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‘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.  

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.

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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.

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A record-setting year for the Hemby Golf Classic

The 2019 Hemby Golf Classic was our largest and most successful event to date. 

We are incredibly grateful for all the support from donors, event staff and vendors who came together to raise $256,525 for Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital!

A great day of golf was capped off with a visit with one of our 2019 Children’s Trust Superheroes, Samuel Mosquera-Munoz. Samuel spent many months in our hospital fighting an extremely rare childhood cancer, disseminate oligodendroglial leptomeningeal brain and spinal cord cancer. 

“A year ago, sitting in a hospital room, we never knew if we would have another day like this,” said Samuel’s dad, Juan Carlos Mosquera, as he watched his son run down the fairway. Only 35 people in the world have this rare form of brain and spinal cord cancer but Samuel doesn’t let his cognitive and physical obstacles stop him from retraining his body to play soccer with his friends. 

Because of our Superhero donors, Samuel had access to top physical therapy and leading treatments as he embarked on his recovery journey. His fun-loving personality and stubborn determination are an inspiration to us all. Learn more about his remarkable story by watching the video below.

Thank you to the 128 golfers, our sponsors, community partners and leaders who participated on Aug. 12 at Carmel Country Club. The funds raised from this year’s Hemby Golf Classic will help build Caroline’s Corner, a family kitchen and respite room, to be located across from the newly renovated Hemby playground. A spacious, private and peaceful retreat uniquely designed to meet the needs of pediatric patients’ families, the space will allow families to vacate patient rooms, enjoy meals and experience a sense of normalcy during what is often a very chaotic time.

Previous golf tournaments have funded countless projects benefiting the hospital including the Hemby Child Life Program, Blume Family Playroom, pediatric emergency department and the Hemby playground renovation.

Meet Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation’s team

Jennifer Clifford 

Chief development officer, jclifford@novanthealth.org 

Jennifer joined Novant Health in July 2018 as the inaugural Director of Stewardship for Novant Health Foundations focusing on grateful patient initiatives and donor strategies. Prior to joining Novant Health, Jennifer was director of Community Philanthropy for Communities Foundation of Texas, where she was instrumental in developing North Texas Giving Day, which became the largest giving day in the nation. Jennifer and her husband, Joe, relocated to Charlotte three years ago with their son, John, now a senior at Sewanee University, and their daughter, Kate, a sophomore at Appalachian State University. As the NHPMC Foundation leader, Jennifer believes in building a strong team with our board members and clinical teams, which together, will raise funding to save lives and improve the health of the communities we serve, one person at a time.  


Jessica Osborn 

Hemby ambassador, jposborn@novanthealth.org 

As the Hemby ambassador, Jessica Osborn’s role is to advocate for pediatrics at the administrative, clinical and foundation levels. Originally from Pittsburgh, Jessica attended West Virginia Wesleyan College where she played volleyball and studied psychology. She is a certified child life specialist and is clinically trained in the developmental impact of childhood illness and injury. She lives in Charlotte with her husband Matthew and their two great Danes, Hedy and Lamarr.


Misty Santiago 

Development coordinator, mestroupe@novanthealth.org 

Misty has more than seven years of experience in the nonprofit industry. As development coordinator, she manages the foundation’s third-party funds and serves as logistics coordinator for all foundation events. Before joining the foundation team, Misty was the volunteer coordinator for Novant Health Hospice. Currently pursuing her master’s degree in public administration, Misty lives with her husband Dave and their two dogs, Boota and Chloe, in Kannapolis.  


Cullen Jones 

Development manager, cullen.jones@novanthealth.org 

Cullen is an American competitive swimmer, Olympic gold medalist and served as USA Swimming’s Olympian brand ambassador. Currently, he is the development manager for Novant Health Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital, Matthews Medical Center and Mint Hill Medical Center. Cullen lives in Ballantyne with his wife, Rupi, his son, Ayvn, and his dog Vinny “Chase.” A graduate of North Carolina State University, Cullen plans to pursue a master’s degree in business in the near future.


Justin Trakas 

Development manager, jtrakas@novanthealth.org 

Justin has been with the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation team for over two years. He currently manages the foundation’s corporate, annual and employee giving programs. Prior to joining Novant Health, Justin was an assistant director of advancement for arts, sciences and engineering at the University of Rochester. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Winthrop University and a Master of Arts from Duquesne University. Justin lives in Charlotte with his wife, Erin Trakas, MD, a physician at Novant Health and their three sons, Jackson, Greyson and Jones.


