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Remember a loved one or honor a special person in your life

Purchase a stone paver to commemorate a loved one, a caregiver or special occasion and help pave the way for healing. All engraved pavers will be installed in the courtyard in the beautiful and serene Hurley Healing Garden at the Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute.

Stone pavers are available in small, medium and large. The small paver is 6” x 12”, costs $100 and will accommodate four lines of text with 18 characters per line, including spaces. The medium paver is 9” x 12”, costs $200 and will accommodate six lines of text with 18 characters per line, including spaces. The large paver is 12” x 12”, costs $300 and will accommodate eight lines of text with 18 characters per line, including spaces.

Funds raised will enhance the ability of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center to tackle some of the most difficult and complicated medical challenges today, as well as be prepared to face issues that will confront our region tomorrow. To learn more about our Wallace Cancer Institute, visit NHCancerCenter.org.

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‘We need to put some effort where we see the need, and the need is here, right now’

If you’ve been in North Carolina long enough, or you’re well-versed in behavioral health reform, you probably know the story of Willie M.

Willie M. was one of four children in North Carolina who was deemed delinquent — a lost cause — back in 1978. These children were violent and disruptive and plagued by various types of mental health problems. For a long time, the prevailing method of dealing with children like that was shipping them off to reform school or juvenile detention.

The case of Willie M. changed all of that, bringing about a transformation in how our state and others handle children struggling with behavioral health.

At the time all of this was playing out, Carolyn Felton was a teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, working to help hospital- and home-bound students keep up with their work while they battled illnesses or healed from injuries. Some of those students were struggling with mental illness. Willie M. was one of them.

“I taught him in a hospital/home-bound setting while the case was going on,” she recalls.

“At the time, they didn’t offer enough services or support for families dealing with these children. And it only works if you have coordination with healthcare professionals, families and the schools. It’s got to be a team effort.”

The Willie M. case took a step in that direction, changing how the school system serves children with behavioral health issues. The case also became part of what pushed Carolyn to pursue a new career, in special education.

“I’ve always had a heart for students who are underserved,” she says.

Carolyn got her master’s degree in special education from UNC Charlotte and then spent a decade supporting students with a range of behavioral health issues. She started at Harding Senior High School, where one of her students spent his nights in the school bathroom for days on end. He had run away from his foster home and was no longer taking his medication, finding the bathroom preferable to the structure he had at home.

“He needed that structure, but he wanted to taste a bit of freedom,” she recalls.

Then, at McClintock Middle School, one student in Carolyn’s class struggled with anger and other mental health issues.

“He ended up going to jail for about 10 years,” she recalls. “We exchanged letters and Christmas cards. Now, he’s living in Charlotte and working as a cook in a restaurant. He’s making it.”

After a decade in special education, Carolyn decided to step away from her formal teaching position. She raised children and volunteered, taking the lead on Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Charlotte’s Web project, which introduced the community to the internet back in the 1990s.

“We had hundreds of volunteers who learned this new system. We’d teach it to them, and they’d go teach it to others. We’d make it available at places like the men’s homeless shelter to give them access, too,” Carolyn recalls. “Sometimes, I was so tired on the way home from that work that I’d fall asleep on the bus, and I’d have to call my husband to come get me. But it was so exciting.”

Then, about 20 years ago, Carolyn and her family moved to Brunswick County, where she embarked on a new career as a financial advisor. It was a profound shift at the age of 50, but one that allowed her to maintain her focus on helping those around her.

“Being a financial advisor is really about knowing how to use your resources and being nice to people and thinking logically,” she explains. “You give better advice when you care about people.”

And that is perhaps what Carolyn does best. In Brunswick County, she’s become deeply involved with Brunswick Community College, first as a volunteer and then as president of the Brunswick Community College Foundation. She’s also become an avid supporter of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation.

“I’ve always felt like this is my home now. What can I do to make this a better place for everybody?” she says.

In Brunswick County, that involves a significant focus on behavioral health, which is often tied to issues involving drug abuse.

