Local access to cancer treatment makes fight easier for Harlan woman
Anna Honeycutt is what somemight call a “friendly fighter,”and for nearly eight years she’s been in the fight of her life with an opponent known as breast cancer.
So far she’s gone five complete rounds and not only does she keep taking and giving punches, she keeps on smiling fromear to ear.
She has found great power in positive thinking,but she’s also had great treatment and support in her corner, fromher hometown healthcare professionals, to her friends,and most of all with her family.Those assets, she said,havemade her an excellent counterpuncher.
“I am always smiling and amalways in a goodmood,”she said.“I havemy days,of course,but I’mnot giving up.
“Dr. (Lois) Kamugisha at Harlan ARH Hospital is a wonderful doctor and really impressedme right away,” Honeycutt added.“She knew my history,down to the detail,even though she had never even seen me before.She had done her homework and it made me feel like I was the most important person in the world to her.”
A high school athlete and good student,Anna’smother had wanted her to grow up and become a nurse,but she quickly learned she was unable to do that.“I amjust too emotional,”she said.“I didn’t think I could handle loss very well and caregivers need to be strong and
together to give their best to people.
“Still, I wanted to go into service because I really love being around and with people and I like helping, so I thought I would go to a business and work in administration.”
And that’s just what she did, until her fight began when the opening bell rang in 2003. While performing a routine act on a routine day – putting on lotion after a shower before work – she felt a lump in her right breast.
She called the ARH Daniel Boone Clinic in Harlan and was given an appointment with a general surgeon the next day. Jameel Butt,MD ordered amammogramand needle biopsy and she got the confirmation the following week.
“I was shocked,”she recalled.“I never thought it would be cancer. I was only 33 years old!”
Once Anna and her surgeon discussed the options, she chose a lumpectomy and began sixmonths of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, followed by Tamoxifen. It worked and she was clear of cancer – at least for a little while.
Two-and-a-half years later,during a regular breast exam at the health department,another lump was discovered, this time on the other side. While a mammogram did not reveal anything suspicious, her oncologist felt it; so again Dr.Butt removed it,along with the surrounding lymph nodes.
Another round of treatments followed, during which she again evaluated her surgical options.This time she chose reconstructive surgery at the UK Chandler Medical Center and recovery at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
It was at that point her rural address became an issue.
“Following the surgery I came home with three drain tubes, so there was still plenty of recovery left to do,”she said.“The ride home was horrific because every little bump along the way, I hit the bump too!”
Her brother helped her set up rooms to live in while she completed her recovery.
“It was painful,”she said,“but the results were well worth it.”
A year later she would answer the bell for the third round,and her spirits took a bit of a blow.Lab results indicated her tumormarker level was high again, so the clinic’s oncologist ordered a PET scan which revealed cancer in the lymph nodes of her sternumand neck.
“I honestly thought, I’m gonna lose it!”she said.“I didn’t get mad,but I was upset.Then I saw the look on my kids’ faces,on my family’s face,and I just knew that I have got to be here for them.”
She also recalled some lessons she learned from playing high school basketball.Usually, the most valuable player on the teamturns out to be the one who plays the best defense, she said.“And I always loved to block shots,”Honeycutt said.“I’d rather block a shot than score a point.”
Her treatment at Harlan ARH this time included an introduction to nurses Tina Engle and Kristy Smith,as well as her new doctor’s receptionist Wanda Mulkey,all of whomshe credits for excellent and compassionate care as well as help and advice with some of the burdens she was facing.
“They are the best caregivers anyone could ever have,” Honeycutt said.
The hospital staff helped her sign up for financial assistance in the form of spend-down accounts,Medicare coverage,Medigap coverage,and a variety of assistance programs for hermedications.
“That was awesome,”she noted.“That was a great help. It’s been a long road because when I finished one round of treatment,another would start,and at that point it all seemed to be piling up around me.
“The first time you hear the word‘cancer’you think‘death,’” she said. “But there’s been progress and I had hope. A lot of treatments are available now that we didn’t have even a couple of years ago and I’ve been able to stay close to home for most of it. And that’s helped me fight it too,” she added,“because once you give up your fight with cancer,you’re going down.”
Doctors found a spot on her liver last September and in February she underwent another biopsy on what she called her “hot spots” that indicated the presence ofmalignant tumors,but she will never give up the fight and refuses to lose heart, she said.
“You can’t give up,”Honeycutt said.“Once you hear that news you are going to cry.You are going to be angry and you can’t help but be sad, but you can’t give up.”
Because of her multiple diagnoses and lengthy treatments, the oncologist is looking to include Honeycutt in clinical trials which would provide an even greater amount of services and support to help her situation.
Honeycutt also has found that sharing her experience with others through The Pink Connection support group has been helpful.
“I have met a lot of wonderful people,both my caregivers and fellow patients,and learned a lot about others and myself. I shared stories with patients and found out lots of interesting information, like getting relief from nausea.
“We are a small place in Harlan,but this is a very good hospital,”she said.“Everybody’s very good tome here.They all pet onme and do everything they can to helpme get better.”