Sarah Trimmer 

Development manager, sjtrimmer@novanthealth.org 

Sarah has spent her entire career in the nonprofit industry, with roles in fundraising, alumni relations and event management. Currently, she serves as the gift officer supporting Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and the John M. and Claudia W. Belk Heart and Vascular Institute and Edward I. and Agnes B. Weisiger Cancer Institute. Sarah engages donors and their passions with clinical teams to address priority needs and make a lasting impact. Prior to joining Novant Health, Sarah was a major gift officer with the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. She graduated with a BA from Dickinson College and earned her MA from Johns Hopkins University. Sarah and her husband, Mark, recently arrived in Charlotte and enjoy exploring the city’s various neighborhoods, along with their two French bulldogs, Kally and Hudson.


We look forward to connecting with you!

“Topping off” the Edward I. and Agnes B. Weisiger Cancer Center and John M. and Claudia W. Belk Heart and Vascular Institute

On Thursday, April 18, 2019, Novant Health celebrated the placement of the final steel beam atop its new Edward I. and Agnes B. Weisiger Cancer Center and John M. and Claudia W. Belk Heart and Vascular Institute. Vannoy Construction broke ground on Novant Health’s new seven-story, $165.9 million, 260,000-square-foot building in late 2018, which is located on the corner of Hawthorne Lane and Fourth Street. 

Topping-off ceremonies — the act of placing the last piece of steel on a building — are an age-old tradition in building construction. They are a moment to celebrate and acknowledge that the project is moving toward completion. 

Saad Ehtisham, Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center’s new president, addressed the assembled crowd and shared the importance of Novant Health’s newest facility in attacking resident’s greatest health risks. 

“Two of the major leading causes of death in North Carolina and United States are cancer and heart disease,” said Dr. Ehtisham. “What’s remarkable about this building is it is designed with a healing environment in mind, as well as a holistic approach to bringing modalities between cancer and heart disease under one roof and using research as a conduit to bring the newest trials to our patients in the community.” 

The first floor of the Heart and Vascular Institute houses radiation oncology, a retail pharmacy and café, and the second floor is home to adult cardiology, cardiac and vascular, heart failure and electrophysiology. Rehabilitation is located on the third floor; gastrointestinal, urinary, and head and neck modalities on the fourth floor; breast, high risk, gynecology oncology and integrative medicine on the fifth floor; hematology, thoracic, therapeutic neurology and research on the sixth floor; and an 80-bay infusion center overlooking Charlotte’s sklyine will be located on the seventh floor. An impressive skybridge will connect the new facility to the adjacent Presbyterian Medical Tower and the Presbyterian Medical Center, providing medical staff and patients with direct access to essential resources. 

At the ceremony, Gary Niess, MD, senior vice president of the Heart and Vascular Institute, noted the inherent advantages of offering heart and cancer care in the same building. “We, not long ago, put a pedometer on one of our staff members and had that person follow a patient from one testing site, to the next testing site, to the next to get a valve replacement,” Dr. Niess explained. “They traveled with [the patient] to registration, and then on to one doctor’s office and on to get some testing, and then on to another place where they saw another doctor. The total steps for that patient that day were 7,500 steps.”

“And remember, he said, “the healthy Fitbits tell you to walk 10,000 steps a day. These are people who are so sick they need their heart valve replaced, and their journey was 7,000 steps. Now, they’re not going to have to take 7,000 steps.” 

Another highlight of the new facility will be its integrative medicine services, a patient-centered type of holistic cancer care that addresses the physical, emotional, spiritual and environmental needs of our patients during their cancer journey. 

Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation kicked off its groundbreaking campaign in 2011, raising nearly $30 million in philanthropy. “We would not be standing atop this beautiful building without the support of John and Claudia Belk, Agnes and Ed Weisiger, Tan, Sarla and Raj Ganatra, Bank of America, Sherry Pollex and Martin Truex, Jim and Beverly Hance, the Alex Hemby Foundation, the Philip Van Every Foundation, the Blumenthal Foundation and countless other wonderful businesses, foundations, and people throughout Greater Charlotte,” Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation’s chief development officer, Jennifer Clifford, explained. “Charlotte’s support of this project is a testament to their commitment to improving our city’s heart, vascular and cancer care, while also demonstrating their collective belief in Novant Health’s broader mission of improving the health of the communities it serves, one patient at a time.”

Here’s what’s happening at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital

We are excited to share all of the operational updates taking place at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital.  

