Navigating Cancer Treatment with the Help of the Foundation - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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Navigating Cancer Treatment with the Help of the Elmbrook Memorial Foundation

Beth had not been feeling well for two years. She had a sore throat and eventually noticed swollen lymph nodes, and nothing helped take away the symptoms or the pain. Doctors couldn't determine what was wrong, but Beth would not give up as she wanted an answer as to why she was constantly sick. In 2014, she finally received her diagnosis: base of tongue cancer.

Base of tongue cancer is a difficult one to diagnose as there are few symptoms in the early stages and tumors are difficult to detect. Additionally, this cancer is more common in men, those who drink alcohol and those who smoke. Beth, being a non-smoker and not one to drink alcohol, was not a typical candidate for tongue cancer.

Dr. Shannon Offerman is a radiation oncologist at Wheaton Franciscan – Elmbrook Memorial Campus, and Beth was one of her patients. Together with Dr. Nirav Naik, a medical oncologist, they arrived at a treatment plan; 33 sessions of radiation and eight sessions of chemotherapy, all of which would be completed within eight weeks. This treatment was not only intensive, but the side effects of head and neck cancer can make regular daily routines very difficult. As a teacher Beth made the difficult decision to quit her job because she knew the fatigue and other side effects would not allow her to work.

Beth and her caregivers

When treating any type of head or neck cancer, one of the common side effects is a dry mouth as radiation can cause damage to the salivary glands. This makes swallowing, eating and digesting food very difficult. Beth was experiencing this and spoke with her doctor about it. Dr. Offerman suggested trying acupuncture, which is offered at Elmbrook Memorial’s Pavlic Center.

Not one to believe in non-traditional medicine, Beth researched acupuncture prior to making an appointment. What she learned was that acupuncture could not only help with her dry mouth, but also with other side effects she was suffering from including a sore throat, bloating and nausea to name a few. She was also encouraged by Dr. Naik and the chemotherapy nurses to try it. Still reluctant, she gave it a try. However, as acupuncture is not covered by health insurance, the cost was somewhat prohibitive as she was unemployed.

Assisting patients with costs associated with cancer treatment is something the Wheaton Franciscan – Elmbrook Memorial Foundation is able to provide on a case-by-case basis. Beth’s oncology social worker, Linda Sarner, understood Beth’s needs and requested assistance from the Foundation to help cover some of the acupuncture costs. Fortunately due to generous donors, funds were available to provide assistance.

Acupuncturist Christine Warrix

Beth made her appointment with Christine Warrix, the Pavlic Center’s acupuncturist, and found this holistic treatment to be extremely beneficial. Christine has specialized training in acupuncture and cancer, and was specifically trained in head and neck cancer treatment. During her first appointment, within five minutes, Beth had a burst of saliva. Beth never lost full function of her salivary glands and she credits that, in part, to acupuncture.

Not only did acupuncture help with Beth’s salivary gland, but it also helped with her queasiness and swelling due to chemotherapy. Additionally it helped with a sore throat that would not go away, even with prescription medications.

Beth, who is now cancer free, thanks the whole cancer team at Elmbrook Memorial who assisted through her journey. Beth stated, “Everyone was wonderful!” She credits Dr. Offerman and Dr. Naik not only for helping her with cancer treatment but for introducing her to a new form of therapy, acupuncture. She also truly appreciated her nurse, Deanna as she would call Beth at home to ensure she was feeling okay.

“Linda Sarner was terrific! I would see her at my chemo treatments and was able to ask her questions. More importantly, she listened to me, which was very important.”

Beth also appreciates the chemotherapy nurses and radiation technicians who had a great sense of humor and made her treatment a little easier.

Of course, she enjoyed and greatly appreciated her sessions with Christine. Beth gives kudos to her acupuncture treatment as it truly did help manage her radiation and chemo side effects. Beth is very active on the American Cancer Society website and other cancer discussion boards. In talking with others suffering from head and neck cancers, she has learned she is very fortunate to have had a doctor who was proactive in recommending acupuncture. Others Beth has spoken to, due to impaired salivary glands, have needed feeding tubes, have lost their taste buds, and sometimes worse. None of the people she talks to received acupuncture and some did not know that it could alleviate cancer treatment symptoms.

Beth, her husband Dennis, and their three children are extremely thankful to the Elmbrook Memorial Foundation for the reduced costs of acupuncture. They all believe it helped Beth tremendously.

“We cannot put in words what it’s meant to our family,” Dennis stated. She knows her medical treatment coupled with holistic medicine propelled her to success!

As a non-smoker without any other risk factors, Dr. Offerman told Beth she has better than a 90 percent chance of survival! In fact, Beth returned to teaching on a part-time basis.

The Foundation is pleased to have the opportunity to provide assistance to Beth and other oncology patients. It is with donations from individuals that make all of this possible.

Learn more about cancer care, Pavlic Center, and the Elmbrook Memorial Foundation.

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Navigating Cancer Treatment with the Help of the Foundation