There’s a lot to be said for reading someone’s story in her own words. You can hear the inner strength they’ve gained from their struggles. Take a minute to read. You won’t go away unmoved.
Cynthia and Lila are two breast cancer survivors from Branson, Missouri who reached out to share how grant funding made a difference in their lives. They showcase nurse navigator – Marcy Keltner and tell how having access to a navigator made a positive difference in their breast cancer journey. What is a nurse navigator? A nurse navigator is an educator, advocate, coordinator and often case-manager for patients and their caregivers throughout their cancer care experience.
Cynthia Toolen is a busy vibrant young wife and mother who was determined not to let cancer get in the way of life. Her story begins in mid-January 2015. “I brushed my hand across my chest to move my hair away and that’s when I felt a lump,” she said. She soon scheduled an appointment with her doctor and from there was sent for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
“I’ll never forget the feeling I had when they took me into the room and said I had cancer, Triple Negative Breast Cancer.” Cynthia said. “As soon as my appointment was over, I had to go upstairs to my son’s appointment with his pediatrician. That’s when I stopped crying and wiped away my tears because I knew right then and there I had to fight and beat my cancer. I had two choices, I could sit and cry about it or I could do something about it.”
On Feb. 12, she went in for a single mastectomy. In all, Cynthia had six chemotherapy treatments and five surgeries. “I couldn’t believe how fast it all went,” she said. Cynthia was only 35 at the time – too young for a screening mammogram. Instead of getting lost in internet research and worry about “what ifs,” she focused her energy on enjoying life.
“We had fun shaving my head,” said Cynthia, who had long hair at the time. “Losing my hair really didn’t bother me. I had fun with it and had a couple of different wigs.”
Cynthia found great support through CoxHealth Cancer Center Branson Patient Navigator Marcy Keltner, whose position is made possible through a grant awarded to Skaggs Foundation by Susan G. Komen Ozark.
“Marcy was always wonderful,” Cynthia said. “I was nervous about going in for treatments. She’d greet me with a big hug. Before, all my treatments and follow up appointments, I’d go in and meet with her.” Marcy was able to not only provide Cynthia with an understanding of what to expect, but also provided her with items to make her journey more comfortable.
While Cynthia is grateful for all of the care and support she received throughout her journey, she said she hopes that other women understand their own strength. “Your mind is very powerful, never underestimate it,” she said. “You can choose to make your journey good or you can choose to make your journey bad. It’s when you choose to make it good, that is when you realize the strength you have and nothing can stand in your way.”
It was a year ago in July that 79-year-old Lila Tuter, of Kimberling City, discovered a lump under her arm. “The family doctor said I needed to get a mammogram,” she recalled. “Deep down, I knew I had cancer.”
In a matter of just a couple of weeks, Lila had 18 lymph nodes removed – five of which were cancerous. She soon started a year of chemotherapy treatments and 33 radiation treatments at CoxHealth Cancer Center Branson.
“When I went to see my oncologist, Dr. Gonzalez, I was referred to Marcy,” Lila said. “Marcy took me in and spent so much time with me, explaining to me how each of the chemo treatments would affect me and she also gave me a wig.”
Lila said Marcy’s expert advice was a huge comfort when life was scary. “I felt like I had someone I could lean on,” Lila said. “I had someone there, who I could call and talk to anytime.” Lila credits Marcy for where she is today. She explained that after enduring her first round of chemotherapy, she wanted to stop. “If I had not had Marcy talk me into it, I probably would not have finished that first set,” she said.
Komen Ozark also made it possible for Lila to receive gas cards to help with travel expenses. Lila said she was blown away by everyone’s kindness. “I have been treated like royalty,” she said.