Things have changed a lot in the decade since Ellie Wiles was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
FirstHealth’s chemotherapy unit, once located in the Patient Tower , has moved to the Outpatient Cancer Center on the Page Road side of the hospital campus. Wiles’ primary care provider and the first medical oncologist to supervise her chemotherapy have left FirstHealth, another oncologist has retired, and new physicians have filled the gap.
Technology has also changed, and services, such as digital mammography, that were then offered only in certain FirstHealth locations are now available throughout the system.
One thing has not changed, though, Wiles says: the quality of care – professional, compassionate and involved – that she received from diagnosis to reconstruction.
“Right from the very first, there was no stress,” she says. “It was a really good experience.”
Wiles’ cancer journey began in 2002 as she brushed her hand over the front of her T-shirt and felt a large, hard mass under her left breast. Since she found the lump on a Friday evening, she had to wait until Monday morning to contact her primary provider.
A Tuesday visit to the FirstHealth Family Care Center-Troy started the series of events that would take Wiles – then Human Resources manager for FirstHealth Montgomery Memorial Hospital – through every breast cancer service that FirstHealth of the Carolinas had to offer.
Ellie Wiles’ family and friends were sources of great comfort to her during her breast cancer journey. Wiles and her daughter, Jane Lindsey (left), are shown during her first chemotherapy treatment at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in April 2002. The stuffed bunny on Wiles’ lap is “Miss H” (Happy and Healthy), given to her by a friend to accompany her on all her treatments.
She had mammograms, ultrasound, a needle-guided biopsy and then three months of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy in June 2002, then three more months of chemotherapy and a 38-treatment radiation regimen.
Although Wiles experienced many of the usual rigors of cancer treatment – nausea, weight gain, fatigue, all of the medical professionals she encountered, her family, co-workers and friends, even other patients helped sustain her.
General surgeon Fabian Alzamora, M.D., of Pinehurst Surgical, happened to be in the specialty clinic at Montgomery Memorial when her diagnosis was confirmed. He performed her mastectomy and was involved in her care throughout.
Radiation oncologists Stephen King, M.D., and Jeffrey Acker, M.D., “were terrific.” “They educated me on what to expect,” Wiles says. “They don’t just order your treatment.”
The radiation therapy staff was just as involved and equally compassionate. “I can’t say enough about how great people were during radiation,” says Wiles. “It was all made so simple. I rarely had to wait. It was a great experience.”
During two separate rounds of chemotherapy, Wiles came to admire and appreciate the nurses in charge of her infusion as well as her physicians. “All the nurses were so caring and explained everything,” she says.
In December 2003, 18 months after her mastectomy, Wiles had breast reconstruction surgery with Noel McDevitt, M.D., a plastic surgeon with Pinehurst Surgical. It, too, was a positive experience.
Cancer-free for 10 years now, Wiles no longer takes medication and will soon be able to stretch her six-month follow-ups with medical oncologist Todd Moore, M.D., into a year. She is forever changed by the “great experience” of cancer and cancer care.
“I couldn’t have asked for nicer people, more caring people, more knowledgeable,” she says of her FirstHealth caregivers. “It never crossed my mind to go anywhere else. I always knew I would have good care.”