Mother and daughter share their cancer journey
Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute team brings hope, healing right here in your neighborhood
It’s been 11 years since Velma Adams “celebrated” her 60th birthday, a birthday she always will remember – not because of a wonderful party with family and friends, or a fabulous dinner at her favorite restaurant, or a day of pampering at a spa.
Velma was sitting in a doctor’s office, hearing she was diagnosed with cancer.
“This is the news I got on my birthday of all days!” she exclaims. “Of course, I was numb; I was in shock.”
A biopsy of two lumps – one on her neck and the other under her right arm – revealed cancer cells in both places.
At first, Velma didn’t tell anyone. “I just couldn’t say the ‘C’ word; instead I told my family the doctor found some bad cells.”
She was referred to Rizwan Danish, MD, hematologist and oncologist who practices at Genesys and Hurley. “His attitude was ‘let’s get this done and move forward in your life.’ He was so positive and optimistic. I found his determination very encouraging,” she notes.
He ordered several rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatments, scans and blood work between rounds of chemotherapy to ensure her treatment plan remained the best one.
Velma admits she got a second opinion before she made her choice of cancer treatment centers. Doctors at another facility told her the treatment plan Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute recommended was exactly what they would do for her, but she would have to drive more than 50 miles to get the care she could receive in her neighborhood.
“I knew the minute I walked in the door of Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute that I had made the right decision. Everyone was so positive!”
Velma brought “the whole crew” with her for her first treatments. “My mom, my dad, my sisters … a whole gang of folks!” she laughs about it now.
She received three rounds of chemotherapy every 14 days for three months, followed by radiation therapy. Her cancer was unknown primary. (When cancer is found in one or more sites, but the primary site where it starts cannot be determined, it is called a cancer of unknown primary. This happens in a small portion of cancers.)
After her chemotherapy and radiation treatments were behind her, a few years later Velma underwent a lumpectomy when a mammogram and subsequent needle biopsy indicated the earliest form of breast cancer (DCIS – Ductal Carcinoma in Situ). Her breast surgeon – Linsey Gold, DO, FACS, FACOS – reported that Velma had clear margins.
“We all were so impressed by the (Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute) team,” she reflects. “They were caring and compassionate. I felt comfortable and confident. I knew I was in good hands.”
At her follow up visit with Dr. Danish, he reassured her that the worst was behind her and the best was ahead of her.
The healing process at the institute included far more than medical treatments, Velma explains. The center offers many free programs and classes for patients and families to help with spiritual and emotional healing. Velma participated in many of these.
“I especially love the yoga classes. I was, and still am, drawn to those and attend them every chance I can. They are so healing. They took my mind off all the craziness going on with my cancer.”
Tai Chi, meditation, art, photography and Zumba classes at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute filled Velma’s free time. And she loved an occasional massage, also offered at the center. In fact, the massage therapist (who also is the institute’s yoga instructor) found a small lump on Velma’s back that doctors removed. Fortunately, it was only fatty tissue, but “thank goodness she spotted it.”
Velma also spent time with Anne Cox, the institute’s full-time dietitian who offers cooking classes and plenty of advice on how to eat healthier. In addition, Anne conducts a weight loss program for patients.
“There is so much at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute to take advantage of,” Velma is thrilled to report. “The staff always is looking for ways to make our life more comfortable and positive. I love it all! I try to get to classes as much as I can!
“And believe it or not, I had my first fly fishing experience! I learned how to fly fish on the AuSable River in Grayling, and, what a great way to connect with other cancer patients! I never would have had this experience if Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute hadn’t told us about this fantastic trip!”
Velma also is quick to add that she and several other patients from Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute went on a “road trip” to Vermont.
Sue Root, director of Quality of Life Programs at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, coordinates this trip every year and takes a group of patients to the Stowe Weekend of Hope, a weekend of activities, entertainment, lectures, an educational symposium and area tours – all for patients (and their family members) currently undergoing treatment for cancer as well as cancer survivors. The weekend is designed to help patients heal physically and emotionally. Sue has offered this trip to Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute patients for 10 years.
Velma now helps out as a volunteer at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute wherever she is needed. “If they ask me to help, if I can, I will be there.
“I’m so glad Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute is right here in my neighborhood. To me, they are another family. We share experiences, and we all work together toward physical and mental healing. I believe the people I met during my treatment helped me maintain the positive outlook I kept through this entire journey. I knew I was going to get better… interacting with people who provided me with the best treatments available and constant encouragement in a warm, welcoming, helpful and comfortable environment.
“And, my routine didn’t have to change at all because I was close to home for my treatments,” she announces.
“Having all of the resources I needed just 10 minutes away was such a blessing for me and my family. I was surrounded by the best group of people! They always find a way to make a negative experience feel positive.”
Velma’s last treatment was Jan. 11, 2010. “That is another day I always will remember, but in a good way!” she laughs. “I am so blessed to be celebrating 10 years as a cancer survivor. Thank you, Jesus!
“My best advice I can give to other cancer patients – always look forward, not back, and choose Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute!”
When Velma’s daughter, Dionne Minner, announced to the family that she was diagnosed with breast cancer, “I was devastated,” Velma reports.
“My journey with cancer had been over for almost 10 years, but I felt as if it were starting all over again.”
Dionne went in for her routine mammogram and was asked to return for a second look. A biopsy revealed cancer cells.
“It was quite a surprise when I received the diagnosis on April 12, 2018,” Dionne relays the date quickly. “Part of my own health care regimen was seeing my doctor regularly and getting my mammogram. I was expecting my usual letter in the mail saying everything was good.
“When I was told I had cancer, my brain went in all different directions. So many questions started floating around in my head. What I needed most was someone to break it all down in layman’s terms, to help me understand exactly what was going on and next steps,” Dionne explains.
She found those perfect people – Breast Surgeon Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS, and the radiation team at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute.
“Dr. Gold was very thorough, very comforting and made me feel at ease. I knew I had found the best surgeon around,” Dionne praises Dr. Gold.
“And, my mother had such a positive experience at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute that I knew it was the right place for me, too.”
Dionne found Paul Kocheril, MD, radiation oncologist at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute who would oversee her treatments, “an excellent physician,” she describes.
The institute team was “very knowledgeable, thorough and great at everything they do,” she announces. “They made the process easier. I always was greeted with a warm, welcoming smile, my appointments were on time, and the staff was laser-focused to ensure my treatment plan was being followed.”
Like her mother, Dionne met with Dietitian Anne Cox. “My mother told me I shouldn’t miss this opportunity to work with Anne. She walked me through ways to adopt a more nutritious lifestyle. It especially was helpful to learn how eating the right foods would help me during and after treatment. Anne was a wealth of knowledge and provided me a lot of information and many great resources that I still use today.”
Another bonus was the travel time to Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. “I live five miles away; I was so happy to find such great care close to home.”
“I know this had to be hard on my mother – to relive this experience through her daughter, but she was so supportive; she was strong, she was encouraging, and she was in my corner the whole time.”
Mother and daughter both highly recommend Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute as the right place for the most advanced treatments, exceptional clinicians, and the best home away from home experience right in their neighborhood.
“Right here where you need us.”