Hazy sunlight streamed in through the floor-to-ceiling windows casting an ethereal air upon Jeanne Long. Poised and elegant, she looked as though she’d been painted there. Long glanced up as the door clicked open. Smile beaming, she stood to greet her visitor.
“You look beautiful! I’m glad to see you up and around,” he said. The man’s crisp, white coat made soft shushing sounds as he stretched his arms out to hug her.
“I wasn’t expecting you to come down here. I’m happy you came to see me today,” Long responded.
Although the pair shared the warmth of old friends, an insider could reveal they hadn’t known each other long. Jeanne Long and Dr. David Morris met only a year ago after Long was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Long said, “I didn’t know Dr. Morris. I didn’t know what he looked like or who he was. I knew nothing.” She continued, “The first time I met him, he was so positive and upbeat when he talked about my diagnosis. Now, I knew my diagnosis was scary; I’m still considered a high-risk patient. But he was very positive, and we didn’t talk or dwell on that. We talked about getting well. Every time I saw him, he was so complementary. He would say, ‘you look good,’ or, ‘we’re going to get through this.’ That’s what patients need to hear. He’s just a great person with a lot of love and support to give.”
By the time Long and Morris met, Long had already begun this journey with a bilateral mastectomy. Morris, who specializes in oncology and hematology at Hattiesburg Clinic and the Forrest General Cancer Center, worked with Long through her chemotherapy treatment.
“I was a little antsy about starting chemo because you hear so many things,” Long said. “I went into the Cancer Center with a peace that I had, and it carried me all the way through. I did get very sick. I had days where I really couldn’t function and stayed in bed. I called them ‘down days.’ I wore a little patch on my arm for nausea, and that helped a lot. When I finished my chemo, I felt like I was more than half way there.”
On her way to her first chemotherapy treatment, Long recalls hearing the soft, friendly voice that would become so familiar. She met Ramona Martin, RN, the Cancer Center’s patient navigator, on what was also Martin’s first day on the job. They quickly bonded over their serendipitous firsts, weaving a relationship they would both come to cherish.
Long said, “When I first met Ramona, she took me into her office, and she asked me what some of my needs were. We talked about the support group. I also was very concerned at that time about the chemo and all the rounds of radiation that were coming up. I asked her about getting some help with transportation.”
Because she lives on a fixed income, Long felt especially anxious about the expense of traveling for treatment every day. After chemotherapy, she would face 33 days of radiation treatment. Martin found that Long was eligible for a few grants to help ease the burden of those out-of-pocket expenses.
“Ramona was able to navigate me to the right people. It was just an answered prayer each time. There is help out there, but people like me really wouldn’t know that. Ramona being in her position and having access to this really helped get me what I needed through my treatment,” Long explained.
According to Martin, “A patient navigator is an additional resource for our patients. Adding to the already great support system here at the Cancer Center just allows patients to have a better experience and better outcomes. I help to provide them with additional resources, befriend them, and guide them through their journeys.”
Long continued seeing Martin through the duration of her illness. After losing her hair, Long searched for a wig but found the experience daunting. She felt uncomfortable and exposed baring her head in the unfamiliar shops to try on different options. Even after working through the discomfort and trying several styles, Long had a difficult time finding something that looked natural and normal. She mentioned this to Martin during one of her visits, and Martin immediately set up a time for a fitting in her private office.
“She fit me in a perfect wig. It was just another answered prayer, because it was one that I could wear out and feel comfortable. I wore it to church many times and actually received compliments on it,” said Long.
Long counted down the days of radiation, and on the 33rd day, Martin stood next to her as she rang the bell celebrating her last day of treatment. Ringing the bell symbolizes the end of treatment and the beginning of life after cancer. It is a moment charged with hope and victory.
She said, “I’ll never forget that day. Ramona was with me. I can remember ringing that bell knowing that I had made this journey and gotten to the end. I was going to be fighter from here on out.”
After finishing her treatment, it was time for Long to get back to her normal life, but she found herself feeling sad and lonely. Her feelings were confusing and seemed contradictory with what should have been a happy time.
Long said, “I had gotten so used to getting up and going for treatment, whether it was chemo or radiation. You get to know all of the people here, and they become your family. While I was here, I knew that I was being looked after and cared for, and I was being encouraged. When all of that came to an end, I felt lonely. I had so many mixed emotions. I was so excited and just ecstatic to know I had finished that journey and was through with my treatments, but I missed coming to the Cancer Center.”
According to Joseph Salloum, MD, these feelings of loneliness are normal and common among patients who have battled cancer. Salloum, who Long describes as funny with a real light side to him, was her radiation oncologist.
“I usually advise patients to try to get back to their normal lives and to get busy. I think it’s more of a problem when patients find themselves lonely. They usually come here and see us every day, then all of a sudden they feel alone. The best thing is to get busy either with work, family, church, hobbies, and actually, we advise some patients to volunteer at the Cancer Center to help other patients,” Salloum said.
As Long’s strength returned, she returned to activities and hobbies she’s always loved such as exercising, shopping and spending time with her 7 year old grandson.
“The doctors are telling me it takes time when you go through all of that. I’ve had to learn to be patient with myself. I really think at this point my life finally is getting back to normal. Next week will be a year since I finished my treatments. It’s been a long hard road, but I am so thankful to be here,” Long said with a smile.
For more information about the Forrest General Cancer Center, visit forrestgeneral.com.
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