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Making #CLTStrong

Caroline Elliott is on a mission to feed healthcare workers on the front lines

Since the start of the pandemic, Caroline Elliott has raised more than $85,000 to feed front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. It’s a campaign that has taken on a life of its own since its launch back in March, gaining momentum, attracting volunteers and making an impact.

The first week in May, it also landed her in the Oval Office of the White House, in a group of her fellow nurses, listening to President Donald Trump sing their collective praises in celebration of National Nurses Day.

“It was wild. It was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Elliott said. “It’s such an honor to be a nurse. The fact that I’m considered in the same category as so many people I’ve met who have these incredible stories is just mind-blowing to me. I’m doing what I can, and that’s important. But as I kept saying over and over at the White House, I definitely don’t deserve this.”

The front-line workers she’s been feeding, as well as the restaurants she’s been able to support in the process, would beg to differ.

Elliott is a fertility nurse. She lives in Charlotte but works remotely for a clinic in Washington, D.C. She is not on the front lines, but she has friends and colleagues who are.

“That’s what sparked my initial urge to do something. I just started to think, ‘What can I do to help?”’ Elliott said.

One of her friends on the West Coast had purchased bagels and coffee for a local hospital, and Elliott decided to do something similar. Healthcare workers need to eat to do their jobs. With cafeterias and restaurants shut down, they have to bring food from home or rely on vending machines with limited options. Elliott thought she could take that worry off their plate, while helping them eat well throughout their shifts.

At the same time, local restaurants needed business as the state-mandated lockdown forced them to close their doors and lay off workers. So Elliott decided to try a campaign that would pull double duty: She’d raise money to buy food from local restaurants, giving them a much-needed revenue boost. Then, she would donate that food to front-line medical workers at facilities across the Charlotte region.

She started out taking donations via Venmo. Within 24 hours, she’d raised $8,000.

“I quickly booked some lunches and some dinners, and it took off from there,” Elliott said. “People heard my story and spread the word. It’s been kind of a whirlwind. We’ve raised a lot of money, had some fun partnerships and worked with some generous, gracious people.”

Those people have given life to the campaign, now known as #CLTStrong, and its mission even when Elliott couldn’t. On the day of her first delivery back in March, she found out she’d been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I was heartbroken,” Elliott said.

Soon, her husband, Frank, tested positive for COVID-19, and while Elliott was never officially tested, she fell ill soon after.

“We had to call on our friends and family and strangers to do our deliveries. Now it’s all strangers — people I’ve never met. That’s one thing I’m really grateful for,” Elliott said. “It’s just complete strangers coming out of the woodwork and wanting to do something to help. Nobody has to do anything, but they are.”

Elliott put herself on self-quarantine for six weeks and relied on the generosity of volunteers to continue deliveries. Local businesses, such as jewelry maker Twine & Twig and Glory Days Apparel, have joined the effort to raise funds. Young Plantations filled her car with 600 bags of cookies.

Those donations have gone out across the healthcare community in Charlotte, including Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Alex Funderburg, chair of the Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation board of directors, has become one of her champions, and the entire team at Presbyterian Medical Center has been tremendously grateful for the support #CLTStrong has been able to provide.

“Caroline knew a lot of these workers were facing tough hours and putting themselves in harm’s way,” Funderburg said. “Now, the campaign has served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort.”

At the same time, the money she’s raised has provided critical support for local restaurants. One restaurant owner told her he was able to hire back one of his employees, knowing that a big order was coming from #CLTStrong.

“Now I’m learning about which restaurants really need the help right now, and we’re doing our best to help those places out,” she said.

Even as we edge our way into a new and less restrictive normal, Elliott plans to continue this work, providing meals, helping restaurants and collaborating with others in the community. It’s not her job, but it is part of what being a nurse means to her.

“When I was a pediatric nurse, there were so many nights when I lay in bed with patients and scratched their backs to help them go to sleep. As nurses, we’re constantly stepping in to do whatever is needed to help,” Elliott said. “Throughout all of this, I have not heard one person complain. Everybody is just so eager to get in there and do what they can do.”