In 2016, a North Carolina Office of the Medical Examiner report found that opioid-related deaths had increased by more than 130%. Between January and June of this year, there were 162 documented heroin overdoses, which resulted in 28 deaths. At the same time, the rate of Brunswick County youths experiencing a mental health condition is on the rise. And while the average ratio of mental healthcare providers to residents is 490 to 1 nationwide, the ratio in Brunswick County is 1,310 to 1.

That means it can take days for a referral to a mental health treatment facility — far too long for someone in need.

“Brunswick County is in the midst of an addiction crisis, as is the state of North Carolina and across the United States. The only way to combat that crisis is to address the root problem, which is mental health,” says Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram.

That’s why Carolyn has become a passionate advocate for giving back to the community you call home.

“I want people to face what we have facing us and be a part of the solution. I want them to put something into their budget that helps support this, whether it’s a planned gift or gifting right now,” Carolyn says. “We need to put some effort where we see the need, and the need is here, right now.”

At Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation, we work hard every day to support the behavioral health needs of our community. Please join Carolyn and support our efforts by getting involved and giving back.

Together, we can strengthen our Brunswick County community by providing support to those who need it most.

Will you join us?

Make a gift today

‘This is stage 3 rectal cancer, and I can do this’

Judy Caswell’s sons used to joke that her first-aid kit was comprised of duct tape, hockey tape and super glue.

And for a long time, that was pretty accurate, she says with a laugh.

“I only ever went to the doctor when absolutely necessary — for vaccinations or when I was pregnant,” Judy recalls. “I was always one who felt that my health was my responsibility. I ate well. I exercised and, usually, I never got anything more than a cold.”

Then, in 2012, she started to experience changes in her body — digestive issues, bleeding and nausea. At the time, she was 53 years old and training to run a marathon with her son. She quickly explained away the symptoms as the byproduct of age and exertion.

When Judy ran the marathon on Mother’s Day weekend in Fargo, North Dakota, and beat her 21-year-old son by a full minute, she felt invigorated — and validated.

“I can’t be sick,” she recalls thinking at the time, “because you don’t run marathons and beat kids if you’re sick.”

Judy eventually would find out she was wrong.

Over the next three years, the wife and mother of two took on new adventures with her sons — learning how to wake surf, doing obstacle races. The symptoms were still there, but it was manageable.

In 2016, she decided to do another marathon with her son — a rematch of sorts. Judy had a victory to defend; her son had a shot at redemption.

“Then, things took a little bit of a turn,” Judy recalls.

Her symptoms became intense, affecting everything from her running to her work. She started dropping weight dramatically. And in May — after 20-some years without seeing a doctor — she went in to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center to get checked. That’s when she got her diagnosis: Judy had stage 3 rectal cancer.

“I have to say, I was extremely angry. I looked at it like, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ My husband had recently retired, and I was working half-time. And then the thing that really kept coming back was, ‘I shouldn’t be getting cancer. I’ve done what I’m supposed to do.’”

She didn’t want to have a doctor lecture her about all the checkups and screenings she’d avoided over the years. She didn’t want to be told she had to “take it easy” from here on out. She didn’t want to be a bystander in the process of improving her health.

“I had a very bad attitude. My first appointment after my diagnosis, and first cancer-related one, was with colorectal surgeon, Dr. Robert Stevens. I promised my husband I would listen. That was it. And there was a good chance I wasn’t going to follow through,” Judy recalls.

But that first meeting changed everything.

“He spent such a long time explaining rectal cancer, my specifics, where it was, what it meant, the treatments and then what to expect at the different phases,” she recalls. “There was no computer screen in front of him. It was very conversational, and he was very calm. It made me feel very comfortable. I got this sense of confidence and trust.”

She also took note of one small gesture that made a huge impact.

“On his notepad, he wrote, ‘Training for a marathon,’” Judy recalls. “He picked up on that and knew that all these activities I wanted to do with my boys were a priority.”

Her treatment plan was designed with that priority foremost in mind.

“He gave me strategies to deal with the side effects of both radiation and chemotherapy, as well as accommodating the new changes in my body,” she recalls. “I was so concerned about this loss of control and people telling me what to do, but instead, it was like, ‘I’m in control. I’m part of this team.’ I walked out of the office like, ‘This is stage 3 rectal cancer, and I can do this.’”

