Cancer Patient Stories
Life was good. At the age of 57, Laurie Black was a new grandmother and avid sports fan enjoying every bit of life. Between spending time with her new granddaughter and working for their family-owned business, Laurie was so busy she hadn’t realized she was overdue for her regular mammogram.
“I was six months late and even though I had yearly mammograms since I was in my forties, this time I was just so busy,” said Laurie.
With no pain, no change in shape or discoloration, Laurie wouldn’t have even thought about it but she described an “odd” feeling when she performed her routine self-breast checks.
This questionable concern is what led her to get her mammogram. Within days, she received a call from the radiologist. They wanted to give her an ultrasound-guided biopsy. The results turned her concern into reality — Laurie was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer.
“My whole world was rocked. It was the last thing I expected to hear. My husband, John, and I just sat quietly together and absorbed the information. Once things settled down, I started making phone calls to family and friends.”
Laurie was referred by her primary care physician to Robert Snyder, MD, general surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. He discussed the possibility of doing a lumpectomy – or removal of the malignant tissue while conserving the mass and contours of the breast. Before he did anything, he wanted an MRI for a more precise view. Much to Laurie’s surprise, they found another mass, twice the size as the other. They decided together that Laurie would have a double mastectomy in addition to chemotherapy followed by radiation.
“Dr. Snyder is such a kind, warm- hearted person. He listened to everything I had to say, all of my concerns and respected everything I asked. My options were all outlined for me based on my results.”
It was a new day and although still somewhat apprehensive, Laurie faced her diagnosis head on. She pulled up to 1775 One Healing Place – it was a place Laurie had never seen before, one she dreaded to go. As she walked through the sliding glass doors, everything changed.
“I remember the first time I walked through the doors of the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center I was immediately welcomed. It wasn’t like walking into a doctor's office, I felt like I was at someone’s home. I could tell that everyone’s goal was to help me get through this and, just within days, they all knew my name. My initial fear faded and I started to feel much better.”
Laurie started her experience at the Cancer Center by meeting with Karen Russell, MD, FACP, medical oncologist to review her customized plan of care.
“When I first met Dr. Russell, we sat and got to know each other while talking through my treatments. I shared I was a big football fan and also explained I wanted to learn about my care in the most simplest of terms. I was so impressed when she literally got a pen and paper out and drew my plan of care out into a play diagram. She explained my cancer in football terms and walked me through everything. I just felt like she understood me and I walked away knowing exactly what was going on.”
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a type of medicine administered before surgery, was provided through a port, or small implanted IV access site in Laurie’s chest. Her chemotherapy lasted for 10 hours at a time, given every three weeks for a period of four and a half months. Her body had a positive response to the medication and allowed her to progress with additional treatment. Laurie was then sent to Ovidiu Marina, MD, radiation oncologist, to begin her radiation treatment.
“My radiation was every day for 33 days. For someone who doesn’t like being still... this was the hardest part of my treatment. Dr. Marina encouraged me by sharing all the positive benefits that would come out of this, how it would help lower my chances of reoccurrences. He was such a warm, funny person and I respected how family oriented he was. Plus he had really great style! I just found him to be so relatable.”
Thrown a true curveball, Laurie reflects on the life lessons she learned along the way.
“My cancer journey looked daunting at first, but looking back on it, because of the support from my family and physicians, it was very doable. Throughout this experience I have learned that tomorrow isn’t promised and it’s important to live in the moment. I spend more time with my family and continue to be kind to everyone I meet. It’s so nice to know you can get the most advanced cancer care right here in Tallahassee through the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center. I want other people to know you do not have to leave home to seek treatment. We have the best care right here.”
Laurie will continue her cancer journey with breast reconstruction performed by Alfredo Paredes, MD, plastic surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Once her reconstruction is complete, Laurie looks forward to living her life as fully as she can.
Abby Bender Kirkland
It was May 20. The night before her annual gynecological exam. 39 year old Abby Bender Kirkland knew Dr. Vikki McKinnie, OBGYN would ask if she had performed self-breast checks over the past year. Since she had completely forgot to do this, and so she wouldn’t have to lie, Abby went ahead and checked herself. Knowing she had her annual mammogram seven months prior and the results were normal, Abby wasn’t concerned. However, much to her surprise, she found a dime-size lump under her nipple in the right breast.
