J's Letter

Listeners to 98.7 The River:

My name is Suzanne and I am an Oncology Nurse Navigator at the Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah. I have the privilege of working with patients that have received a diagnosis of cancer and help them “navigate” through their treatment plan giving support as needed. I get to see the struggles that my patients go through with physical changes, family issues, and the emotional stress.

During the holiday time, the emotional stresses are amplified and the desire for normalcy is even stronger. I have watched one of my younger patients deal with the upcoming holidays and what that may mean for her four small children. I met J. age 29, in March 2018 after she had been diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. She was diagnosed after going to the doctor complaining of fatigue, night sweats, and a “lump” in her neck. She had been feeling very tired since the birth of her last child and attributed it to being the mother of four small children. On her postpartum checkup, her doctor was concerned about her symptoms and sent her to a surgeon to get a biopsy of the lump in her neck. With the results of her biopsy, she was referred to the Anderson Cancer Institute where she met with the medical oncologist, Dr. Christopher Haberman. I met her with her parents in this first meeting and I could see the fear and shock that was on everyone’s faces as they heard this diagnosis. I could see that J. had a very supportive family and would face this situation together; however, her parents do not live close to this area and the distance limits their ability to help.

Cancer care has become very specialized so J. needed further surgery to get more clinical information from an additional pathology specimen. With the extra information, as this sometimes happens with this type of lymphoma, it was determined by her doctor the treatment plan would be to “watch and wait” for a time as long as the disease did not change or progress. However, within 2-3 months J’s symptoms increased and she began to lose weight, her night sweats worsened and her fatigue was making it hard for her to work. A CT scan confirmed that the disease had progressed so she was started on chemotherapy and immunotherapy agents. She is currently still in treatment and has completed three cycles of six planned cycles given every three weeks. She states that for 2-3 days after her treatments, she is exceptionally tired and needs to take long rest periods. For the days following she continues to battle fatigue from the needed aggressive treatments which is a side effect frequently seen and monitored. Although she would like to make the holidays special for her children, she is overwhelmed with being a parent, taking chemotherapy, and continuing to work when she is able.

The last 6-7 months have been increasingly difficult for her, but J. says that her children have been her support system, cheerleaders, and motivation to continue the dreaded chemotherapy! Her oldest child, a girl who is 11 years old, has an interest in helping others and participates in Ride For Life Rodeo that helps raise money for children and families dealing with cancer. Her second child is a 6 year old girl who participates in the rodeo too but does not ride. Her contribution for her mom is prayer. J’s other children, a 2-year-old son and a one year old daughter, are too young to understand what is happening but they know their mom does not “feel good” some days.

J’s greatest hope and challenge are to give her children a special Christmas holiday. Because J. has only been able to work part time during her treatments, she is only able to provide the bare necessities. Her dream is to give them a holiday they will always remember. We talked about what her children would like for Christmas and she mentioned these few things. J’s older daughter, 11 years old, loves to ride horses and would like grooming items for the horse she rides. She also would like a new pair of riding boots. Her 6-year-old daughter likes riding horses and gymnastics and would also would like some new riding boots, clothes for her American Girl doll, and a camera. J’s son who is 2 years old would like a first bike with training wheels, a remote control car, and a t-ball set. He loves playing outside, playing with trucks, and horses! The youngest child, a 1-year-old daughter would like a tricycle, a kitchen set, and a baby doll set. She loves to play outdoors and playing with her baby dolls.

When I asked J. what she would like for Christmas she stated that she would like to feel good during the holidays and be with her children. Unfortunately, we can’t change some things for her but we can add some special cheer to her while she rests by getting some crafting, scrap booking, and painting supplies for her. I thank you for listening to the needs of this young family and the challenges they are facing during this holiday time.

Wishing this family and all of you a very special holiday season!

Suzanne Bryan

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