She’s seen that same resiliency throughout the broader Charlotte community, as well.

“Everyone has come together. It’s been pretty amazing,” she said.

You can do your part to support front-line healthcare workers with a donation to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

The fund provides critical resources for those workers so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives.

Join us and make your gift today.

Donate now

‘Leaders are made in moments like this’

From Hurricane Florence to COVID-19, Rob Stumbo is on a mission to help, no matter what

When you ask Rob Stumbo about the most poignant moment in his nursing career, he takes you back to 2018, when he was standing on the helipad of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in the hours immediately after Hurricane Florence had battered the surrounding community.

Stumbo had been on lockdown in the hospital with the rest of the medical team for six days while the hurricane raged. The North Carolina National Guard was conducting search-and-rescue missions and then bringing sick or injured patients to the emergency room.

“That was one of the hardest moments, professionally and personally, I ever had to go through,” said Stumbo, a nurse and house supervisor at Brunswick Medical Center. “There was a lot of fear. Everyone has their family in the community and their homes, and we left all that to be at the hospital and to provide for the community.”

Over the course of those six days, a patient came into the hospital who was in bad shape. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and, at a certain point, it became clear that she needed to be moved to a larger healthcare facility. Under normal circumstances, the team would call in a helicopter right away. In a hurricane, they didn’t have that option.

So Stumbo and his team dedicated all the resources they could to stabilize her condition until the hurricane passed. As soon as the storm broke, they sent for a helicopter, which landed at the hospital a short time later.

“I remember being out there when the chopper took her. I remember high-fiving everyone as they flew away. The sun was parting the clouds. It was like a movie,” Stumbo recalled. “It felt like we finally helped her.”

And helping people is all Stumbo has ever wanted to do.

It started when he became an EMT in his early 20s, after a friend had a diabetic seizure right in front of him. Seeing that made him feel helpless, and he hated it.

“I don’t like not knowing what to do,” Stumbo said.

So, he learned. Being an EMT taught him how to respond in a crisis, how to help. Then, when he met his wife, a nurse, she encouraged him to do more. She told him he’d make a great nurse, and he listened. Stumbo got his LPN, his RN, his BSN, and now he’s one month away from receiving his master’s degree in nursing.

“I do feel like nurses are the backbone of healthcare. We’re there for people in their worst moments. These are not experiences those people necessarily want to remember, but we get letters all the time thanking us,” Stumbo said. “It’s been challenging, but we feel a sense of duty. My dad will ask me sometimes how I do what I do, and I tell him, ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’ That’s the attitude that nurses have. We need to step up because we’re willing to be that person.”

Since Stumbo joined Brunswick Medical Center five years ago, he’s had to step up a lot. He’s the youngest house supervisor on staff by more than a decade — a promotion that he considers one of the highlights of his career. But more than that, the past few years have brought some of the most significant challenges the young hospital has ever faced.

Hurricane Florence was one of them. The COVID-19 pandemic is another.

“I was there during several early cases when we suspected COVID-19. It was a very scary time for everyone. We had great backup from our leadership, but no one knew how serious this situation was going to be,” Stumbo said. “When all this was really starting to ramp up, I went to every department and asked if they needed anything. I looked them all in the eye and told them, ‘Whatever happens, we’re going to figure it out.’”

House supervisors are the engine of the hospital, Stumbo said. They ensure everyone and everything stays on track. A big part of that involves making sure team members have a place to turn when they have questions or need assurance.

“I spend a lot of time consoling people,” Stumbo said. “Everything is changing every day, but we’re all in this together. And we really have become a more cohesive unit for the whole facility. It’s amazing to see how we’ve all adapted.”

He’s also been amazed at how different members of his team have risen to the challenge, Stumbo said.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, a man came to the emergency room at Brunswick Medical Center in cardiac arrest. Stumbo and his team didn’t know if he had tested positive for the virus. They just knew he needed help.

