The Impact of Your Giving…Through the experience and courage of a patient

Sandy Lymburner

“Recently I came across the definition of the word Courage.  It is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty or pain.  You have to have courage just to walk through these doors and hear your diagnosis,” said Sandra Lymburner, 58-year-old Ann Arbor resident, of her experience facing breast cancer. “Cancer can make you feel overwhelmed and alone. But together with your cancer team here at St. Joe’s you find the courage.  There is strength in knowing you will receive the best cancer care possible.”

Sandy Lymburner with Philip J. Stella, MD, Medical Director of Oncology, SJMHS at the 2018 Blessing and Dedication of the renewed St. Joe’s Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center.

While Sandy celebrates five years cancer-free this past September, her journey of braving a new treatment path will have an ongoing impact on others.  She’s quick to credit the cancer care and research team at St. Joe’s Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center.

Weeks after being diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in the right breast and lobular cancer in the left, Sandy underwent a double mastectomy in September 2014. Her chemotherapy port was placed the next month, fully expecting it was the next course of treatment.

But on the day of Sandy’s first scheduled chemotherapy session, Dr. Philip Stella, medical director of oncology at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, suggested she might be able to bypass chemotherapy altogether.

“He came into the room with a big smile on his face,” Sandy described. Dr. Stella had sent in her breast tumor samples for molecular testing.  Sandy had some of the lowest cancer recurrence risk scores he had seen, making her a good candidate for the groundbreaking Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (Rx), or TAILORx trial.  Sandy received a score of 10 and 7 (on a scale of 100), and was randomly selected to receive hormone therapy alone.

Rather than receiving infusion chemo treatments, Sandy chose to participate in the clinical trial, which includes a treatment regimen of medications to block the production of hormones and reduce her risks of the breast cancer recurring.

She also followed her cancer team’s recommendations for radiation therapy – to tackle the microscopic cells.  But avoiding chemotherapy and its drastic side effects was a huge morale booster for Sandy, who began journaling and running every day.

In 2016, Sandy completed a half-marathon, and, in 2018, to mark four years of being cancer-free, she ran her third half-marathon in Chicago on Sept. 23.

At the Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center Dedication and Blessing in December 2018, Sandy shared her experience with our community and donors as a speaker at the event, “The clinical trial allowed me to walk out of the cancer center that day without requiring chemo.  Every time I tell the story, I recall the moment I looked back at the chairs in the infusion clinic.  I was on the other side. I got to go home.  My good fortune was due to the outstanding staff in the Oncology and Research Departments at St. Joe’s and Dr. Stella. 

At that time I didn’t realize St. Joe’s is recognized as one of the nation’s best National Cancer Institute funded community research programs. They have 100 trials open to enrollment at any given time.  These studies offer investigational treatments for a wide variety of cancers, symptom management, and cancer prevention.” 

Sandy went on to explain, “The exceptional care I received at St. Joe’s has been incredible and is the main reason I decided to become an Experience Advisor.”  As such, Sandy was closely involved in the Cancer Center redesign and renovation project and found it enlightening and gratifying to have another unique opportunity to shape the care of those following a similar path.

Closing her remarks at the Dedication, Sandy shared these powerful words, “Society has labeled me a cancer survivor.  That term doesn’t really resonate with me.  I like to think of myself as a resilient fighter… Someone that didn’t know how strong she was until being strong was the only choice she had.  Thanks to my family and the staff at St. Joe’s we embraced the unknown together and I have celebrated almost five years of being cancer free.”

TAILORx trial shows no need for chemotherapy for most women with early breast cancer

The TAILORx trial, launched in 2006 and supported by the National Cancer Institute, analyzed breast tumors using the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score and assigned a cancer recurrence risk score to each individual.  Based on those scores, the trial randomly assigned participants to hormone therapy alone, or a combination of hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

Forty St. Joe’s patients participated in the trial.

In June, the National Cancer Institute said new findings from the TAILORx trial show no benefit from chemotherapy for most women with early breast cancer. Researchers hope the new data will help inform treatment decisions for many women with early-stage breast cancer, especially for those deemed to have an intermediate risk of recurrence.

To learn more about St. Joe’s Cancer Care and National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program, visit: stjoesannarbor.org/cancer

To make a gift to St. Joe’s Ann Arbor “Life is Remarkable” Campaign
Cancer Care Innovation Endowment Fund today, visit: giving.stjoeshealth.org/ann-arbor

Or to learn more about how you can support this important effort, contact:
 Katie Elliott at
Katie.Elliott@stjoeshealth.org or 734-712-3919
Karen Campbell at
Karen.Campbell@stjoeshealth.org or 734-712-2890
Melissa Sheppard at
Melissa.Sheppard@stjoeshealth.org or 734-712-4079

(Source: “Gift of Health” Fall 2019)

Giving Back is Our Philosophy- Luanne and Howard Booth

13 years ago, when Luanne Booth was treated for endometrial cancer, she never expected to be facing the disease again. The surgery went well, lab results indicated the cancer was gone, and her prognosis was good.  But in January 2017, Luanne received the diagnosis that the cancer was back and a second surgery was not an option. She didn’t hesitate. She knew exactly where to go for treatment, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Cancer Care Center.

