Kellie’s routine mammogram had come back normal. Yet, she knew something wasn’t right.

Kellie contacted her primary care physician and a few tests later she was diagnosed with a slow-growing cancer not regularly visible on a 2D mammogram but often caught with 3D mammography.

The terror she felt from the diagnosis melted into hope and optimism when she met with Kathleen Beekman, MD and her care team from St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea’s Cancer Center.

“I knew in that moment, I would make it through this storm,” she said.

Kellie’s team went over her treatment plan in detail, and answered every question sincerely and thoroughly. “They really put my mind at ease,” she recalled.

From that first meeting in 2016, Kellie underwent four surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments over a sixteen-month period. Her care team was with her every step of the way.

“I cannot express to you how thankful I am for the courage you have given me along this rocky journey.”

Kellie_Ulloa_06Two years later, Kellie is in remission. She’s an advocate for mammograms – telling all her friends to choose the 3D mammography at St. Joe’s Chelsea so even the tiniest cancer located in a hidden spot can be detected early.

In addition, Kellie participates in a clinical trial that helps cancer survivors following treatment. Each week, a coach works with her to create and maintain a healthy diet and integrate exercise into her daily routine.

Kellie is grateful for Dr. Beekman and the entire St Joe’s Chelsea team for helping her through the biggest challenge of her life.

“I cannot express to you how thankful I am for the courage you have given me along this rocky journey,” Kellie wrote in a letter to Dr. Beekman.

“With your guidance and support, I knew I was never alone. You cared for me, never seeing myself as just another cancer patient, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Your quality and integrity as a doctor, and more importantly, as a person, shine through.

“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

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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Be Reassured

An unlucky fall led to a surprising diagnosis and life-saving treatment for Manchester resident Mary Kay Bailey

While on a camping trip in Monroe, Mich. in October 2016, Mary Kay tripped down the front steps of her camper, leaving her in excruciating pain. She insisted she didn’t want to go to any hospital except St. Joe’s in Ann Arbor.  She gingerly got into her car and made the hour-drive to her hometown hospital, passing several other facilities along the way.

Once inside St. Joe’s Emergency Room, a CT scan of her chest showed three broken ribs but also a spot on her lung.

“My daughter had been bugging me for a while, even before this happened, to go to the Lung Clinic,” said Bailey, 72, adding that she had smoked off and on throughout her life.

The lung clinic confirmed the initial diagnosis of stage-one lung cancer. Within a month of her accident, thoracic surgeon Kumari Adams, MD, removed the lower right lobe of Mary Kay’s lung using the Da Vinci Robot surgery system.

“I can’t praise St. Joe’s enough, and Dr. Adams is just the greatest. She took me under her wing as soon as I saw her. I was never scared, I knew God would guide her.”

Mary Kay was back home shortly after surgery.

Mary_Kay_Bailey_09“I was in far worse pain from my broken ribs than I was from the lung surgery,” exclaimed Mary Kay. “A few days after surgery, I went refrigerator shopping and washed our kitchen floor. I can still do everything I want.”

All of the post-operative biopsies came back clear. Mary Kay was cancer-free and required no additional treatments. Every six months, she returns to St. Joe’s for a CT scan and checkup with medical oncologist Kathleen Beekman, MD.

Mary Kay gained more than expert care; she found friends who care about her cancer journey.

“I can’t praise St. Joe’s enough, and Dr. Adams is just the greatest. She took me under her wing as soon as I saw her. I was never scared, I knew God would guide her. When I was in the hospital after surgery, she always gave me and my husband a hug. It’s like I have a new friend.

“Dr. Adams is my remarkable.”

For more information about the Lung Clinic at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, call 1-877-712-HOPE or visit stjoeshealth.org/cancercare-lung.

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Be Steadfast

Carolyn Violetta continues her fight against breast cancer with her team at St. Joseph Mercy Brighton Cancer Center

The fear of cancer didn’t stop Carolyn Violetta from taking her son to the opening day of the Ann Arbor Art Fair. She wanted to enjoy the annual family tradition before returning home to brace for the phone call. And when it came, it confirmed what the 53-year-old Fowlerville mother had suspected for months.

After her cancer diagnosis, an MRI helped to define the extent of her tumor. Having no family history of the disease, Carolyn said the thought of breast cancer was awful and daunting.

“I knew it was coming, it was pretty horrible,” said Carolyn.

But Carolyn said meeting her cancer care team at St. Joseph Mercy Brighton Cancer Center quickly put her mind at ease, and she knew she would be in good hands. A self-admitted worrier, Carolyn met her match in breast surgeon Dr. Tara Breslin.

“Dr. Breslin is right to the point. She doesn’t mess around. I appreciate that.”

Carolyn also praised the rest of her team, including her radiologist, oncologist, PAs and infusion center nurses, for approaching her care in a collaborative manner.

“Since my cancer diagnosis and going to the many appointments that come along with that, I have been amazed at the quality of care I have received. Every time I leave an appointment I comment to my family and my friends that this team of doctors makes me feel safe and cared for.”

“I thank you, my family thanks you, for everything you have done for us.”

Carolyn_Violetta_05Carolyn underwent a double mastectomy. It revealed that the cancer spread to a couple of lymph nodes, supporting a stage 2B diagnosis. Carolyn recently completed chemotherapy, and now faces a six-week round of radiation therapy.

Though the journey to being cancer free isn’t over yet, Carolyn said she tries to rejoice in small victories. Hair-loss was particularly painful for the former hairstylist, so she looks forward to growing out her hair again post-chemo. And normalcy is a gift she no longer takes for granted. Whether it’s lacing up her running shoes and going outside for a jog, talking to her friends or spending time with her husband and two sons, Carolyn said she tries to keep her mind and spirit active.

“I’m still in it. You just have to wake up every day and take a bite out of this,” she said. “You wake up every day, and it’s another day you’re alive.”

She thanked Dr. Breslin and her entire care team for fighting with her in this ongoing battle.

“I thank you, my family thanks you, for everything you have done for us.”

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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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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Be Surrounded by Experts

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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