Above and beyond: Cancer patient grateful for supportive staff

When Stephanie was diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 31, she wasn't surprised.

For a while now, the Farmington Hills resident hadn't been feeling well and knew something wasn't right. But, she says, still hearing that it was cancer was shocking.

"It was shocking to hear the doctor say that word: "˜cancer,'" she said. "I was not surprised to hear that I had something. I was very sad, but not surprised."

She had a rare form of cancer "“ inflammatory breast cancer, making up about 1 percent of diagnoses.

Stephanie began receiving treatment at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Clarkston under the direction of oncologist Dr. Elon Knoll, but also developed a friendly relationship with breast center nurse navigator Joey Sheroski.

The services of a nurse navigator are offered to all patients free of charge, made possible by the McLaren Oakland Foundation and a secured grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

"Stephanie is a very sweet woman, fighting a very serious illness," Sheroski said. "I view my job as a mission to make their treatments as smooth as possible. But it was early on that I noticed Stephanie might be a unique case."

Without a close personal support system, Stephanie had been self-reliant for many years. She was between jobs at the time of her diagnosis and now could not look for another "“ all of her physical, emotional and financial resources went toward her treatments and battling her illness.

Noticing a need, Sheroski quickly stepped in to help anywhere she could, such as arranging for Stephanie to receive everyday items, such as a blender. It's important for chemotherapy patients to consume protein, with many opting to make an easily digestible "“ yet less-than-tasty "“ shakes.

Sheroski suggests her patients blend in some peanut butter or ice cream for taste.

Stephanie didn't have a blender, but with the generosity of the breast center staff, had a brand new one waiting for her at her next visit. She's enjoyed tasty shakes ever since.

But the staff didn't stop at that.

When Stephanie's car needed new tires, a collection from the staff "“ including the cancer physicians "“ raised enough for two new front tires. Sheroski was able to arrange for the labor to be generously donated by Belle Tire of Farmington Hills.

Sheroski also helped her receive a grant from the McLaren Oakland Foundation to help offset medical bills.

Hats, scarves, food and a wig for the 4-time chemotherapy recipient, an appreciative Stephanie continued to receive her treatments in Clarkston, driving from her home in Farmington Hills.

Stephanie is even working toward moving to Clarkston to be closer to her treatments, looking for a place with the help of Linda Robinson, MSW, and Deanna Hart, patient navigator.

"Our goal with every patient is to not only treat the illness," says Sheroski, "but to care for them body and mind "“ considering their overall well-being to make their treatments as smooth as possible."

With a positive prognosis, Stephanie is forever grateful to every McLaren Clarkston staffer who showed her so much warmth and support.

"I've never had an experience like this before," she said. "They say call when you need something and they do what they can to help. I sure would not have gotten through this had it not been for them."

To learn more about care offered at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Clarkston and the McLaren Clarkston Breast Center, visit mclaren.org/clarkston.