“The Hero's clinic helps keep me aware of my knowing current and potential health problems, and tells me what to do to stay healthy…..The Hero's clinic and its doctors know specifically what potential health problems I may have as years go by. It’s great that there is a clinic to help survivors like me understand what to watch for and how to live a better life.”
“The HEROS clinic gives me peace of mind that skilled and knowledgeable professionals are familiar with my past cancer experience.”
A Visit to the HEROS Clinic that Changed a Life and Provided Strength…
Over 17 years into her remission, Kelly L’Heureux, a childhood survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had just started a new job and the thoughts of cancer were tucked away with her past. Her first remission came at a time when the long-term effects of cancer treatments weren't widely known and survivorship clinics didn't exist. After she was considered “cured,” she left the care of her pediatric oncologist with little knowledge and nowhere to go. Her thyroid cancer was discovered purely by chance. Surprisingly, she calls her thyroid cancer a “blessing in disguise.” While probing her doctors at Yale about treatment options and possible side-effects (and/or through a series of cosmic coincidences), she was referred to the HEROS Clinic at Yale Cancer Center, an affiliate of the CT Challenge Survivorship Clinic that provides specialized follow-up care to survivors of childhood cancer.
Shortly after being treated for thyroid cancer in the summer of 2006, she had her first visit. The HEROS clinic gave her extensive information about the treatments she received, the possible long-term side effects specific to her treatment and a comprehensive follow-up plan of action. Among other yearly tests, regular breast cancer screening was ordered as part of the plan.
In October 2006, Kelly went in for her first breast MRI and doctors saw what they described as “lots of suspicious areas” in both breasts. Over the next few months, a series of biopsies were performed on four of almost a dozen of those “suspicious areas.” After a final surgical biopsy, Kelly learned that all four areas tested positive for cancer. After a long two weeks of weighing the options, Kelly made her decision and, despite any fears, prepared for her next challenge. On Jan. 31, 2007, Kelly had a double mastectomy, removing both of her breasts. It took about two months to really start recovering and on Oct.10, Kelly had the final of three reconstruction surgeries.
The HEROS Clinic was a light in the dark, Kelly says. “Once they helped me understand my risks—and, more importantly, what I could do to mitigate them—I felt empowered. Without their help, my breast cancer may have gone undetected. Nina Kadan-Lottick, Medical Director of the clinic, made herself available to me throughout my breast cancer experience. It was such a relief to finally have someone to turn to with my questions.” Facing many fears and doubts throughout her two years of surgery and treatment, Kelly searched for and held on tightly to anything she found to be hopeful.
“It’s still kind of surreal and hard to swallow. I thought I’d paid my dues and cancer was a part of my past. I’d look back at how strong I was to get through it all, and wonder how I could ever face it again. And when you do, you realize that just like you always have, somehow you find the strength and courage you need to get through it.”
“I’m not going to say it’s easy, because it’s not. It’s a struggle every day, but I feel if I stay on top of things I can control—eating fruits and vegetables and exercising—then I’m doing all that I can to prevent future complications. Does it guarantee anything? Not at all, but I know it can’t hurt.” She continues living life after- cancer with a renewed sense of self, connectedness, and hope.
-Jessica Schaefer, Editor and Volunteer for the HEROS clinic 6/2009