“This was very early on, when we were still figuring everything out, and there was no hesitation. Everyone jumped in. We fell right back into our practices of helping, even though at the same time we were taking a huge risk compared to what we were taking two weeks before,” Stumbo said. “The charge nurse risked his life to try and save that patient, and we see that every day with our people. They just care, and that’s the biggest thing that we’ll take away from this. Leaders are made in moments like this.”

Stumbo, too, is among those leading the charge. He’s on the front lines every day, so when he comes home to his wife and four dogs, he leaves his clothes on the front porch and heads straight to the shower. To protect others, he tries not to go anywhere except work and home. And he hasn’t seen his parents or his grandmother, all of whom live nearby, in a month.

He acknowledges that it’s hard, but at the same time, he doesn’t complain. He loves what he does, no matter how difficult the job can be.

“Helping people is all I’ve ever really wanted to do,” he said. “This job gives me an opportunity to make a difference, and I can see it every day.”

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as “Year of the Nurse” in celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. We are proud to celebrate and recognize our Novant Health nursing team members this year, and always, for the remarkable care they deliver to our patients and their loved ones every day.

Nurses like Rob Stumbo need our support more now than ever.

You can make a difference, too, by contributing to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, which was established to help nurses and other team members on the front lines of the pandemic with rent assistance, child care services and more.

Donate now

Hard choice for parents on the front line: work or stay home? Here’s how Novant Health is helping

When schools shut down in Stokes County, Christina Mabe was left in a difficult position.

Mabe’s job is essential: She is a registered nurse who works in the Coumadin clinic at Novant Health Salem Family Medicine, managing patients who may have suffered strokes, pulmonary embolisms or blood clots and who are now on the Coumadin blood thinner.

She loves what she does — the patient interaction more than anything — but she can’t do it from home.

Like many of our frontline healthcare workers, Mabe has two young children at home who need care.  Schools for her 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son are both closed to comply with the district’s order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Mabe thought of ways to make her available child care options work. Her husband also works outside the home, but her parents live next door. Her father owns a construction business, where her mother does the bookkeeping. They could watch the kids some if this were only for a few days, or even a week — but not every day for weeks at a time.

“What I really needed was dependable child care that I knew I would have every day,” she said.

Then, as she read through her email one day, she found another way forward.

“We get these emails every day from Novant Health with updates, and one of those emails asked us to fill out a questionnaire about what we needed during all of this,” Mabe said. “One of those questions asked about child care. I filled out the survey, and about a week after that, I got an email saying that I could sign my children up for child care at no cost.”

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, new and unprecedented challenges have been placed on healthcare workers. Spouses have lost jobs, putting their families’ livelihood on the line. For some, rent is hard to make and food is difficult to afford. The prospect of paying for supplemental child care is daunting.

“The cost definitely played a big role. When you’re used to not paying child care and then all of a sudden you don’t have anywhere for your kids to go, that’s an extra expense that we weren’t expecting,” Mabe explained.

Through the newly established Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation was able to use funds to cover those expenses and provide Mabe with quality child care services through the YMCA. Her kids play and do school work. Her son’s current passion is basketball, and he can’t get enough of it. He talks proudly about the progress he’s making with “his numbers.”

“They love it,” Mabe said. “With Novant Health Foundation offering that and covering that, that took a lot of stress off. I know I don’t have to worry about it financially, and I know my kids are somewhere safe.”

That frees Mabe to do the work she loves. She joined Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in December to get back into family medicine, which she had done for years as an LPN. She became an RN about a year ago and did some work in a hospital setting. But family medicine kept calling to her. 

“I wanted to get back in it because of the patient-nurse relationship that you establish,” said Mabe, who recently joined Salem Family Medicine “The patients that come to family medicine, they’re not like your hospital patients who you have for a couple days. We see these patients on a weekly or monthly basis — even every three months — and you get to build a relationship.”

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Mabe has seen her patients come to the clinic nervous and scared.