Luanne and her husband, Howard Booth, moved to the area from Ypsilanti where he had been an Eastern Michigan University physiology/ biology professor and vault coach for 47 years and she had been Head of Middle School at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor.  They found St. Joe’s Chelsea near their new home to be a first class hospital with the small community feel that inspired their move, and have trusted the hospital with their health care needs ever since.   

One of the most impactful moments Luanne recalled from her treatment was Dr. Rebecca Liu, a specialist in gynecological cancers, recommending a clinical trial. Luanne and Howard felt it was important to participate. “While we hoped the trial protocol would help fight my cancer, we also highly value scientific study and the difference it makes improving treatment,” explained Luanne.

Saint Joseph Mercy Health System is one of only 34 National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Programs (NCORP), and holds the highest grant score in the nation.  St. Joe’s NCORP, housed in Ann Arbor and offered through all our Cancer Centers in Chelsea, Brighton, Livonia, Canton and Pontiac serves 5,000 patients eliminating the costs, health risks and stress of traveling by bringing research trials close to home.

“I feel so lucky I was a candidate for the trial arm of the study. It is in the second phase and showing promising results,” Luanne said.  As part of the trial, Luanne underwent rigorous treatment including radiation five days a week for five weeks while undergoing chemotherapy for one day a week for 7 hours each time, which caused debilitating side effects. Following that, Luanne was treated with three sessions of outpatient brachytherapy, benefitting from the continuum of care between St. Joe’s Chelsea and Ann Arbor, housing one of the nation’s few high-dose-rate / low-dose-rate brachytherapy surgical suites.

Through it all, Luanne maintained her positive outlook and gratitude for the care she received. Most of all, she admired the staff’s professionalism, warmth and kindness, and personal interest. “You don’t really know the depth of the preparation and side effects of treatment until you’re going through it, and the staff is with you every step of the way, helping you cope, encouraging you, and gently managing things like your violent stomach upset, fatigue, and collapsing veins. You can tell they love their jobs and their patients.”

The Double Ribbon Mobius is a 9-foot tall coated aluminum sculpture chosen for its dynamic, strong and heart-like appearance. The Double Ribbon Mobius is a 9-foot tall coated aluminum sculpture chosen for its dynamic, strong and heart-like appearance.

During treatment, Luanne and Howard also noticed the beautiful, well-appointed features donors made possible. “When you go into St. Joe’s Chelsea Cancer Center, and you’re so warmly received by the

 concierge Ken and department secretary Betty, they have set up a convenient card swipe for check-in, there is a warm fireplace, comfortable seating, gorgeous paintings, the food is like room service, you make friends with all the patients and spouses, and the staff is so cheerful, there is just one thing that doesn’t fit, the view out the window to the bleak rooftop,” explained Luanne. “Howard and I have a philosophy, we give back any way we can. I’m a musician and painter, so the idea of beautifying the rooftop with a sculpture appealed to us.  We wanted our gift to make the experience even better for other patients and to be a lasting reminder of our gratitude to the staff for their wonderful care.”

“Howard and Luanne Booth’s generous support is making our incredible Cancer Center even better,” said Judy Stratman, Director of Development. “We are fortunate to have supporters who understand the important role that art plays in the healing experience. Their gift will have a lasting impact on patients and families who rely on St. Joe’s Chelsea for cancer care.”

I Feel Lucky

Luanne Booth wanted to do more than sit on the sidelines watching her husband, Howard, a World Champion in pole vault and other track events and current men’s vault coach at EMU, so she also joined the Michigan Senior Olympics.  She has run in distance and sprint competitions and qualified for the nationals.

This same champion spirit helped her get through cancer with courage, hope and determination. Just three days after finishing a three-month-long rigorous treatment plan at St. Joe’s as part of a phase 2 study that included beam radiation, chemotherapy and brachytherapy, Luanne joined Howard for a trip to Washington DC for the 2017 National Street Vault at Freedom Plaza. The treatments were physically draining and she spent the trip in a wheelchair, but she was not going to miss it.

“I got around pretty well,” Luanne said. Today, less than a year later, Luanne is building up her strength and stamina to run again, is filled with vibrancy, and takes walks every day.  Her resilience and healing journey inspire everyone she knows and meets. Luanne will tell you, “I just feel very lucky.”

Howard and Luanne Booth 2013 Senior Olympics

For information about cancer services call 734-712-HOPE or visit stjoeschelsea.org/chelsea-cancer-care.

To make a gift to St. Joe’s Chelsea today, visit: giving.stjoeshealth.org/chelsea

Or contact the Office of Development:

Katie Elliott, Director of Major and Planned Gifts
734-712-3919 or
Katie.Elliott@stjoeshealth.org  

Karen Campbell, Gift Officer
734-712-2890 or
Karen.Campbell@stjoeshealth.org  

Melissa Sheppard, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations
734-712-4079 or
Melissa.Sheppard@stjoeshealth.org

(Source: “Gift of Health Spring” 2018)