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From the Foundation: Nothing else matters if you don’t have your health

Posted May 23rd, 2024

This story was originally written and published by the Niagara Health Foundation. 

Elizabeth, her husband Andrew, and their dog.

Elizabeth, her husband Andrew, and their dog.

It was a Sunday night when Elizabeth received the notification on her phone that her CT scan results had arrived.

She remembers sitting by herself, trying to make sense of the words on the screen.

“I saw terms like 'spiculated mass' and 'no cavitation', and in each Google search of those terms, I was seeing the word cancer,” she explains. “And then everything moved very quickly.”

Elizabeth was diagnosed with lung cancer.

It all started with a routine reflexologist appointment. “It was November 29, 2022,” Elizabeth remembers.

She had just retired from teaching that September. When her reflexologist pointed out that the area in her foot that corresponds with the lungs wasn’t feeling right, Elizabeth followed her advice and asked her family doctor for a chest X-ray. When the results showed a shadow on her left lung, a CT scan was ordered and there she was on that Sunday night, trying to make sense of the words that changed her life.

“As a patient, I was treated a whole person. They saw me as more than my cancer. I was very involved in my care. When I had a concern or needed advice, my team was there for me. They listened, answered my questions, and took the time.”

“As someone who never broke a bone, never had a stitch, and has always been fairly healthy, to all of a sudden be told you have lung cancer caused by a gene mutation… it literally knocked the wind out of me. But the way I was treated by my healthcare team made all the difference.”

Elizabeth was scheduled for surgery soon after her diagnosis.

“After the surgery, I was told two things: One, that the margins of the mass looked good, and two, that one of my lymph nodes were showing cancer cells.”

Elizabeth would need further treatment. As a Grimsby resident, she could choose between treatment in Hamilton or St. Catharines.

“I knew that both were great cancer centres, but having family members who were patients at, and spoke highly of, the Walker Family Cancer Centre (WFCC), I chose to have my four chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments done at Niagara Health," she says.

“It’s funny, I have come to the hospital many times to visit people, but when you make that left turn before the main entrance and walk through the cancer centre entrance instead,” she adds, her voice breaking, “it is a totally different feeling.”

More than a slogan

Along with Dr. VanderMeer, her oncology nurse Deb was one of the first people Elizabeth was in contact with at the WFCC.

“I couldn’t have imagined a better person to have met when I walked through that door. I knew that I was in the best possible hands," Elizabeth says. “My oncologist, Dr. VanderMeer, is one of the most caring, patient and knowledgeable people that I met. When I felt scared of what lie ahead, she gave me hope. At every appointment, I brought a long list of questions, and she always took the time to answer each one.”  

In Elizabeth’s experience, extraordinary caring is more than a slogan at Niagara Health.

“The kindness and compassion I was met with right from the start was phenomenal,” Elizabeth explains. “If I didn’t feel well after chemo treatments, I could call the WFCC and somebody would call me back within half an hour; it was just amazing. I had some hearing problems that started at 4 a.m., and when I called the after-hours number, an oncology nurse was there to listen and offer guidance.”

Every step of the way, Elizabeth said she felt like she was part of her healthcare team.

“As a patient, I was treated a whole person. They saw me as more than my cancer. I was very involved in my care. When I had a concern or needed advice, my team was there for me. They listened, answered my questions, and took the time.”

Elizabeth cannot say enough about the staff at Niagara Health, from the receptionists who greeted her with friendly smiles and kind words, the nurses at the Lung Diagnostic Assessment Program, who helped her navigate through tests and scans, to Brooklyn, the chemotherapy nurse who explained everything so thoroughly during the chemotherapy education class and the team who were constantly cleaning surfaces at the hospital, ensuring that everything was clean.

Celebrating safe, high-quality care

Her husband, Andrew, who was by her side each step of the way, agrees.

“Every person we dealt with was positive and upbeat. Her oncologist, Dr. VanderMeer, was familiar with every aspect of Elizabeth’s health throughout her treatment. It was very reassuring,” he says.

At the end of December 2023, Elizabeth crossed the finish line of her treatments. She is grateful to the four radiation technicians, Catherine, Jenny, Jessica and Stephanie, who were by her side until her very last treatment.

“On that day, I needed to do something to celebrate; something bigger than going out for dinner, so I made a donation to the Niagara Health Foundation," she says. "I just wanted to make a difference.”

Niagara Health System