“We don’t see the people in person as much, and when they do come in, they wear masks. It’s for everyone’s health and safety, of course, but it is a big difference,” Mabe said.

It’s also a time when those relationships matter more than ever before. That’s why, in addition to advice like washing hands and listening to recommendations from healthcare providers, Mabe advocates for helping others as much as possible.

“If you’re going to the grocery store, drop something off for someone else so we don’t have as many people going out. Reach out to see if there’s anything you can do to help,” she said. 

One way to help Christina Mabe and other healthcare professionals like her:

Make a gift to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund. Contributions to this fund help pay for the things our front-line workers need now so they can focus on the important work of helping patients and saving lives.

Donate now

Caring for those who care for us

What happens when a critical care nurse on the front lines of COVID-19 is also a mother to a son with special needs

Latazia Harris is a critical care assistant nurse manager at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. Her unit was recently converted into one specializing in the testing and treatment of COVID-19, and that change put Harris on the front lines of a global pandemic.

The part of her that loves what she does remains fiercely committed to the oath she took when she graduated from nursing school. As videos proliferate online of overwhelmed, exhausted and terrified nurses elsewhere in the nation walking away from their posts, Harris is level-headed, focused and digging in.

“It’s a mental, emotional and physical response that comes from having to be on the front line of a pandemic,” Harris said. “It’s high anxiety. It can be chaotic. And we have to be mentally OK to be physically OK to be able to deal with everything that we’re facing.”  

That’s hard when you’re also a mother, as Harris is, to a son with special needs. His name is Josiah. He has a tracheostomy and is prone to respiratory issues. And as the COVID-19 crisis began to take shape within the walls of her hospital, Harris had to carve out a plan — one that would allow her to do her job to the best of her abilities while keeping her son safe.

Harris is resourceful by nature. In high school, she dreamed of being a trauma surgeon. But, as she puts it, “that wasn’t part of God’s plans for me.” She gave birth to Josiah when she was just shy of her 19th birthday.

Harris knew she still wanted to be in medicine, so she got her nursing degree from Winston-Salem State University and embarked on an impressive career, as a traveling nurse and then as a critical care assistant nurse manager at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

“I love people, and I love helping people. That’s the main thing that drives what I do and why I’m still here,” Harris said. “When you get news of a diagnosis — it could be good or bad — that puts the patient at a very vulnerable place. You need to be strong for that patient and help them understand the news or just to be there to listen to them as they talk or cry. That’s a very rewarding experience. It’s not something that I take lightly in that moment. They are trusting me, and I’m essentially a complete stranger.”

At every stage of the career she loves, Josiah, now almost 16, has been by her side.

“He is all that I’ve known my whole adult life. Outside of going on a vacation here or there, we’re not apart from each other. He’s my best friend,” she said.

So as the pandemic took hold in her community, she found herself in a difficult position: She knew she had an important role to play within the walls of the hospital. She also knew she couldn’t expose her son to the risks of COVID-19. So she reached out to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation to ask for help.

“It was a huge burden to think about what I was going to do when I got home. This is my job — to take care of people — and especially during a pandemic, you can’t run from that. You have to face it head-on,” Harris said. “But if I have to be at work and be worried and then go home and be worried, it’s not conducive to anybody involved.”

The foundation heard her concerns and responded, using contributions from its COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund to pay for Harris’s stay in a hotel while she worked in the impacted unit to avoid putting her son at risk.

That first hotel stay lasted for four days and three nights. For now, Harris’s unit has temporarily stepped back from COVID-19 testing, giving her the chance to spend a few nights at home with Josiah. But she knows she’ll soon be back on the front lines — and back in the hotel, away from her son.

It’s hard, but Harris counts herself fortunate. She has an amazing system of support in place for her son, and the help she received from the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund allows her to do her job without worrying about endangering her son and best friend. That’s part of the mission of the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, which was set up by Novant Health Foundation to provide financial assistance to team members for necessities such as food, transportation, utilities and/or housing due to the COVID-19 crisis and to make sure that help is available for those who need it NOW. The fund has already raised generous support from fellow team members, community leaders and businesses.