Judy started off with daily chemo and radiation for six weeks. Then came surgery with a lower pelvic resection and ileostomy. Her medical team designed the plan around the ERAS — enhanced recovery after surgery — protocol, which allows early recovery and long term benefits for patients undergoing major surgery. After that surgery came another six months of chemo.

Throughout everything, she kept training.

“Age and cancer don’t mean you have to slow down,” she explains. “This whole thing has taken me a direction I never expected to go, but I put it back on what my team did for me. I always say, instead of rose-colored glasses, I see things through my aubergine-colored glasses.”

Judy had her final surgery in 2017. Since then, she has completed 45 races — 20 in 2019 alone. And she’s running faster than ever before, routinely placing in the top of her age group.

“I’ve done snowshoe challenges and hiking challenges with my boys — stuff beyond what I ever did before. And in January, I’m going to do my first 50K race,” she says.

She’s also giving back to the team of healthcare professionals who made it be possible for her to be both cancer survivor and ultramarathoner. So, she asked the team at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation what they needed most.

“Especially in the beginning of your cancer journey, you don’t want to be there — particularly in a colorectal surgery practice. You’re having these discussions where you just had a fairly intrusive exam. It’s very awkward, very uncomfortable,” Judy explains. “So, the idea they came up with was a family-friendly consultation room. And the more we talked about it, the more I could see it and particularly how it would positively improve the patient’s experience.”  

Now, her donation is helping to bring that room to life at Novant Health Charlotte Colon & Rectal Surgery clinic, which she credits with much more than just curing her cancer.

“I was sure they were going to tell me to take it easy, but instead, I got the opposite. And it gave me a lot of confidence in myself,” she says. “I always have one more challenge because I see now that I don’t know what my limits are. They made me feel more confident in myself.”

You can join Judy in supporting the efforts of the entire team at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Consider a donation of time or money to help the various programs and services offered in the Charlotte region, and beyond.

Make a gift today

Join Judy as a passionate advocate for our community needs

You can make a difference in the area that means the most to you

After 20 years without seeing a doctor, Judy Caswell visited Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center due to unexpected changes in her health. She was 57 years old and had just run a marathon with her son – and beat him by a full minute.

“I can’t be sick,” she recalls thinking at the time, “because you don’t run marathons and beat your kids to the finish line if you’re sick.”

But that’s exactly when she got her diagnosis: She had stage 3 rectal cancer.

“I had a very bad attitude. My first appointment after my diagnosis, and first cancer-related one, was with colorectal surgeon, Dr. Robert Stevens. I promised my husband I would listen. That was it. And there was a good chance I wasn’t going to follow through,” Judy recalls.

She didn’t want to have a doctor lecture her about all the checkups and screenings she’d avoided over the years. She didn’t want to be told she now had to “take it easy.” She also didn’t want to be just a bystander in the process of improving her health.

But that first meeting with Dr. Stevens changed everything.

“He spent such a long time with me explaining rectal cancer, my specifics, where it was, what it meant, the treatments and then what to expect at the different phases,” she recalls. “There was no computer screen in front of him. It was very conversational, and he was very calm. It made me feel very comfortable. I got this sense of confidence and trust.”

Because of the remarkable care she received, Judy is now passionate about giving back to Novant Health in honor of the team of professionals that made it be possible for her to not only be a cancer survivor but also an ultramarathoner.

Read Judy’s full story

If you or a loved one have a similar story of remarkable care at Novant Health, join Judy’s passion and recognize your caregivers through a donation in their honor. You also can help your neighbors in need experience remarkable care by donating to one of our areas of greatest need. Your passion and generosity, like Judy’s, will help save lives and improve the health of the communities we serve.


Join Judy and get involved

Will you join Judy and support our efforts by getting involved and giving back? Together, we can strengthen our community by providing support in the areas that mean the most to you.

Make a gift today

Second annual Chair City Society dinner

Thank you to the more than 30 Chair City Society members who joined Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center Foundation’s second annual Chair City Society dinner at Colonial Country Club on Oct. 17. The foundation created this society in 2018 to recognize and celebrate donors who give $1,000 or more to help us in our mission to save lives and improve the health of our community.