The next morning, Abby shared her discovery with Dr. McKinnie.
Taking Abby’s medical history into consideration, Dr. McKinnie reviewed all possibilities and causes for the lump. Knowing that Abby had a former endometrial ablation – a procedure that destroys the uterine lining to treat abnormal uterine bleeding – Dr. McKinnie knew it could be difficult to correlate breast tenderness and/or breast changes that can occur each month with a menstrual cycle, as these cycles aren’t regular after a treatment like this. For this exact reason, Abby had not experienced a menstrual cycle since her procedure.
Dr. McKinnie advised they closely monitor the lump over the next few weeks and if there was even the slightest change in size or if she experienced any pain, to be seen immediately.
After one month, the lump was still present and Abby started experiencing discomfort.
“I wasn’t sure if this was all in my head or not,” said Abby. “I contacted Dr. McKinnie’s office to schedule an appointment and also reached out to my primary care physician, Dr. Karl Hempel to be seen by his office as soon as possible.” Luckily ARNP-C Emily Karnik was available to see Abby immediately and did not give up on finding out what her condition was.
Abby was scheduled immediately and went into her primary care office for an appointment. She was then referred to TPCA to get a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram.
Within several days, the results were in and Abby was diagnosed with a clogged duct, which could be treated by antibiotics. She was also referred to Dr. Richard Zorn, a general surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
“My first impression was Dr. Zorn was so kind and made me feel very comfortable,” said Abby. “He examined me and stated he felt I had intraductal papilloma’s, a benign breast condition, and I could remove them for peace of mind.”
Surgery to remove the benign tumors was scheduled for early September 2014. During her surgery, Dr. Zorn discovered something that would change Abby’s life.
“Dr. Zorn told my husband he found suspicious areas in my breast and he decided to perform an emergency pathology evaluation. It was determined I had invasive ductal carcinoma. “
Invasive ductal carcinoma is a common form of breast cancer, which starts in the milk ducts and accounts for about 80% of breast cancers in women and 90% in men.
When Abby woke from her surgery, her husband shared what he had learned. She had breast cancer.
“That ride home was the most blurred memory. Having to go home and tell my daughters was by far the most difficult part of this process. We called family and friends and explained the diagnosis. Many were in shock to say the least.”
The following day, Abby received a call from Dr. Zorn with his recommendation for a single or double mastectomy.
“Because I am a worrier by nature, we decided on a double mastectomy,” said Abby. “Dr. Zorn explained we could decide which plastic surgeon we want and to just let him know. There was a sense of comfort for me having Dr. Zorn call me each time personally. That first week after diagnosis was so stressful waiting for answers as in stage, cancer type etc. Each piece of news my husband and I received, we researched and became experts. We rejoiced when we were told my situation and stage was the most curable of breast cancers.”
In addition to her double mastectomy, Abby had decided to move forward with reconstruction. The physician she collectively decided on with Dr. Zorn was plastic surgeon, Dr. Ben J. Kirbo.
“My husband and I went and met with Dr. Kirbo, who was highly recommended by other physicians and by friends of mine. We reviewed all of my options for reconstruction and decided the best option was to do it at the time of the mastectomy.”
Once scheduled for surgery, Abby was also referred to receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.
“Knowing you are walking into a Cancer Center to receive chemotherapy is about intense as it gets emotionally. I remember feeling like this can’t be real, and can’t really be happening to me. Immediately when you walk in, you’re greeted by many smiling faces, which reminds you that you are human. Dr. Imanirad had the same smile, and along with his willingness to hear us out and take his time with us, we knew we had made the right selection for my oncologist.”
Dr. Iman Imanirad, hematologist/oncologist at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center met with Abby to review her plan of care. After reviewing her results, he shared that she had a highly treatable form of breast cancer and her care should be fairly quick.
Like any new patient at the Cancer Center, Abby was also introduced to her patient navigator, Dreama Taylor. Patient navigators are a complimentary support service provided to all patients at the facility. They provide each patient with a trusted confidante from pre-diagnosis all the way to returning to a normal life after cancer.
“I remember my first chemotherapy session,” said Abby. “I was so nervous but Dreama showed me the infusion room where I would receive treatment and explained exactly what I could expect. I was put at ease.”