“To work for an organization that does make those resources available, it’s definitely something that is appreciated because it alleviates some of that stress. And it continues to help us stay where we are, in the hospital, doing our jobs,” Harris said. “It also speaks to one of the reasons why I chose to come to Novant Health: They appreciate their team members. And this is just another example of that.”

Want to support our healthcare workers on the front lines?

Consider making a gift to our COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund. We are committed to helping our workers with whatever the need while they do the noble and vital work of battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Donate now

How you can improve access to life-saving healthcare in the fight against the coronavirus

For our healthcare community and our world, it appears we have a long road ahead of us.

COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has forced us into a fierce battle against its global spread, and healthcare professionals across the Novant Health system are on the front lines.

That’s why we need your support, now more than ever.

Novant Health foundations provide critical funds and resources across our network, which includes more than 1,600 physicians and over 28,000 team members who provide care at more than 640 locations. Last year, our team provided care to more than 4.4 million patients.

Our primary goal is to provide the lifesaving care our community needs, and we want to let you know we’re ready. We are working closely with state and local health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to stay on top of this fast-moving situation. And we’re taking all precautionary measures to protect every member of our team.

The good news is, help has already begun to pour in. The David A. Tepper Charitable Foundation donated $1 million to Novant Health and Atrium Health. Novant Health foundations will receive $350,000 to support our team’s response to the pandemic across the state of North Carolina. Words alone cannot express our gratitude for such generosity.

And yet, in the coming days and weeks, we know we will need more. The impact of this disease is unprecedented, and we will need financial assistance to provide testing and medication to support patient care, as well as medical supplies and staff support to take care of our team members on the front lines. Their ability to care for our patients is critical, and we are committed to doing as much as possible to meet our team members’ needs.

Please stay safe and healthy. We will get through this crisis – together.

If there were ever a time to donate to our Novant Health foundations, it is now.

We are committed to helping our community every way we can, now and always, and we ask that you consider making a contribution today. Every dollar you donate helps us continue the important work of saving lives.

Donate now

For up-to-date resources and support on novel coronavirus, visit

Our Mission

Novant Health foundations engage and connect donors to Novant Health programs and initiatives that save lives and improve the health of the communities we serve.

Novant Health team members buy-in to helping others by donating more than $1.2 million

Each year, team members donate their time and money to local Novant Health foundations and community engagement nonprofit partners through our annual team member giving campaign, Giving. Serving. Together.

This past year, more than 4,700 team members pledged $1,290,176, as part of our commitment to saving lives and improving the health of our communities. Of that total, $645,923 was donated to support the work of our nonprofit partners, and $596,252 went directly to support Novant Health foundations, funding additional resources to continue providing remarkable care to those we serve.

Novant Health team members are an inclusive team of purpose-driven people inspired and united by our passion to care for each other, our patients and our communities.  In caring for each other, we pledged $125,082 last year to assist team members in crisis and more than $82,500 to support team members through programs like the Novant Health Upward Mobility RN Scholarship. Kimberly Hall and Brittney Samuels know firsthand how these donations impact lives: Giving. Serving. Together. donations helped Kimberly’s family rebuild after Hurricane Florence devastated their home, and contributions to the Upward Mobility scholarship allowed Brittney to accomplish her dream of becoming an RN.

In addition to monetary donations, team members also contribute their time as part of our collective effort to accelerate our mission, while contributing to the nonprofit partners whose missions align with our own.

In 2019, team members dedicated more than 1,600 hours to giving back through a variety of events focused on different community organizations and initiatives. Fifty hours of service, for instance, went toward planting 150 trees in the Hidden Valley community.