The Chair City Society 2019 honoree was Dr. Beatriz Juncadella, known locally as “Dr. Bea.” Born in Nicaragua, Dr. Bea knew she wanted to be a pediatrician by 8 years old, and since 2005 she has served as pediatrician with Thomasville-Archdale Pediatrics. Her community care goes beyond the practice’s walls, where she is an active volunteer with Grace Community Church and serves on the board of Thomasville YMCA. Most recently, Dr. Bea joined the board of Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center Foundation.

Dr. Bea’s philanthropy extends to her native country, too. In 2007 she founded and now leads a medical mission called La Luz de Cristo Ministries, which focuses on health maintenance, community development, leadership training and children ministries in Nicaragua. During the event, Ms. Kim Magee, whose children have been patients of Dr. Bea for years, praised her for the remarkable care Dr. Bea continues to provide for her family and others.

Congratulations to Dr. Bea, and thank you to our Chair City Society for your support and commitment to the health of our community.


Event photo gallery

Click below to view more photos from the 2019 Chair City Society dinner or click here to view the full album.

Third annual Jane Burt Williams Memorial Golf Classic

We hit the links for the 21st annual Jane Burt Williams Memorial Golf Classic to benefit the Center for Health & Wellness

Friday, October 4, 2019

8:00 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.
Shotgun starts – Captain’s Choice
7:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. check-in

Colonial Country Club

7047 Colonial Club Drive
Thomasville, North Carolina 27360


Honoring the life and legacy of beloved community member Jane Burt Williams.

Proceeds will support the new Center for Health and Wellness at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center.

Tournament info

On Oct. 4 we held our third annual Jane Burt Williams Memorial Golf Classic at Colonial Country Club. Hosted by Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center Foundation, more than 140 participants joined presenting sponsors Vannoy Construction and Facility Systems Services, Inc., to raise over $50,000 for the Center for Health and Wellness at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center.

We look forward to seeing you on the course next October 2, 2020, for the fourth annual Jane Burt Williams Memorial Golf Classic. Complete the form below, and stay connected as more details become available.

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Event highlights

With the addition of these proceeds, we now have raised $747,690 which is 29 percent of our goal to raise $2.6 million for the Center for the Health and Wellness. Once completed, this center will be dedicated to furthering health education and wellness in Davidson County and the surrounding communities, specifically addressing; diabetes, adult and adolescent obesity, chronic disease management, breast feeding support for mothers and behavioral healthcare.

“In just three years, this fun and competitive tournament has raised more than $128,000 for Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center programs and initiatives that save lives and improve the health of our community,” said Kristen Trexler, Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center Foundation’s manager of program development.

Taking home the 2019 Jane Burt Williams Memorial Classic Champion trophy was foursome Kieron Kennedy, Randy Crainshaw, Jason Newsome and Todd Deaton. Congratulations to our champions, and thank you to our sponsors, participants and volunteers for making this year’s tournament a huge success.

Awards

Final results

Jane Burt Williams Flight Winners
Flight Winners/Scores
1. Patrick Johnson, Toni Vizzini, Raymond Smith, Joe Freer- 51
2. Harlen Reid, Harold Kennedy, Gerri Crowder, Don Clinard- 56
3. Daniel Flora, Mike Fisher, Ken Mowery, Gary Blabon- 55
4. Richard Kirsch, Bill Schermahorn, Jordan Lessard, Mason Schermahorn- 56
5. Darren Dixon, Jason Myers, Chris Volger, Montana Dawson- 55
Flight Runner-Ups/Scores
1. Bryan Smith, Ken Mowery, Chip Phifer, Patrick Petit- 53
2. Ron Carter, Tony Bardelas, Jack Hawks, Duane Edwards- 57
3. Gary Bowers, Guhi Bowers, Landis Bumgarner, Chase Waterhouse- 55
4. Mark Breeden, Luke Breeden, Spencer Breeden, Rick Truell – 58
5. Terry Gaither, Mike Jackson, Josh Greene, Jay Ross- 57
Overall Classic Champions
Kieron Kennedy, Randy Crainshaw, Jason Newsome, Todd Deaton