After just one month of chemotherapy, Abby was sent downstairs at the Cancer Center to receive radiation treatment with Dr. Raj Bendre, radiation oncologist.
“Nurse Yolanda was the first to get me from the waiting room to meet with Dr. Bendre. Following with the rest of the staff at the Cancer Center, she was so delightful and made me feel at ease. When Dr. Bendre entered the room he seemed to know my entire medical records. We discussed the best options for me and he seemed to know every case study regarding my type of cancer. Knowing Dr. Bendre and Dr. Imanirad were my oncology team made me feel much more secure. I was then taken to the radiation room to meet the technicians who would be working with me daily for the next 7 weeks. I instantly felt a connection to all three of them and knew I was in good hands.”
As of January 2015, Abby was declared cancer free. Having returned to full health, giving back became her mission. With much involvement in the community, she wants to remind everyone about the importance of self examinations and regular doctor appointments.
“My attitude in life has surely shifted to being more accepting of what God’s plan is for me. This very crazy journey was filled with every emotion possible. Seeing the love I received from so many people made me truly understand my meaning to others. Today I work hard to give back to those who need to feel that same love during such a difficult time.”
When the stubborn pain in Marie Roy's breast kept her from sleeping at night, she knew something was amiss. After a few weeks of nightly discomfort, she knew it was time to get a mammogram.
In April 2015, Marie got the call with her results.
"When the radiologist called, they said there was a malignant tumor in the right breast that needed to be operated on,” said Marie.
They also confirmed the reason for the pain she experienced was due to scar tissue. That pain is what led her to get a mammogram -- which ultimately saved her life.
Robert D. Snyder, MD, general surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare removed the tumor on June 11, 2015, but that was only the beginning of the journey for Marie.
“Dr. Snyder was so comforting and explained everything to me,” said Marie. “I truly trusted him.”
A loving wife, mother of two and grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren, Marie is the matriarch of her family. She came to Tallahassee with her husband, Leon, who served in the U.S military and raised two sons, who both inherited their father's stoic nature. Marie was the nurturer.
As tough as Marie is, she needed a strong support system -- along with her family -- to help care for her. That made her and the team at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center a perfect match.
“The first time I ever walked into the Cancer Center I felt like I was walking into a safe place. I felt so much love – everything from the receptionist knowing my name after just one visit, to the exceptional team of physicians, nurses and patient navigators who help you every step of the way.”
Marie received care from Karen Russell, MD, hematologist/oncologist and Ovidiu Marina, MD, radiation oncologist.
During her first appointment with Dr. Russell, Marie felt at ease.
“The first time I met with Dr. Russell, she sat me down and said ‘I am going to walk you through your type of cancer and explain the ‘why’ behind every decision we make as a team,’” recalled Marie. “In that same conversation, Dr. Russell expressed positive feedback, clarifying that my situation was the best case scenario. She did so much to make me feel comfortable.”
With complete cancer care, all under one roof, the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center offers many services for patients. This was one of many conveniences that exceeded Marie’s expectations.
Just one floor down from Dr. Russell, Marie also received care from her radiation oncologist, Dr. Marina.
“Dr. Marina was incredibly professional and nice. He, along with his team, were so friendly and knowledgeable that they actually made me enjoy my visits there.”
Along with her advanced team of physicians, Marie, like all patients who visit the Caner Center, was contacted by her patient navigator, Dreama Taylor.
Patient navigators at the Cancer Center help patients before, during and after treatment, ultimately making their experience seamless. For some patients, it provides contact with community recourses to handle expenses. For others, it’s being a point of contact between the patient and care providers. Many patients describe navigators as friends.
"Dreama was one of the first people to call me after my surgery – before I had even stepped inside the Cancer Center," said Marie. "She explained she would handle any concerns I had, which was amazing to me. I have always been the one to handle all the problems in the family; it felt good to finally have someone take care of me. Knowing that someone would take my call and do things for me made this fight so much easier. It was a relief that I had a team who would be there every step of the way, I'm so thankful."
During her entire treatment process, Marie never lost track of the end goal and today, Marie is in remission and a breast cancer survivor who can help inspire others.
“I would recommend the Cancer Center 100%,” said Marie. “Having the latest and greatest treatment was expected and received, but the passion and attitude of the staff is what really impressed me. Tallahassee can be proud to have such a great facility.”
