Need for health screenings comes into clear view for Perry County woman
It was the fall of 2003 when Alice Gilliam first felt the lump in her right breast but quickly chalked up the abnormality to a harmless cyst.
Alice had heard too much caffeine could cause cysts so she decided to cut back on the number of cups of coffee she had each day. She was sure the lump would simply go away on its own.
As the “cyst” continued to get larger and larger, Alice continued to believe it was “just nothing”. In fact, she had convinced herself of it for so long that about 6 years had passed before she ever sought medical treatment and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was never the type to go for regular screenings or even to the doctor because I was never sick and I was too busy taking care o my family anyway,” she says.
Further complicating matters was the fact that Alice had been without health insurance after her husband, Curt, had been injured while working in a coal mine.
“When I did feel like I needed to go, I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t pay for it. When you don’t have insurance, you just don’t go to the doctor - you are more worried about making sure the bills get paid and feeding your family, Alice, a mother of three, says. “I think most people think that the doctor won’t see you if you don’t have insurance – I know that’s what I always thought.”
When Alice did see Whitesburg physician April Hall-Slone DO, the mass in her breast had grown so large its outline was visible from the outside of her clothing.
Alice credits her initial visit with Dr. Hall-Slone with opening a door to numerous resources that made receiving treatment at the ARH Cancer Center in Hazard a possibility.
“April knew it was bad and that I needed to have something done fast. She sent me to the Letcher County Health Department where I learned I was able to sign up for a medical card and choose a doctor that accepted Medicaid,” Alice says.
That physician, general surgeon Dr. Vincent C. Arroz, soon sent Alice for a mammogram, and a biopsy confirmed what he already suspected, Alice had breast cancer.
A mastectomy of her right breast soon followed and Alice was confronted with the decision of where she would undergo the months of chemotherapy and radiation she required to beat the disease.
“I was under the impression that I would have to go to Pikeville or Lexington for treatment,” Alice says “I told Dr. Arroz that I wasn’t leaving home to get it done and that if I couldn’t get it done at home, it wasn’t getting done.”
Before long, Alice learned of the ARH Cancer Center in Hazard where she could undergo both chemotherapy and radiation therapy under the same roof.
From the most advanced cancer treatment technology and highly skilled medical staff to La-Z-Boy recliner treatment chairs, laptop computers, DVD and MP3 players, the ARH Cancer Center, a member of the renowned UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, provides a soothing, patient-centered healing environment close to home. The $7million center is one of the most advanced facilities of its kind in the region.
Alice also met the center’s medical oncologist, Raymond Elsoueidi, MD, and was connected with the cancer center’s Patient Navigator, Ashley Teague, who helped her
learn not only about breast cancer, but also about the numerous resources available to make the treatment process a little less stressful.
As Patient Navigator, Teague helps patients move through the diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship processes by connecting them with the network of support and education services available at the ARH Cancer Center, in the community, and through the American Cancer Society.
“I knew from the minute I walked through the door, that I belonged here. These people don’t just care about doing a job, they care about you as a person. There aren’t many people in the world today that want to help you, but they really do,” Alice says.
“They call me at home just to check on me and when I call, they know who I am. I don’t have to remind them because they don’t forget about you once you walk out the door. And Dr. Elsoueidi is probably the most loving doctor I have ever met. He treats everybody like they are somebody. He has time for you, and your problems are his problems. That type of caring is important when you are dealing with cancer.”
Following months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Alice is proud to say that she is now cancer free and has a new outlook on life.
“I say all the time that God picked every one of the people that I have come in contact with during this process, and God picked me to go through this rather than someone else because he knew I was strong enough to fight and be around to tell others about it,” Alice says. “I’ve never really viewed my cancer as a disease that I had to fight, but rather a lesson I had to learn and tell others about to hopefully make a difference.”
One of the most valuable lessons, she says is that there are numerous resources available to both those with insurance and those without.
The other lesson? The importance of routine health screenings.
“People should never put off screenings because there are ways to get it done,” Alice says, “and there are people out there like the ones at the ARH Cancer Center that want to help you if you just ask. I would never wish cancer on anyone, but the people of eastern Kentucky should know that we don’t have to leave to get the best treatment, we have it right here –this cancer center is the best thing that has ever happened to us.”