Cash prizes

Morning Flight
AM – Closest to the Pin #4 ($25) – Keiron Kennedy
AM – Closest to the Pin #8 ($25) – Henry Muller
AM – Closest to the Pin #15 ($25) – Ken Mowery
AM – Closest to the Pin #17 ($25) – Robert Leach
AM – Longest Putt #18 ($25) – Brandon Rich
AM – Longest Drive #14 ($25) – Audie Lowery
Afternoon flight
PM – Closest to the Pin #15 ($25) Patrick Petit
PM – Closest to the Pin #17 ($25) Landis Bumgarner
PM – Longest Drive #14 ($25) Montana Dawson

Photo gallery

Click below to view more photos from the 2019 Jane Burt Williams Memorial Golf Classic event or click here to view the full album.

Sponsors

Presenting sponsors

Acknowledgements

Thank you to all sponsors, participants, and volunteers for making this year’s tournament a huge success.

2019 Golf committee
  • Mary Jane Akerman
  • Gary Bowers
  • Blair Maddox
  • Susan McMillan
  • Lisa Miller
  • Jed Orman
  • Keith Tobin

Benefiting the Center for Health & Wellness

About

After more than 85 years of serving the Davidson County community, Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center is ready to develop a place that will inspire and educate people of all ages, with the focus of improving the community’s health one person at a time.

Goals
  • Provide personalized, patient-centered care
  • Improve accessibility
  • Increase affordability
  • Enhance coordination
Components
  • Behavioral Health
  • Outpatient Physical Rehabilitation
  • Chronic Disease Management
  • Community Education
  • Baby Café

Get involved

If you are interested in supporting the Center for the Health and Wellness—the future forefront of health in this community—please email Brittney.turner@novanthealth.org or call 336-474-7957.

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Join Carolyn and become the life-saving partner our community needs

Remarkable care in Brunswick County starts with you

Twenty years ago, Carolyn Felton retired as a special education teacher and moved with her family to Brunswick County. She began a new career as a financial adviser and became active in her community. Over the last several years, her expertise as a teacher and her experience serving others has motivated her to take action where Brunswick County needs it most: improving behavioral health access.

“This is my home now. What can I do to make this a better place for everybody?” she asked herself.

That’s when she joined Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation’s campaign to improve access to behavioral health care. Without adequate support, our most vulnerable community members often turn to drugs. Between January and June of this year, 162 documented heroin overdoses were reported, which resulted in 28 deaths in our county alone.

“I want people to face what we have facing us and be a part of the solution. I want them to put something into their budget that helps support this, whether it’s a planned gift or gifting right now,” Carolyn says. “We need to put some effort where we see the need, and the need is here, right now.”

At Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation, we work hard every day to support the behavioral health needs of our community. We are committed to providing the treatment, outreach programs and community education necessary to meet this dangerous crisis head-on.

Your support will help Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center continue to be the life-saving partner our community deserves.

Read Carolyn’s full story

Join Carolyn in giving back

Will you join Carolyn and support our efforts by getting involved and giving back? Together, we can strengthen our community by providing support in the areas that mean the most to you.

Make a gift today

A generous donation from Michael Jordan comes to life on Charlotte’s west side

In 2017, Michael Jordan donated $7 million to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation to help build two health care clinics to serve Charlotte’s most at-risk and in-need communities. Last month, the first of these clinics opened to the public on Charlotte’s west side.

At the opening of the Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic, the six-time NBA champion and Hornets owner was visibly moved as he took in the enormity of what his donation has made possible.

“As you can see, it’s a very emotional thing for me to be able to give back to a community that’s supported me over the years,” he said. “I’ve gone off and made my life in Illinois and other places. But I know where it all begins.

Access to health care is one of the most pressing needs our community is facing. According to Census Bureau data, more than 100,000 Charlotteans don’t have health insurance. In fact, a Community Health Needs Assessment showed striking health equity gaps in six ZIP codes, including disparities in accessing healthy foods, safe housing and reliable transportation, which all impact one’s ability to be, and stay, healthy.