It was Thanksgiving Day in 2012 when David Paul started feeling ill. His sinuses started to take over and he noticed a lump on the side of his neck. He decided to stay home and skip out on feasting and festivities.
When his condition continued to progress, David wasted no time and went to the local urgent care center to determine the problem.
After examination, the physician diagnosed him with a severe sinus infection. He instructed David to take medication and monitor it for the next week. If symptoms continued or worsened, he needed to follow up with his primary care physician.
After a few days, David began to feel worse and immediately followed up with his doctor. At his appointment, David’s physician showed concern and referred him to Spencer Gilleon, MD, an otolaryngologist also known as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. “I remember the day Mr. Paul walked in. His demeanor was cheerful, as it always is, but I could tell he was concerned,” recalled Dr. Gilleon. “After an exam and biopsy, we were able to identify the source.”
David was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma and sent to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center for immediate treatment.
“I will never forget the feeling I experienced when I walked into the Center. At first, I was devastated to be there. However almost instantaneously, I was provided with an incredible amount of hope,” said David. “The employees, nurses and physicians were always smiling and making me feel better. It was then that I learned how important it is to stay positive.”
David received a customized treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation to aggressively attack his cancer led by Amit Jain, MD and Ovidiu Marina, MD and supported by the experienced team at the Cancer Center.
“Dr. Jain was the first physician I met with at the Cancer Center. He was absolutely terrific and so thoughtful, which helped set my expectations,” said David. “When I met Dr. Marina for additional treatment, I was comforted by how knowledgeable he is.”
Dr. Jain, a board-certified hematologist/oncologist with TMH Physician Partners Cancer & Hematology Specialist, oversaw David’s chemotherapy treatment. While Dr. Marina, a board-certified radiation oncologist with TMH Physician Partners Radiation Oncology Specialists completed David’s radiation treatments.
“During an appointment with Dr. Marina, I remember sharing new symptoms with him. Nothing that in my opinion was too out of the ordinary, but I wanted to make him aware,” explained David. “Instead of overlooking it, he insisted I get checked out and went above and beyond to make certain I was in good health. I could tell he truly cares about his patients.”
It was June 2013 when David received the news. He was cancer free.
Early on Christmas day in 2013, with no previous symptoms, Jody Spencer noticed an odd feeling in the back of his throat. After performing a self-exam, he noticed there was a mass on his right tonsil. The next day, Jody visited his primary care physician and was referred to get a tonsillectomy. Within a week of surgery his results came back and confirmed he had Diffuse B Cell Lymphoma.
Jody was then referred to Amit Jain, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist, at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center. Thanks to six cycles of chemotherapy outlined and provided by Dr. Jain, Jody Spencer is now cancer free.
“Dr. Jain and the cancer center’s support staff did a wonderful job minimizing my anxiety and fear, while also reinforcing the hope of a positive outcome. Everyone did their best to accommodate my needs and make the challenge of chemotherapy winnable. With their help and the support from my wife, family and our community, I am excited to say that I'm now free of cancer," said Jody.
Looking forward to his bright future, Jody plans to continue working at his veterinary practice, spending time with his wife and two daughters and welcoming a new grandchild next spring.
In his spare time he enjoys biking, kayaking, traveling, playing the violin for his church and fiddle in a bluegrass band.
Sterling Smith was active his entire life. Years ago, he was at Tom Brown Park with friends enjoying a game of racquetball when in the heat of their competition, he ran into the wall, causing a direct impact to his hip. He immediately felt pain, but kept playing thinking it was just the initial shock and would eventually dissipate.
Days later, the pain continued and he felt extremely sore and his wife insisted he go to their primary care doctor. After examination, a mass was found and he was referred to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, where he received radiation treatment from Philip Sharp, M.D., Radiation Oncologist.
Sterling was healed until a turn of events years later when he felt significant pain in his right shoulder while lifting weights. He decided to take a break from exercising to help heal his arm but surprisingly, the pain persisted.
After eventually finding blood in his stool, Sterling visited his primary care doctor again to resolve his shoulder pain and discovered that he had another mass, this time in his shoulder, which led to the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma.
Tim Broeseker, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist at Tallahasse Memorial Cancer Center, provided Sterling with induction chemotherapy that put his Multiple Myeloma into enough of a remission to allow for a stem cell transplant, which later took place at UF Health.
