PINEHURST – Dee Anderson was told she had uterine cancer in March 2012, and the news turned her “whole world upside-down.”
“I was having some unusual symptoms, but I felt fine, so I put off going to the doctor,” she says. “I probably waited four or five months before I decided to get checked out. I never even thought that they would find something like cancer.”
But that’s exactly what happened.
In the weeks following her diagnosis, Anderson experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. She worked hard to absorb and understand the information that her medical providers were sharing, but it wasn’t easy.
On April 12, 2012, just a few weeks after learning about her cancer, Anderson underwent surgery at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill.
“After the surgery, my doctor recommended additional treatment,” she says. “He called it a chemo sandwich. “
Anderson’s treatment followed a sequential plan, which recent studies have shown not only improve overall outcomes of certain cancers (such as those of the female reproductive organs), but also better manage the negative side effects associated with cancer treatment. Anderson underwent three chemotherapy treatments followed by a rest period. She then had three radiation treatments and repeated the chemo after another brief rest period.
The process is called a “chemo sandwich,” because the radiation treatments are “sandwiched” between the chemo sessions.
“My oncologist at UNC gave me the choice of having my chemotherapy at FirstHealth or traveling to Chapel Hill,” says Anderson. “He highly recommended the FirstHealth Cancer Center, and I decided to stay close to home. I didn’t know it then, but that was the best choice I could’ve made. It made all the difference in how I coped with my treatments.”
Even before Anderson had her first round of chemotherapy, representatives from FirstHealth were contacting her to introduce her to various assistance programs and to put her in touch with CARE-Net volunteer Jan Carey.
“Jan contacted me before I even began my treatments,” Anderson recalls. “She talked with me about what FirstHealth could offer. She told me about the Cancer CARE Fund.”
Cancer CARE Fund
The Foundation of FirstHealth created the Cancer CARE Fund in 2000 as a partnership of community volunteers, health providers and The Foundation of FirstHealth to provide support services for patients and families coping with the challenges of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Every year, the Cancer CARE Fund touches the lives of more than 350 patients.
“A cancer diagnosis presents a huge challenge for families,” says Laura Kuzma, the Foundation’s volunteer coordinator. “It touches them emotionally, physically and financially. At FirstHealth, we try to help them overcome some of the obstacles providing options for treatment and, maybe even most important, a helping hand.”
Since its inception, the Cancer CARE Fund has channeled more than $800,000 in financial assistance and personal resources to help patients in need. The fund’s resources can be used to cover various expenses including those associated with medication, transportation to and from appointments, wigs, prostheses and nutritional supplements.
The Cancer CARE Fund also supports the special CARE-Net volunteer program.
Anderson didn’t need medication or other support, but she did participate in the CARE-Net program.
“I have great insurance, and I thought that there were other people who needed the financial help more than I did,” she says. “But having someone who had been through cancer to talk to – that helped. A lot.”
Through its unique “buddy system,” CARE-Net pairs specially trained volunteers with patients needing a sympathetic ear, a caring heart or a helping hand as they navigate the health care system. The volunteers provide support to patients and families through calls, letters and visits. They also help connect patients with necessary resources and, when needed, facilitate communication with medical providers.
Perhaps best of all, CARE-Net volunteers listen. Many are survivors of cancer or other serious illnesses so they bring a special understanding to their roles. The emotional support is not time-limited and, if desired, can continue beyond the completion of treatment.
When Jan Carey reached out to Anderson, she offered something beyond ordinary friendship. She offered hope.
“Jan sent me cards, she made phone calls to check on me, and she even visited me during my chemo treatments,” Anderson says. “I would be having a really hard day. I might be feeling sick or tired or thinking that I just couldn’t do this anymore. Then I would get a card from Jan, and I would feel better. I felt like I wasn’t alone.”
CARE-Net is open to all patients at no charge. For more information or to learn how you can volunteer, call 715-4230.
Anderson had relocated from Vermont to Pinehurst six years ago to be closer to family.
“I wanted to be close to my only grandchild,” she says. “Before this, I had never really been sick, so I didn’t realize how secure it makes you feel knowing that there are great health services near home. I am thankful that if I do need more care in the future, I know that I am in the right place to get what I need from people who really care.”
A pharmacy tech with a local drug store, Anderson continued working throughout her treatment. Although she admits that she needed extra time off to manage the fatigue and other side effects, she appreciates the steps her employer took to accommodate her health issues.
“I tried to wear a wig once, and I hated it, so I told them I would be coming in to work bald,” she says. “I didn’t realize that my bald head would encourage people to open up and share their experiences. It felt good to talk to others facing cancer. I hope that as I get my energy back, I can become a CARE-Net volunteer. I need to find out how to help. I would like to give back.”
Anderson had her final chemotherapy treatment on Sept. 25, 2012, and will have a follow-up visit in July.
“My doctors say I am cancer-free,” she says. “It was hard, but it could’ve been worse. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
10th annual Blue Jean Ball set for June 1
You can make a difference for families facing cancer by attending the 10th Annual Blue Jean Ball.
For more information, call 695-7510.
The Cancer CARE Fund is made possible through the philanthropic support of the community. Gifts can be made through general donations, annual giving programs, bequests, estate-planning tools, tributes and memorial gifts. Civic and community groups can also provide ongoing financial support for the Cancer CARE Fund through third-party fundraising activities. If interested in organizing such a fundraiser, please call 715-4229.