The Novant Health Michael Jordan Medical Family Clinic on Freedom Drive is designed to eliminate these health equity gaps. The clinic will deliver primary and preventive care to those with little to no access, in addition to behavioral health and social support services. The 6,800-square-foot facility is equipped with 12 exam rooms, an X-ray room and flexible space, which will be designed to meet the future needs of the community it serves. A full-time social worker is also on staff to connect patients with vital resources — a model that has worked well at the Movement Family Wellness Center, powered by Novant Health, in the same ZIP code. During the first six months that clinic was open, 98 percent of patients were referred for social work services.

This unique, integrated care model — which has proven to reduce emergency room visits, hospitalizations and total cost of care when compared to traditional models — will help Novant Health make a bigger impact among Charlotte’s most in-need communities.

“One of the benefits of living in Charlotte is access to world-class health care. But for too long, a significant part of our population has been excluded from that access. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Jordan, that is changing,” said Jennifer Clifford, chief development officer, Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation. “It’s a big moment for our community, and knowing that Mr. Jordan is so deeply committed to serving this population makes it even more meaningful.”

Mr. Jordan’s donation to the two new clinics is one of his largest philanthropic commitments to date. But it’s not the beginning of his relationship with Novant Health. In 2012, Mr. Jordan officially kicked off his partnership and has since supported a range of Novant Health initiatives, including a nearly $750,000 donation to fund the Novant Health Community Care Cruiser. To date, the mobile health cruiser has delivered 20,000 immunizations and offered care to 10,000 children in the greater Charlotte market.

Mr. Jordan’s partnership with Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation has allowed him to take that work even further, first with the newly opened clinic and continuing in 2020, when the second clinic is scheduled to open in North End.

“I believe that your ZIP code or neighborhood should not determine the quality of your health care — or whether or not you can even get care at all,” Mr. Jordan has said.

Thanks to his generous donation, it doesn’t have to.

Join Mr. Jordan

Click below to join Mr. Jordan and help us make a difference in the health of the communities we serve.

Donate now

‘Cancer sucks’

Her realization: Cancer is traumatic… and that’s OK

One morning in April 2014, Shenell Thompson woke up to a strange feeling in her breasts.

It was a fullness — a sensation she’d known well while breastfeeding but hadn’t felt in 14 years. Then, she checked her nipples, and fluid seeped out.

“That’s when I freaked out,” Thompson recalls. “I ran out of my room and told my husband and immediately made an appointment with my regular doctor.”

The day she went in for her visit, she couldn’t replicate the experience. Her doctor advised her to keep an eye on her breasts and come back if it happened again. It did, and that set off a series of tests to determine what was going on.

At first, doctors thought it was a papilloma, a benign nodule near her nipple. Then it appeared to be atypical ductal hypoplasia, a cluster of abnormal cells that could be pre-cancerous. But when her team at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center went in to remove the problematic tissue, they found something far more serious: stage 0 ductal carcinoma, a cancer confined to her milk ducts.

At the time, Thompson was 42 years old.

The road to recovery 

Thompson had a mammogram the previous December. She’d kept up with regular, at-home breast exams. She had lost two aunts to breast cancer. A mother of three, she knew she had to be proactive, so she was.

“I decided early on that I would always live in a way that would allow me to give my best self to my children. To honor that, mammograms were one of those things I wasn’t going to miss,” Thompson says.

But Thompson’s cancer didn’t present as a lump. She has highly dense breasts with lots of calcification. That shows up in a mammogram, but it’s typically benign. For years, she’d been told the calcification was there, but also that it was nothing to worry about.

Now, all that had changed.

Thompson met with the radiation oncologist and was given the option of doing a single mastectomy of the right breast or a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The second option was more intense, but it would allow her to avoid radiation and years of medication. That’s what she chose.

“Let me just remove these breasts and anything that’s going on with them because they’re just not acting right,” Thompson recalls. “The same cells were in both breasts, so my doctor said it felt like I really made the right decision.”

That doesn’t mean it came lightly.

“Making the choice to amputate my breasts was really emotional. I was really lamenting over what happens to your body and your personal image and sexuality and all the things that would be impacted by this decision,” she recalls. “I was also wrapping my mind around the fact that I am one of those people who was really proactive, and I still got cancer.”