Volunteers devoted 350 hours to building an outdoor classroom and learning garden for students through the Out Teach “Big Dig” at Devonshire Elementary School. And more than 500 hours went toward helping the Second Harvest Food Bank prepare for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Supporting those in need is a time-honored tradition at Novant Health — one that shines especially bright during Giving. Serving. Together. Thank you to our team members for contributing your time, talent and resources through this critical campaign. Your dedication exemplifies our commitment to improving the lives of those who work and live in the communities we serve.

By giving and serving together, we make healthcare remarkable.

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

‘I had no choice but to beat this.’

Dr. Patricia Flowers was religious about her mammograms. She had been since she turned 32.

She’d lost her mother to the disease when she was 5 years old. She knew breast cancer was a possibility. And she was committed to staying as far ahead of it as possible.

Then, in the summer of 2014, she found a lump in her breast. Her annual mammogram was just a few weeks away, but she decided to move it up.

“I knew my lumps, but this was different,” Patricia recalls. “What really stood out was that I felt the nodule in my armpit, in my lymph nodes.”

So, she got a mammogram and follow-up testing. Three weeks after she first found the lump, she got the call from her doctor at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. She had breast cancer, stage 3. She was 42 years old.

“I was exercising on the elliptical when he called and told me, and I just said, ‘OK’,” Patricia recalls. “And I remember him saying, ‘Do you mind if I ask if you’re alone right now?’ And I said, ‘I am home by myself, but I’m not alone.’”

The road to recovery 

Patricia called her sister first.

“I said, ‘It’s cancer.’ That was the first time I’d said it out loud, and that’s when I cried,” Patricia recalls.

That would be one of just a handful of breakdowns throughout her entire cancer journey. She knew firsthand how hard it was going to be. She also believed she would beat it, and her faith never wavered.

“I had no choice but to beat this. I just never had any kind of moment where I thought I wasn’t going to,” she recalls. “The next day I went to visit my mom’s grave, and I had a conversation with her. Then I just went from there.”

Patricia was assigned a team at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and forged an instant connection with her doctor, Patricia Zekan of Novant Health Oncology Specialists in Winston-Salem.

“She suggested that I do the genetic testing, especially given my history. And I did have the BRCA2 gene mutation,” Patricia recalls. “She explained that meant the possibility of it coming back was greater if we didn’t really do extensive treatment.”

That’s what she did: Patricia chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. She endured 33 radiation treatments and eight chemo treatments over the course of 16 weeks. Because her cancer was estrogen receptor positive, her medical team also recommended a complete hysterectomy, which thrust her into the throes of menopause with no hope of estrogen-induced relief.

She also started on letrozole, an aromatase inhibitor, in 2015, a one-pill-a-day commitment she was at first told would last between three and five years. Later, that was extended to seven years. Now, her doctor tells her it may be more like 10.

“Every time she tells me that, I think about how many medications have been spread across my counter, and now I just take this one very small pill. And I’m just really thankful,” Patricia says. “I always say, ‘I’m going to be around to take it. If you say seven years, I’ll be here. If you say 10 years, I’ll be here.’”

The challenges

Chemotherapy can wreak havoc because it is eradicating cancer from your system. Some side effects passed Patricia by, while others hit hard.

She was spared the vomiting and lost toenails. Even the nausea was manageable with medication. But she developed a blood clot in her left arm as a result of her port-a-cath. She also lost her sense of taste, right around Thanksgiving, and developed a serious infection in her mouth, which made it painful to swallow.

That wasn’t all bad, Patricia laughs. She lost a few pounds as a result.

Through it all, she had a strong support system. Her posts on Facebook reunited her with old friends and new survivors to form a community of “pink sisters” who understood what she was going through, more than her husband or sister could.

“My sister has never heard the words ‘breast cancer’ with her name attached to it. She’s never sat in that chair and watched that chemo drip. Even though they’ve gone through a lot of the visits, it didn’t happen to them,” Patricia explains. “It’s nice to talk to people who can relate.”

At the same time, some relationships outside her sisterhood have struggled, including her marriage.