Although the cancer is still present, it is now being managed. Sterling gets bi-weekly shots and quarterly chemotherapy and visits Dr. Sharp and Dr. Broeseker consistently at the Cancer Center, while also going to Shands twice a year.
“It has been a blessing for me to have both Dr. Sharp and Dr. Broeseker as my physicians. They make me feel very comfortable and relaxed. The Tallahassee Memorial team always brings joy to my heart and puts a smile on my face,” said Sterling.
With the help of the team at Tallahassee Memorial, Sterling is back to enjoying the things he loves like carpentry, fishing, spending time with his family and their dog, Sean Lee.
With no history of health problems, Elizabeth Lawless was completely blindsided when she began to experience severe back pain that made it unbearable to walk. After a few weeks, Elizabeth developed another symptom when she became unable to lift her arm. Sensing a concern, she made an appointment with her primary care physician. She was advised that something was causing pressure on her spine and an MRI would be needed to confirm exactly what was going on.
The pain continued and was accompanied by heavy bleeding and large bruises all over her body.
After examination by Elizabeth’s primary care doctor, she was sent to the Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Center-Northeast for further evaluation. It is here that they discovered Elizabeth’s platelets were dangerously low. She was immediately transferred to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where Tim Broeseker, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist, ordered a bone marrow biopsy and confirmed that Elizabeth had acute promyelocytic leukemia. She was transferred to UF Health for 36 days of treatment and testing.
Now, free of cancer, Elizabeth is happy to get back to normal life, which includes spending time with her husband, their two young daughters, doing arts and crafts and visiting their lake house.
With no warning signs, 28 year-old Jessica Jopling started experiencing consistent fevers above 103 degrees that would begin every afternoon and go away in the morning. In addition to her fevers, Jessica would wake up in the middle of the night soaking wet with sweat. She originally thought this may have been because her fever was breaking, however, when this happened night after night, Jessica decided to visit her primary care physician.
During her first visit, Jessica’s doctor ran blood work and initially reported that everything looked normal and it appeared to be a virus. With a prescription for antibiotics, she was told to come back in 7-10 days if her symptoms didn’t get better.
When this continued over the next week, Jessica’s husband decided she needed to go back to the doctor. At her follow up appointment, it was revealed through an X-ray that she had a large mass in her chest. After going for an immediate CT scan, Jessica was sent to the Bixler Trauma & Emergency Center at Tallahassee Memorial, where doctors provided a thorough explanation of what was happening to her and that all signs pointed towards cancer. Jessica was then sent to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center where it was confirmed she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
After additional testing at the Cancer Center, Iman Imanirad, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist, provided close guidance throughout the long process of successful chemotherapy and radiation.
"To put it simply, Dr. Imanirad and the entire staff at Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center saved my life," said Jessica. "They were kind, patient, informative, and put me and my entire family at ease as we went through a time in our lives that no one should ever have to go through. I will be forever thankful to this wonderful group of caregivers."
Now cancer free, Jessica and her husband decided to celebrate with a second honeymoon cruise to Haiti. Jessica continues to live her life to the fullest and enjoys spending time with family and having the opportunity to work for her alma mater, Florida State University, at a job she loves.
For 10 years prior to her diagnosis, Ines Orozco had annual mammograms due to multiple cysts in her breasts. With normal results, that all changed in June of 2012. A few weeks prior, Ines felt a lump in her left breast that was not quite the same as what she had previously experienced. This lump was hard and somewhat painful. She mentioned this to her OB/GYN who immediately sent her for a mammogram and biopsy. The result was positive, there was a small tumor that showed cancerous cells. Her doctor recommended she get a lumpectomy and referred her to an oncologist and a surgeon. She then began working with the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center and Amit Jain, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist, and Tim Ruark, M.D., a surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Jain sent her for an MRI and other testing where she was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). These tests also showed several other tumors growing on her left breast. Because of the number of tumors, Dr. Ruark recommended a mastectomy. In July 2012, she had a mastectomy with a node biopsy and it was determined that the cancer was localized and had not spread.
After the biopsy results came back, Dr. Jain shared with Ines that her cancer was in fact HER2 positive, one of the most aggressive breast cancers today. He suggested that she receive an intensive six-cycle chemotherapy treatment, along with weekly Herceptin. In addition, she went through six weeks of radiation treatment.