Her recovery process was long and intense. She had a hysterectomy the following August, unrelated to her cancer, and was in and out of hospitals for a total of about 18 months.

“Then I stuck it on a shelf and didn’t deal with it for about three years,” she says. “I think I did a really good job of faking I was OK at first, and then I finally realized that was a really traumatic thing that I went through. I’ve been slowly processing it ever since.”

The challenges 

In the five years since her surgery, Thompson’s perspective on life has shifted significantly.

“When you go through something like that, I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it really does take off the rose-colored lenses you walk through life with,” Thompson says. “I find myself interacting with fewer people. I don’t have the emotional energy to give to a lot of things anymore. The people who are closest to us may not have been the people who were strongest for us, and that changes how you value your relationships.”

Thompson has found new connections, though, in online support groups and other survivors, including an old friend she reconnected with shortly after her diagnosis.

“We had not talked to each other in 10 years, and we talked on the phone for two and a half hours one Saturday morning. We were both crying,” Thompson recalls. “I was really fortunate to have people like that who had already gone through it. I had three really good friends in the middle of being treated for breast cancer, and they were like walking encyclopedias for me.”

They gave her practical advice, like investing in button-down shirts and buying a recliner, because they had learned through experience that getting dressed after surgery is much easier when you can slide a button-down shirt over your shoulders, rather than pulling T-shirts on over your head. Likewise, a recliner is much more comfortable and supportive post-surgery than a traditional, flat bed. Shenell slept in hers for five months.

“Cancer makes you question your own mortality. It’s scary and sometimes you don’t know what to say or how to say it. So, you create this sisterhood of people who are going through this same experience because they get it,” Thompson explains.  

The surprises 

Five years after her mastectomy, Thompson is cancer free and in good health. But that hasn’t shaken her anxiety.

“I’ll get something as simple as a headache now, and I have to talk myself off the ledge. If I’m having diagnostic tests, I’ll ask the doctors, ‘Are you absolutely sure there’s nothing?’” she says.

Thompson is working to manage that anxiety through therapy, particularly since her mom was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“I’ve come to realize that cancer was a very traumatic experience in my life, and it’s OK to own that. I don’t feel the need now to create this sense that I was a super person, that I endured this horrible thing and now I’m a better person because of it. Cancer sucks. It will always suck.”

Life after cancer 

For the first four years after her mastectomy and reconstruction, Thompson would visit her surgeon every six months for manual exams on her new breasts.

Now, in her fifth-year post-surgery, she’s graduated to a single MRI.  

“To me, it feels crazy. I think someone should be making sure my breasts are OK all the time,” Thompson says. 

She feels fortunate to have had a wonderful doctor who always erred on the side of caution and sought to do whatever she could for Thompson throughout her cancer journey.

“She didn’t just shut down my experience. So that’s what I teach my daughters. I remind them that it’s not just their breasts. With women, it’s your whole gynecological profile, and you have to make sure that you’re advocating for it,” she says.

We couldn’t agree more

Yet, many women don’t have access to consistent, quality medical care so they can be proactive about their health. That’s why we’re working to broaden access to life-saving mammograms for underinsured and uninsured women across our region. And we need your help. Early detection saves lives, and every gift to our Think Pink Fund goes directly to a life-saving 3D mammogram to someone in our community.

Please consider donating to help us increase access to mammograms for those in need. It’s not a cure, but it does save lives, every single day.

No more excuses. Just more mammograms.

Click below to join us and pay it forward for a woman in need.

Donate now

‘It always happened to someone else’

The first time Tammy Coulter was diagnosed with cancer, she had no signs or symptoms. A routine mammogram had turned up stage 0 ductal carcinoma — a cancer she couldn’t see or touch.

“I think I was just in shock because it always happened to someone else,” Tammy says. “When they told me it was best-case scenario — stage 0 — I just remember, my nurse navigator handed me this huge book, and she said: ‘This is all about breast cancer. You can take this home.’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I just wanted it all to go away.”

Eventually it did, after a mastectomy on her left breast with clean margins and no sign of cancer infiltrating the lymph nodes.

Then, it came back.

