By: Carl Berkowitz, TCCC Volunteer
Norma Bartram and Tiffany Flager are breast cancer survivors. They both fought their medical battles and have now returned to their daily lives. But both were also taken by surprise at the end of their treatment. After months of living with an intense daily focus on doctor appointments, surgery, chemo, radiation, new medicines, special diets … their treatment was suddenly over. Which left them to ask, what’s next?
The answer came through the Tri-Cities Cancer Center’s Survivorship Clinic.
The adjustment to a post-treatment life is not always easy. Norma and Tiffany both felt a sense of elation with their last treatment and receipt of a clean bill of health from their oncologists. But like many survivors, the elation was soon followed by an emotional slump and feelings of exhaustion. Some, like Norma, recognized issues right away. Others, like Tiffany, become aware of issues during their visit at the Survivorship Clinic. One immediate benefit of their participation was learning that many of their post-treatment feelings were common among survivors. More generally, the Survivorship Clinic offered a resource for all their post-treatment concerns and helped them develop specific, individualized plans so they could move forward with their lives.
Besides being a clear history of the details of her treatment plan, Norma uses a Survivorship Care Plan as a checklist of things that need to be done. “I’m not a ‘smart phone technology’ person” she says. “So I keep my packet near a daily calendar as a reminder of what to do, when to do it and who to contact if there’s a problem. It’s invaluable!”
Receiving their packet of information was only one part of their Clinic visit. Both have stories about their meeting with Survivorship Nurse Practitioner Lisa Rootvik, ARNP. Norma describes how “Lisa sat across from me, knee to knee, for more than an hour, listening to my concerns and talking about a path forward for each of my worries. I came into the meeting feeling awful. I left knowing I had work to do, but with a wonderful feeling of hope and optimism. I felt like I was walking on air!”
Tiffany states that after receiving a clean CT scan she wasn’t sure what a visit to the Survivorship Clinic could offer. “I thought I had all the facts I needed and I knew what to do in the future.” But at the suggestion of Cancer Center Radiation Oncologist Dr. Sue Mandell, Tiffany looked into scheduling a visit. “Then, I received a questionnaire in the mail, asking me about various issues of my treatment, what I planned to do next, how I felt about this issue or that. I quickly realized there were things I wasn’t aware of and plans I should be making but hadn’t. It was an eye opener!”
And the support didn’t stop there. Tiffany had been told that her recovery from surgery would be quicker if she became more physically active. But how to do this in an environment she could both afford and in which she’d be comfortable? “Lisa called me at home to tell me about yoga classes and other resources that seemed to meet my needs. This was after my one-on-one meeting with her. She cared about me and knew me as an individual with my own special concerns. It was marvelous!”
Norma found it hard to completely grasp what she was going through during her treatment. But she knew that this knowledge would be essential if she was to successfully deal with the issues stemming from the treatment itself. “Besides helping me look to the future, my visit to the Survivorship Clinic was an opportunity to better understand what I had just been through. Lisa translated many medical terms into language I could understand, and told me what the potential long term impacts might be for some of my maintenance medicine. My brain was simply in a better place to grasp this information after the treatment.”
Today, Norma is regaining her strength and zest for life. She’s also back to her weekly coffee dates with her support team of special friends Carol, Sandra and Brooke. Tiffany is busy with daughters Addison (age 10), Paisley (age 6) and son William (age 13), back at work (KNDU-TV) and relaxing with a cancer support team that includes her family and fiancée Colby and his daughter Adyson (age 10). And both give credit to their Survivorship Clinic visits for helping them go from surviving … to thriving.
Patients with a history of breast cancer are currently being accepted at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Survivorship Clinic. Stay tuned as we add more cancer types over the next few months! For additional information, contact Sonia Rodriguez, Survivorship Clinic Coordinator at (509) 737-3442.