She did well through the chemotherapy treatments, however the radiation caused several nodules that appeared on her lungs. Dr. Jain immediately sent her to Forrest R. Dolly, M.D., a Pulmonologist who was able to treat and heal the nodules.
Ines is now a survivor. She has found her freedom again and spends her time listening to music, taking walks with her husband, spending time with her grandchildren and going to church.
In June of 2001, while in law school and studying for the bar exam, Eric Trombley began to experience severe stomach pain that caused question for concern. To confirm the exact cause of his symptoms, he decided to make an appointment to visit a local clinic.
Just one week after his appointment, Eric received news that changed his life forever – it was confirmed he had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.
Prior to his diagnosis, Eric was accepted into the military and eventually had to put his plans on hold and make a change to focus on his health.
Eric was referred to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center where he was a patient of Tim Broeseker, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist. Dr. Broseker worked with Eric to review treatment options that would be best for his situation.
“Dr. Broeseker and the entire Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center team are like family to me,” said Eric. “Each time I visited, they would put me at ease and sit me down to ask how life was. They truly cared about how I was doing.”
Now in remission, although Eric receives regular treatments to fight his disease, he enjoys participating in Triathlons and living life to the fullest.
“After you go through an experience like this, you see the world in a completely different way,” said Eric. “Now when I walk by a flower, I actually notice it and want to smell it. When I was healthy I took the little things in life for granted.”
For much of the time that Sydrena Osborne has been a mom, she had also been engrossed in a fight against breast cancer, and young daughter Sydney was been by her side through it all.
“She was in preschool when my battle with cancer began, and I decided I couldn’t hide it from her. She was there when I was diagnosed and when I opened my eyes after having a double mastectomy,” said Sydrena.
While many might shy away from talking about cancer, for Sydrena, being open about her condition was crucial, especially in relation to Sydney.
“She knows everything about my treatment; she saw the scars, tubes and reconstruction. I think it’s so important to be open, because she understood what I was experiencing and why I was limited,” Sydrena says.
Initially, the journey to remission led Sydrena through not only a double mastectomy at Tallahassee Memorial, but also chemotherapy. When the cancer returned a year-and-a-half later, Sydrena underwent aggressive radiation treatment at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.
“The second time I was diagnosed, I was more afraid,” she says, “but the way the physicians at the Cancer Center worked together made me feel like everyone knew me and my specific situation. Now I feel 100 percent better and trust that the right decisions were made about my treatment.”
Today, Sydrena is cancer free and while she will continue to manage her risk of breast cancer with a lifelong medication regimen, cancer no longer keeps her from doing what matters most in her life, spending time with her daughter.
The fight against breast cancer has long been a passionate subject for survivor Claire Harrison and her family.
“My mom had breast cancer in 1973, I battled cancer for the first time in 2002, and my sister-in-law, Sharon Ewing Walker, died of cancer in 2005,” Claire explains.
With the loss of Sharon, Claire’s family was determined to invest in local cancer care by helping to establish the Sharon Ewing Walker Breast Health Center. Since that time, they have continued to actively support the area’s cancer services. Claire’s brother, Claude Walker, serves on the Tallahassee Memorial Foundation Board and the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center Fund-raising steering Committee, and their mother, Maye Walker, leads the volunteer group that cares for the center’s outdoor Healing Garden. Last year, their efforts proved to be a source of support not only to the community, but also for one of their own.
After 10 years of being cancer free, Claire had a routine mammogram that revealed some suspicious calcifications. Debilitated by a severe ankle injury at the time, she was unable to have a diagnostic mammotome for several months. When the test was performed, she found she was battling cancer again and would need a full mastectomy, chemotherapy, and long-term treatment with medication.
Claire was referred to Tim Broeseker, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist, and began chemotherapy treatments in Tallahassee Memorial’s main hospital building where she had received radiation therapy throughout her first battle with cancer. In mid-July 2012, services expanded at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, allowing Claire to receive all of her remaining treatments in the new space.
“The Cancer Center is cheerful and offers more privacy during treatments, which puts you in a better state of mind. My physician and everyone else I have come into contact with at the Cancer Center have been absolutely fantastic,” she says.
