Winfield-area residents form bond during cancer treatment
In 2001, Via Christi Health collaborated with William Newton Hospital and Cancer Center of Kansas to offer Winfield-area patients close-to-home outpatient radiation, chemotherapy and other cancer-related care under one roof.
For the dozen or more Cowley County patients undergoing radiation therapy at any given time, the Winfield Cancer Center has been a godsend - eliminating the 100-mile round-trip drive to Wichita for up to eight weeks of treatment.
"It's a partnership that has helped each of us better serve Cowley County patients and families," said Mitch McKee, director of Via Christi Radiation and CyberKnife®.
So in late September 2010 when it came time to upgrade the radiation therapy equipment at William Newton, McKee decided there must be a way to minimize the inconvenience to patients during the eight to 10 weeks needed for installation and testing.
McKee contacted the Cowley County Council on Aging and made arrangements for a shuttle to bring the six patients scheduled for radiation therapy in October through mid-December to Wichita for their treatments.
"They were glad to provide the service, which they did for an extremely reasonable rate," said McKee. Driver Tracie Alcorn pitched in, too, by going from part time to full time to meet the group's needs.
The patients - men and women being treated for cancers of the breast, lung, gall bladder and lymphoma - didn't all start or complete radiation therapy at the same time. Even so, many of their weekdays in October until early December were spent sharing a two-hour roundtrip ride to and from the Via Christi Cancer Center in Wichita.
Before long, they were more than simply fellow passengers in a van.
They were family, sharing everything from Thanksgiving Day menus to tips for dealing with radiation burns.
"To see us as a group, you would think 'How did they get so close?'" said Shannon Seaton, a 33-year-old mother of three who was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of breast cancer when her youngest child was 6 months old. "But we just really connected."
So much so, Seaton said, "each time one of us would finish our treatment, we'd celebrate the end of their journey together."
Phyllis Alquest, a 71-year-old retired executive secretary from Winfield, was the last to finish, completing her radiation therapy for breast cancer on Dec. 17 at the Winfield Cancer Center.
The care at both centers was outstanding, Alquest said, and the time spent with the others far outweighed the inconvenience of having to come to Wichita for five weeks.
"Having friends going through the same thing was so helpful," Alquest said. "We kind of clued into each other, when to talk and when to let each other rest."
On Jan. 4, 2011, everyone but Alquest, who recently took off with her husband for an extended trip in their motor home, gathered once more at the Via Christi Cancer Center to celebrate the New Year.
"It's a joy to see everybody moving - walking, talking and feeling good," said Jan Sanderholm.
Sanderholm, who lost her husband to lung cancer two years ago and whose own abdominal cancer was discovered last May following gall bladder surgery, said traveling to Wichita as a group for treatment had an unexpected benefit.
"I was so scared - everybody was - on my first trip," said the 77-year-old Arkansas City great-grandmother. Riding with others who'd already been there helped.
"We shared our woes and our triumphs and it was wonderful," she said.
So was the staff in the Winfield and Via Christi Cancer centers. "I've never met such upbeat people. They knew your name after you'd been there once."
To Sanderholm's surprise, "cancer enriched my life by widening my circle of friends."
In addition to Seaton and Alquest that circle also includes fellow Arkansas City retirees Norman Ransford, 67, and Bob Ketterman, 61, who both were diagnosed with lung cancer last summer, and 91-year-old Mabel Fowler, who lives in Winfield and is battling cancer for a second time.
While they started out as strangers, Ransford, Ketterman and Fowler all said that they soon found they had more in common than having cancer. They also had faith and hope.
"We all knew that there's hope, no matter what our situation might be," said Ransford, so they turned to each other and to God. "We knew the doctors could just do so much. God is still the greatest physician."