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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