After a total of 18 months spent healing from her ankle injury and undergoing extensive cancer treatment, Claire was eager to get back to one of her favorite pastimes -- horseback riding. “It feels like a million bucks to be horseback riding again,” she says.
Having returned to her hobbies and full health, Claire has also inspired another generation in her family to rally in the fight against breast cancer.
“When you go through something like this, it really pulls your family together. My family was great and that really is the silver lining,” says Claire.
A wife and mother, Dawn Brown had lived a healthy life until everything changed in 2011. Dawn discovered a painful lump in her breast and intuition told her to get multiple tests done. Once her results came in, it was confirmed, Dawn had cancer.
“Once I was diagnosed, I remember looking at my three year old daughter and thinking, this just isn’t an option. From then on out I considered it a job and my main goal was to beat cancer,” said Dawn.
After being referred to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, where she saw Tim Broeseker, M.D, Hematologist/Oncologist and Robert Snyder, M.D., General Surgery, Dawn was provided with treatment options for her condition. Following diagnosis, Dawn had a double mastectomy and completed six months of chemotherapy, four months of radiation followed by breast reconstruction.
“Dr. Broeseker and his nurses were phenomenal,” said Dawn. “Not only did he take great care of me, but he would also check in to see how my family was and anytime I needed something, he was immediately on it.”
Celebrating life now that she is cancer free, Dawn enjoys volunteering, spending time with family and being a mom. With a love of fashion, she also takes part in fundraising fashion shows and events with the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation that allow her to help other cancer survivors.
When asked about her experience, Dawn said, “The positive thing that has come from this is it has made me be a much more effective person. I give everything I have to be a great mom.”
In April 2010, Gail McDonald had a routine mammogram and to her surprise, the results required additional testing. Once testing was complete, her suspicions were true; Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Gail was referred to Tallahassee Memorial, where she received treatment from Philip Sharp, M.D., Radiation Oncologist.
“Dr. Sharp and the entire cancer team were not only kind and supportive, but they were equally understanding,” said Gail. “No matter what the circumstance and in the toughest of times, Dr. Sharp always found a way to make me smile. I have nothing but positive things to say about Tallahassee Memorial.”
In addition to her medical team, Gail remained strong thanks to her family, husband, Neil, brother, Larry and her colleagues at Allegro Senior Living.
“During my treatment at Tallahassee Memorial, I felt that I was not alone,” said Gail. “The physicians provide continuous education and support for their patients. They even give you a booklet full of resources and helpful information to reference when you’re not at the cancer center.”
With the diagnosis behind her, Gail is overjoyed to regain her freedom once again. She is getting back to the things that she loves most, like cruising the back roads on her motorcycle with her husband and cheering for her favorite football team, the Miami Dolphins.
“This experience has taught me to seize the moment,” said Gail. “I have started a bucket list of things I would like to do and I'm looking forward to my bright future.”
Elementary school teacher, Kelli Dillon, had trained and completed the November 2013 Iron Man Triathlon just three months before her annual mammogram, where it was discovered she had Breast Cancer.
“When they found my lump, I was sent for a biopsy and MRI that same week,” said Kelli. “As I waited for the results, I mentally prepared myself for the diagnosis.”
Almost immediately, Kelli was sent to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, where she received treatment from Iman Imanirad, M.D., Hematologist/Oncologist.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Dr. Imanirad and the entire Cancer Center team. He provided me with options, while also being flexible with my treatment schedule, which allowed me to continue with my life as usual,” said Kelli. “I was extremely confident in my care.”
Before, during and after her experience, Kelli had an incredible support system through Tallahassee Memorial and additionally, in her personal life. Family members, friends, her “Can’t Stop Wont Stop” running group, the Gulf Winds Triclub community and her school, DeSoto Trail Elementary were all by her side.
“The entire school was there for me,” said Kelli. “My principal, Michele Keltner was such an incredible support system. I will never forget the day I shared the news, she personally called me that night to offer her help and assistance. Michele gave me strength and took such great care of me when I needed it the most.”
Now cancer free, Kelli continues to teach, spend time with her husband, Bill, their daughter, grandchildren and dogs, while continuing to stay healthy and train for future triathlons.
“I have a second chance at life,” said Kelli. “ I want others to know how important it is to go to your doctor and most importantly, that a strong support system is everything.”