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When Life Hands You Cancer...Again

“ I didn’t wait for a referral, I really just went running up there as soon as I got the results... ”

Life rarely conforms to expectations, and few people know that better than Beverly Dinsmore. When breast cancer first brushed her world eighteen years ago, she learned that life is both precious and unexpected. Following a successful mastectomy, the last thing Bev expected was to develop cancer for a second time. And she never expected that it would also bring new insights, new spirituality, new friends, and a new sense of purpose.

As an RN Case Manager at St. Helena Hospital, when her annual mammogram showed another abnormality, Bev knew instantly where she wanted to go: the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center (MOCC). “I didn’t wait for a referral, I really just went running up there as soon as I got the results” she laughs. “It was a Friday afternoon, so I wanted to talk to Colleen before the weekend and start my education.”

Care Navigator Colleen Winters rapidly became Bev’s best resource and tower of strength. “All the resources there, starting with Colleen, are incredible,” she says. As a nurse and a breast cancer survivor, she thought she knew a lot about what to expect. “I didn’t. It was interesting going in as a patient rather than a nurse, because it was a huge education process for me.”

Bev was able to meet with Dr. Gregory Smith, MD, the following week, and together they explored her options. “There’s a lot of fear attached to the word cancer” she says, “but Dr. Smith was very reassuring that it was small and detected early. I had options.” Because of her previous cancer, after a lot of research and discussion with Dr. Smith, Bev decided to combine the standard lumpectomy and radiation with chemotherapy.

Bev explains that she feels blessed by the abundance of resources provided by MOCC. “Eighteen years ago, we had just one oncologist. Today the MOCC has a team of the best physicians working with each patient. Eighteen years ago there was no easy way to become educated, and no support system. You were really pretty much on your own in many ways. Now, it’s another world.”

What ultimately grew out of her experience were a sense of community, and a deeper understanding of St. Helena’s mission to provide whole-person care. She found that everything about MOCC was designed to go beyond treating cancer, to minister to emotional and spiritual needs as well. “For me, being part of MOCC was a gift. I felt empowered: I decided I could approach this as either a devastating second-time event, or as a growth experience. As a result, I have grown emotionally and spiritually: I have a more expansive sense of being connected to others, a deep sense that God is with me, guiding me through this whole process. I truly feel very, very blessed.”

“Cancer doesn’t just happen to the body,” Dr. Smith adds. “Cancer reaches into every part of a person’s life. If we only treat the body, then we aren’t really treating people. We’re only addressing a diagnosis.”

Bev credits the staff at MOCC with a great deal of that sense of blessing. “I’ve worked with Dr. Smith for many years, but it was only when I saw him as a patient that I realized how he’s hand-picked such an incredible, cohesive team that provides this sense of being in good hands. It’s not just the doctors and nurses, it’s everyone, from Marjorie and Marie and Carol at the front desk, to Pam in the library, Susie providing massages, to Colleen, the technicians and other care providers. Everyone who walks through the door is made to feel so welcome, and a part of something special.”

Bev was particularly struck by the non-clinical atmosphere. “Even though I would dread chemo, because it is pretty awful, being there was like being in a spa, strange as that sounds. You stop feeling like everything is spinning out of control around you. Everyone is supportive, and there are so many things available, like acupuncture and massage, that make this beyond-intolerable process tolerable.” Bev also chose to ease the experience by having her treatments in the company of others, and her husband, too, found purpose in being able to give support to others during the long hours of treatments.

With chemotherapy concluded and radiation therapy about to start, Bev is grateful for the opportunity to connect with others at various stages in their cancer journey. “I look forward to my attendance with my support group. We’ve all become connected; facing the same fears together, the same side effects, passing similar milestones. I know I’ve developed several life-long friendships, and I’ve grown so much. Now I’m hoping to be that resource to new women coming into the group.”

Cancer has changed Bev’s life, and in ways she never expected. “I really became impassioned about the education process, and I hope to share that passion with others,” she says. “I’m glad I decided to take this period as a time of reflection, rather than trying to power through. I consciously tried to embrace everything, not just what the cancer center has to offer, but also the opportunities for spiritual growth. Being a nurse, I’m very task-oriented. I had never taken the opportunity to just stop and be. I feel very blessed I was able to do that, and become emotionally and physically ready to go forward.”

“I’m looking forward to living the rest of my life.”