Suzanne and Sam are grateful to donors and their cancer care team.
Suzanne knew that something was wrong. The avid genealogist, mother to four children, grandmother to four and great grandmother to six, had been hiding her excruciating symptoms for quite some time, fearing the worst. But hiding became impossible the day she lost consciousness in the office of the family business. Her husband, Sam, rushed her from their home in Quartz Valley, California to the nearest hospital, 30 miles away in Yreka. There, she underwent emergency surgery.
In her fragile state, success was unlikely. The procedure was expected to be two hours and lasted seven. When she woke, her physician shared the news she hoped to never hear, “You have cancer.”
Her situation was dire. With stage IV advanced endometrial cancer, Suzanne entered a skilled nursing facility for what was expected to be her last two to four months of life.
Then she was referred to Asante and to Dr. Mujahid Rizvi of Hematology Oncology Associates (HOA.) With clinical partnerships linking her to specialists in gynecological oncology and genetics, the Asante and HOA team was Suzanne’s best hope. “I had all the right people – everything lined up,” she says.
Still, the road ahead was daunting. Suzanne recalls sitting next to Sam in the cafeteria of Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center after their first day of visits. As the reality of the situation washed over her, she broke down. “Tears were running down my cheeks, and then all of a sudden, there was this angel, putting her arms around us, and she said, ‘You two look like you could use someone to talk to, why don’t you come to my office?”
That person was social worker Lona Dillard, LCSW, and this was the beginning of a relationship that would see Suzanne and Sam through many of their hardest days. Suzanne says, “She seeks me out every time, even if she only has five minutes, she makes sure we’re all right and checks to see if we need anything. Usually she makes us laugh and that is probably the greatest gift.”
Making her own decisions about her course of treatment was important to Suzanne. Genetic testing revealed that she was a good candidate for immunotherapy, which she began under the careful guidance of Dr. Rizvi and Advanced Practice Provider, Christopher Crum. “They are a powerhouse team!”
With their care, Suzanne was able to return home to Sam. This began a new chapter in life, one that included frequent travel between their home in Siskiyou County to Medford. Suzanne credits her scheduler, Pam, with making their journey easier. “She moves heaven and earth to get me in – she knows we have a two-hour drive, she knows winter and early dark are a problem. I don’t think she realizes how much of an asset she is in making this work for us and keeping us safe, as well. We could not have done this without Pam!”
In this holiday season, Suzanne reflects on how far she has come since her cancer diagnosis:
“Christmas is very special to me. The first year, I asked Dr. Rizvi, ‘Will I still be here for Christmas?’ and he said, ‘We’ll see.’
The second year I asked him, ‘Can I plan for Christmas?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I think so.’
This year, I didn’t have to ask. He told me, “You can put Christmas on your calendar.”
With her dedicated care team and her loving husband by her side, Suzanne is enjoying each day to its fullest. “I am grateful to God first, Sam second. He is my full-time caregiver. He supports me with whatever I choose. I am fully aware that every day is a gift.”
Suzanne was moved to hear about the community’s generous support for the new Mary and Dick Heimann Cancer Center at Asante. Because their journey has been so full of challenges, Suzanne is keenly aware of the difference this one-stop cancer care facility will make in the lives of patients and families.
“All the equipment that I need is in one place – In the past, I didn’t know where I was going until I got my appointment list. I have had a CT scan in four different places, now it’s all in one place! And infusion is right there, in the same place. Getting in and out of the car is a real chore for Sam and I – staying in one place will be great! I’m looking forward to it, I really am, it will be quite a change from going to three, four or five places on a visit to just one.”
She feels profound gratitude to the medical teams at Asante, who care for people with cancer from across its nine-county region.
“Without Asante I would not be here. My local hospital could not have done this. Everything that I have, everything is because of Asante. From all the lab techs who have taken extra care to be as gentle as possible with me to every nurse who has treated me with kindness, excellent care and most of all, made me laugh, my team has done everything to let me have all this.”
Suzanne has a special message for every person who makes a gift of any size to help build the Heimann Cancer Center:
“Without your support, I wouldn’t be here. My family wouldn’t have me. It’s the whole world to them. If you don’t support [regional cancer care] it’s not there, and then people like me, we’re not here.”
“I was given 2-4 months to live. Here I am, two and half years later. Every day is a gift. I give thanks to anyone who makes it possible for me to have another day. Thank you!”
UPDATE – December 2022:
Suzanne continues to receive treatment at the Mary and Dick Heimann Cancer Center and celebrates another year of survivorship. She left a note on her story that’s hung on the wall on the second floor to signify this important milestone for her care team.