In 2018 — just two years after her initial diagnosis — Tammy found a lump under her left arm. For about six months, she thought it was scar tissue, left over from her mastectomy and reconstruction. But when she went in for her mammogram in October of that year, she had it checked. The lump wasn’t scar tissue; it was triple negative breast cancer.

“I had a less than 2 percent chance of my cancer coming back. There was nothing in my lymph nodes. The surgeon felt very, very confident,” Tammy recalls.

And yet there it was. Tammy was 48 years old.

The road to recovery 

The treatment for Tammy’s first bout with cancer was fairly straightforward. She had a mastectomy with reconstruction — no radiation, no chemo. She was back at work several weeks later.

“It was pretty much picture perfect — the way it should have gone,” she recalls.

When she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, the treatment plan was far more rigorous. She had surgery at Duke Cancer Institute, where her medical team found the cancer had invaded one lymph node, and then began a treatment regimen at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center that included 12 rounds of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation.

At the time, Tammy’s daughter was 17 and her son was 8. And as her treatment began, she had sequestered herself away from the entire family.

“It was the middle of winter, so I went for eight weeks without my kids getting too close to me. Everybody was trying to make sure I didn’t get sick. I know it was hard for them. It was very hard for me because we’re a very affectionate family.”

She did lose her hair, but she embraced it, walking the runway during the Magnolias and Mimosas fashion show put on by the Kernersville Chamber of Commerce.

“I decided, why not? I was bald, but this would be a really good chance to show other women that it’s OK to be bald. This happens. This is life. This shouldn’t define you as a person,” she explains.   

By chance, the emcee for the event was Judith Hopkins, MD, Tammy’s oncologist.

“That was really kind of special,” she recalls. “That whole day, I was in my own little zone.”

The challenges 

When she was first diagnosed with cancer, Tammy was focused solely on getting through it, being done with it, fixing it.

“I didn’t want anything pink. I didn’t want to be part of that club,” she says. “Just tell me what I need to do, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The second bout has been very different. She battled a different, more dangerous cancer, with a more aggressive treatment plan. The chances of it coming back are higher. And she’s no longer a reluctant member of the club.

Tammy and her husband own a brewery in Kernersville, and during those early days of treatment when she felt a pressing need just to get out of the house, she’d head there. 

“I hardly had any hair, and I would go in and talk to people,” Tammy recalls. “I can’t tell you how many people approached me to say, ‘I’m a 10-year survivor.’ ‘I had this type of cancer.’ I think it just gave people a chance to tell their story.”

The surprises 

Cancer is serious, but not all day, every day. There are moments of levity that show up, mostly when you least expect it.

For Tammy, one of the most memorable came on the very last day of her radiation treatment.

She was getting ready, going about her day, and she heard an “obnoxiously loud car, truck, something” driving through her neighborhood. She had no idea what was making all the noise. Then, her husband came in and told her it was her ride.

“I went to the front door, and a friend of ours had driven this pink fire truck to my house to drive me to the hospital for my last treatment,” Tammy recalls with a laugh. “We took lots of funny pictures.”

Life after cancer 

These days, Tammy sees Dr. Hopkins every three months for blood work and a physical, and she’ll continue that schedule for at least a year.

“Right now, my goal is to get to two years with no return of cancer. Then, my chances of a return go down greatly. After five years, it goes down even more,” she says.

It’s still a struggle to live with the uncertainty.

“You don’t get sick and not think about it anymore,” she says. “But as hard as it is sometimes, you can’t live in fear. It may come back, and it may not. And something else may happen in between. You just have to kind of shake it off and live your life as best you can and pray that it doesn’t come back. You can’t control it, even though you’d like to.”

What we can control

Tammy’s right. Life is full of unexpected joys and challenges. What we can control is what we do to help others. That’s why we’re working to broaden access to life-saving mammograms for underinsured and uninsured women across our region. Early detection saves lives, and every gift to our Think Pink Fund goes directly to a life-saving 3D mammogram to someone in our community.

Any donation helps get us to our goal of increasing prevention, and we hope you’ll join us in making a difference for those in need.

No more excuses. Just more mammograms.

Click below to join us and pay it forward for a woman in need.

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