Marcia Poolman has learned to live with it. Lung cancer. For more than a decade.
Diagnosed with HER2 positive lung cancer in 2007, she carries on, hoping for the best, but understandably, sometimes pondering the worst.
The diagnosis came as a shock. She had no symptoms, no reason to think cancer had invaded her body.
“I noticed nothing,” said Marcia, now 83. “I went to the doctor for an entirely different reason.”
Marcia’s trouble? A disc in her back that affected her legs during the summer of 2007.
“They were going to do a CT scan to see what was going on,” the Kalamazoo, Michigan, resident said. “While I was getting the CT, which was just supposed to be of my lower back, the radiologist came out and asked to do a full CT. I don’t know if he saw something he didn’t like, or what.”
The July 2007 CT scan results unveiled a nightmare.
“The doctor told me there was the possibility of cancer in four different places,” Marcia said. “I was so stunned. I had several biopsies and ended up only having cancer in the lung.”
But the lungs are responsible for the very breath of life. Taking life in, and breathing it out.
She wasn’t prepared to die. She wanted to be here for her husband, Richard, her daughters, Holly and Kim, and her four grandchildren.
Doctors removed the top right portion of her lung. All was well for several years. Then, the cancer returned and was treated with stereotactic radiation.
After treating the cancer a second time, it resurfaced several years later.
In 2015, Marcia decided to seek help at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center. It was there that she was introduced to two things that give her hope for the future—her nurse navigator, Kim Mohr, RN, and a potential new breakthrough in treatment.
After six months of chemotherapy last year, Yuanbin Chen, MD, PhD, an oncologist with the Spectrum Health lung mass and cancer multispecialty team, expanded Marcia’s possibilities.
“Dr. Chen told me about these clinical trials that were coming up,” Marcia said.
In October, Marcia received her first clinical trial infusion.
Marcia’s daughter, Holly Sullivan, said both Mohr and the clinical trial, which is targeted therapy for Marcia’s biomarker, bring hope.
“It’s a personalized treatment specific to her condition,” Sullivan said.
After several treatments, Marcia said she’d had few side effects and early results indicate some success in stopping the growth of the cancer. Later testing showed an even better result: her cancer is shrinking.
“They think my cancer is incurable,” Marcia said. “This new drug is supposed to get at the heart of the cancer and stop the growth. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
A trusted guide
While long-term results have yet to be revealed, Marcia is certain Mohr has had many positive effects on her peace of mind throughout her cancer journey.
She has figuratively held Marcia’s hand every step of this medical journey, advising, setting up appointments and offering a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen.
“She does over and above what she needs to,” Marcia said. “She is wonderful.”
When Marcia recently needed fluids to battle dehydration, Mohr sat with her as the liquid dripped through her IV.
“If they tell me I have to have testing done, I pick up the phone and call Kim,” Marcia said.
Mohr has become more than a navigator to Marcia. She’s a friend and confidant.
“She’s always asking how I’m doing,” Marcia said. “I’m very comfortable calling her and telling her anything, even if I would have a problem with something, I would feel free to call her and say, ‘What should I do?’”
Marcia said Mohr not only provides knowledge, she provides peace of mind.
“It’s very comforting to know there’s someone you can call when you have a problem, someone just to talk to,” Marcia said.
Marcia’s husband, Richard, agreed.
“It’s also a comfort to the spouse when the patient is treated in the way Kim has treated Marcia,” Richard said. “When we’ve needed Kim, she has supplied support every doggone time. She’s like a member of the family. We love her.”
Sullivan said Mohr has been an integral part of the family’s cancer journey.
“Kim has been a much-needed adviser and trusted friend throughout my mom’s cancer journey,” Sullivan said. “Kim would meet my mom at the oncology appointments and greet her, make her feel welcome, patiently walk her through her additional need for tests, schedule those tests, and create a schedule that fit my mom’s needs—often calling my mom at home to go over instructions and remind my mom of appointments.”
Sullivan said Mohr has been “the star of the show.”
“Always there, always reaching out, sitting with my mom for hours if she needed it,” Sullivan said.
With the help of Mohr and supportive family members, Marcia continues to focus forward. After a career in banking, she now works at a thrift store a couple of days a week.
“I do all the book work and I work as a cashier,” Marcia said. “You meet lots of people and I’m used to handling money. Those are all enjoyable things.
“You can’t just sit home and worry or feel sorry for yourself, so I keep going.”
She wants to continue to do just that—keep going.
Mohr said she’s here for the duration.
“Marcia is a wonderful and determined woman,” Mohr said. “She has always remained optimistic and kept her sense of humor. I always look forward to spending time with her, whether it’s on the phone or in person. I look forward to continuing to work with Marcia and her family through her cancer journey.”