  • The murals on the walls of the Hemby unit are complete, and, thanks to the support of one of our families, we were able to provide our team with a respite room on our pediatric floor. You also will notice beautiful updates to our playroom and treatment room.  
  • Thank you to ACE Cash Express associates who raised $20,561 during their annual fundraising event, Give A Little Campaign, for the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital. Pictured below is Justin Trakas, Development manager, Ruby Poulton and Jennifer Clifford, Chief development officer. 
  • We are proud to announce construction will begin in October on a progressive care area for our pediatric unit, which will allow us to deliver intermediate care to our pediatric patients.  
  • Also, keep watch on our progress toward the end of the year as we add an additional 12 neonatal intensive care beds in the NICU.  

Looking forward, our plans include a new outside play area for our families, as well as a much-needed family kitchen for our overnight guests in need of a place of respite.  

Until next time, 

Diana Sutton, MSN
Director of nursing, children’s services 

Stephanie Appling, MPH
Senior director of women’s and children’s services 

Volunteer with the Hemby ambassador program

Thank you to our September supporters

Between 180,000 and 240,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Thank you to all who wore gold or displayed a gold ribbon in September for Childhood Cancer Awareness month to help raise awareness and show support for those affected by childhood cancer.

Donating your time and talent is one of the most precious gifts you can give to Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital children and families. We are excited to offer the following inpatient events and volunteer opportunities.  

The Charlotte Marathon – Nov. 16

Registration is still open for the Charlotte Marathon benefiting Hemby Children’s Hospital. If you would like register or simply attend to show your support, visit RunCharlotte.com for more information. Listen to this podcast to learn some of the ways money raised at the marathon directly impacts Hemby Children’s Hospital by visiting SupportNovantHealth.org/RunningAroundCharlotte.  

The Thanksgiving Day Parade – Nov. 28 

Novant Health is sponsoring the parade, but more importantly, our very own Children’s Trust Superheroes will be recognized at the event! Come out and show your support. 

A Visit with Santa – Dec. 12

Santa plans to make an appearance on the Hemby unit just in time for the holidays. We need Christmas book donations and two or three volunteers to help distribute the books to patients and take pictures with Santa. The cost of sponsoring this event is $200.

If you are interested in volunteering or sponsoring one of these events, please contact our Hemby ambassador Jessica Osborn at jposborn@novanthealth.org for more information on how to best get involved.

‘Doctor’s corner’ with Catherine Ohmstede, MD

Since early summer, Novant Health Pediatrics has enjoyed an explosion of growth, and we remain busy building new clinics and pediatric subspecialties for our community. First, general pediatrics has expanded into thriving areas around the Charlotte region including Harrisburg, Mint Hill, Concord, Denver, Berewick, Highland Creek, Huntersville, Mooresville, Blakeney, Ardrey Kell, Wesley Chapel, Waxhaw, the Arboretum and Symphony Park in South Park.   

Alongside our physical expansion, we have broadened our subspecialty services to include expert care in: 

  • Pediatric cancer and hematology 
  • Gastroenterology 
  • Pulmonology 
  • Endocrinology 
  • Nephrology 
  • Infectious disease 
  • Cardiology  
  • Sports medicine 
  • Development and behavior 
  • Sleep 
  • Neurosurgery 
  • Neurology 

Also, we are proud to announce that our epilepsy program now provides additional treatment for the disorder when medications fail, including ketogenic diet and epilepsy surgery.  

Finally, our St. Jude affiliate clinic continues to provide the latest in pediatric cancer treatment close to home, supported by the resources of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

We look forward to continuing to grow with you and your family as more exciting news is on the horizon! 

Onward and upward, 

Catherine Ohmstede, MD 
Pediatric physician market leader, Novant Health greater Charlotte market 

Novant Health Children’s Trust program empowers kids like Lexi

One of Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation’s top funding priorities is pediatric initiatives, so in January 2019 we launched a new annual giving program, the Children’s Trust. Under this program, we rely on what we call “Superhero donors” to spark change for so many children in need.  

At just six years old, Lexi refused to let a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia dull her light, but she needs your help to keep shining. She needs a superhero like you to ensure her access to the best facilities, technology and care as she undergoes intense radiation treatment. With just one glimpse of her fighter personality and endless positivity, you will be thinking Lexi is, in fact, YOUR superhero.  

Learn more about her remarkable story by watching the video below.  

Children like Lexi need superheroes like you.

Thank you to our 37 Superhero families who joined our trust by giving $1,000 each to support initiatives at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital. Our 2019 goal is to have 50 Superhero families united in their efforts to inspire a community of generosity. Join us today in our philanthropic fight to provide lifesaving equipment and services to children, regardless of ability to pay.  

If you would like to become a Superhero for Lexi, pictured here, and many more children like her, contact our Hemby ambassador today.  

Jessica Osborn
jposborn@novanthealth.org
704.384.8056 

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