“My husband and I are separated, and I’m good with that. It was for a season. And during that time, it taught me a lot,” Patricia says. “I was most vulnerable with him, so it allowed me to be vulnerable with someone. But it also allowed me to really focus on how to let go.”

The surprises 

Patricia used to say her mother “lost” her battle with breast cancer.

After her own bout with cancer, her perspective has changed and, along with it, her wording.

“I don’t say that anymore. I say that cancer robbed us of this person because no one loses that battle,” Patricia explains. “Every day you get up after you hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’ you’ve survived it.”

Life after cancer 

These days, Patricia has no tolerance for excuses when it comes to mammograms.

“Every excuse that someone can come up with, I promise I can find a way around it: ‘My breasts are smaller.’ ‘It’s uncomfortable.’ ‘It will hurt,’” Patricia says. “And I’m like, ‘You know what hurts and is really uncomfortable? Getting both your breasts cut off.’ I’m very no-nonsense about that because early detection is key.”

Patricia uses her own story as a case in point.

“My cancer was stage 3. That was with me getting mammograms every year. And I’m convinced that it was there in 2013. But because I have dense breasts and got a 2-D mammogram, it was missed. And it just grew,” Patricia explains. “I’m a strong advocate for 3-D mammograms, especially for women who have dense breasts, because that will help with the earlier detection.”

We’re advocates, too…

We’re advocates for the power of mammograms for every woman, regardless of her ability to pay. That’s why we work every day to increase access to mammograms for under 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.

Help us today by giving whatever you can to support the cause.

No more excuses. Just more mammograms.

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

Donate now

Novant Health Foundation welcomes Ann Caulkins as new President

Former Charlotte Observer publisher helms the Foundation in new role

Novant Health Foundation is pleased to welcome Ann Caulkins as our new President, and we congratulate her on her co-role as Senior Vice President of Novant Health. As the new face of leadership within the foundation, Ann will focus on expanding its profile within local communities. We look forward to having her lead our mission to engage and connect donors to Novant Health programs and initiatives that save lives and improve the health of the communities we serve. With a passion for impact, the six distinct regional foundations actively inspire giving which aides projects and efforts that directly impact patients. They focus primarily on five key areas: infants and children, cancer, heart and vascular, stroke and neuroscience, and research and education.

Caulkin’s impressive professional experience includes her most recent role as the president and publisher of The Charlotte Observer for just over 12 years. Additional accomplishments and participation include:

  • Past president and publisher of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina
  • Harvard University Graduate School of Business Executive program, Women on Boards: Succeeding as a Corporate Director
  • Board of directors for Crossroads Charlotte, The Fletcher School and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation
  • The Women’s Impact Fund
  • International Women’s Forum
  • Women Executives
  • National Association of Corporate Directors
  • Baylor University alumnus

In the news

Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation: Wallace Cancer Institute

Cancer care has a new home

Novant Health Rowan Medical Center has always been on the forefront of improving quality of life in our community by offering a remarkable patient experience. There is a new opportunity to transform the healthcare landscape for generations to come. An opportunity that will improve patient care and focus on prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, research, and making it easier for the patient to receive services. Once completed, the Wallace Cancer Institute will contain all current cancer services in one convenient location.
Live construction cam

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.
Purchase a stone paver

We’re almost there!

Thanks to your generosity, we are 93.9% of the way towards our goal.

The Wallace Cancer Institute will profoundly impact patient quality of life by personalizing patient-centered care, improving accessibility, increasing affordability, enhancing care coordination and providing leading-edge treatment.

About the
Wallace Cancer Institute

Impacting patients’ quality of life

Click here to download more information about the capital campaign so you can share with others.

Groundbreaking ceremony

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Wallace Cancer Institute was held on December 10, 2018. Read more about the groundbreaking ceremony in the Salisbury Post.

Click above to view more photos from the groundbreaking ceremony.

Naming ceremony

The naming ceremony for the Wallace Cancer Institute was held on September 19, 2018. Read more about the naming ceremony in the Salisbury Post.

Click above to view more photos from the naming ceremony.