In Victory in the Valley’s Hospitality Centre in downtown Wichita, Jean Anderson has found a purpose behind the disease that nearly took her life.
The view of Ascension Via Christi St. Francis from the Centre’s window serves as a reminder that much of her successful journey stems from the relationship between Via Christi, where doctors removed her cancerous tissue, and Victory in the Valley, whose volunteers and staff helped lift her spirits.
Jean is one of the three staff members at the Centre, which from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday offers a place for cancer patients to comfortably pass the time between appointments down the hall at the Cancer Center of Kansas or across the street at the Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center.
Her job, says the 65-year-old lung cancer survivor, is simple. “I open the doors and welcome cancer patients and their caregivers.”
But Jean knows, as do those who pass through those doors, it isn’t a simple journey.
“I never would have imagined my life taking this path, but I’m glad it has,” she says. “I not only survived, I thrive.”
Victory in the Valley
In 2006 — seven months and two days after her last-ever cigarette — Jean was diagnosed with early-stage non-small-cell lung cancer. While at her doctor’s office, she picked up a Victory in the Valley brochure. As she read it, she remembered having met Diana Thomi, its executive director, and Diana’s mother, the organization’s founder, years before at church.
“I hadn’t even started my treatments yet and was so scared,” says Jean, fearful that 38 years of smoking had finally caught up with her.
So she and her husband, Barney, dropped by the organization’s historic headquarters, Victory House, where she reconnected with Thomi and shared her fears. Jean left feeling determined to win her fight with cancer.
Victory in the Valley volunteers would visit with Jean while she underwent chemotherapy treatment, offering treats and a welcome diversion. She wept as she listened to their stories at the first Victory in the Valley women’s weekend retreat she attended.
Even now, she wells up with tears of gratitude at the difference their support made.
Making it count
“I came away wanting my survivorship story to mean something,” says Jean, who started volunteering for Victory in the Valley following chemo and surgery at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph to remove most of her left lung. In 2014, she became a part-time staff member. For Jean, extending hope and encouragement to others, just as the volunteers and survivors had done for her, is a way to make her journey count for something.
Via Christi offers early lung cancer screening program, navigation
Via Christi Cancer Outreach and Risk Assessment, or CORA, has added a comprehensive program for screening and diagnosing lung cancer in its early stages. Through this program, patients who meet the criteria can receive an annual low-dose CT scan, a painless procedure covered by Medicare and private insurance.
That criteria includes current smokers or anyone who has quit smoking in the past 15 years who is age 55 to 77 and whose number of packs per day smoked times the number of years smoked totals 30 or more.
“Lung cancer is the world’s leading cause of cancer death for men and women, but with early detection and treatment it doesn’t have to be,” says Lyn Pitman, RN, the oncology certified nurse who serves as CORA’s dedicated lung cancer navigator. For patients with concerning findings, Pitman works with a multidisciplinary team that includes radiologists, thoracic surgeons, pulmonologists and oncologists to determine next steps in partnership with the patient’s physician.
Via Christi launched its CORA program last fall to provide cancer screening and genetic testing to area patients. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, insurance now must cover screening and prevention services, including genetic counseling, for individuals who meet high-risk criteria.
CORA is based at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita, which offers cancer services ranging from early detection screenings to clinical trials to the latest in treatment options, which for lung cancer can include anything from cardiothoracic surgery to stereotactic ablation in five or fewer treatments at Via Christi’s CyberKnife Center, located adjacent to the hospital.