Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center treats the mind and spirit, as well as the disease
Sheila Sass, a former Nashville schoolteacher and a breast cancer survivor, took part in a Look Good Feel Better event at The Breast Center at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)
by Joan Brasher in the Vanderbilt VIew
In July of 2009, Myra McCarthy was on vacation in Florida with her husband when he had a seizure. He was rushed to a local hospital, and it was discovered he had Stage IV lung cancer. The couple returned to Nashville for treatment, reeling from the news. After two rounds of chemotherapy, his condition declined rapidly. In March 2010, he succumbed to the disease.
“We had been married 26 years, and he was the love of my life,” McCarthy said. “When you are facing something like this and you know your significant other is going to die, it’s like you are walking into a big black hole and you don’t know how or if you will come back out of it.”
McCarthy got in touch with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s new program, The Hope Connection, which matches people battling cancer or their caregivers by phone with a volunteer who is willing to listen, talk and offer support.
“We have 50 volunteers who are themselves cancer survivors or caregivers,” said Jane Kennedy, manager of patient advocacy. “These individuals have personally experienced the challenges of a cancer diagnosis and can provide reassurance and hope.”
McCarthy was matched with Kehaunani Hubbard, whose husband died in 2005 from Stage IV brain cancer.
“Kehaunani had a child, too, and her husband died of cancer, so she understood what I was going through,” McCarthy said.
“When you hit Stage IV, it’s like you are being pushed off a cliff,” Hubbard said. “There’s no lead-up to it – no time to understand or process what is going on. I talked to Myra and helped her find the resources she needed. Ultimately, it went beyond Hope Connection to us simply helping each other and relating as widows.”
According to the American Cancer Society, one-third of all women and half of all men in America will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Millions are living with it or have had it.
Every year, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center sees more than 5,000 new patients facing cancer. Each is dubbed a “cancer survivor” for the rest of their lives, avoiding terms such as “patient” or “victim.”
But Vanderbilt University Medical Center doesn’t stop at treating the disease alone. An impressive array of support services and resources is in place to help men and women and their families deal with every aspect of their journey.
Upon diagnosis, individuals and their caregivers can seek support in the way that suits them best, whether it’s exploring literature at the Patient and Family Resource Center, being matched with a “phone buddy,” or getting help creating a full post-treatment Survivorship Care Plan.