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Cancer Services

Marsha Shilling – Breast Cancer and Nurse Navigation Success Story

Hope starts here – nurse navigation empowers women throughout their breast cancer journey

Vicki Hallum, breast cancer nurse navigator at Methodist Charlton Medical Center
Nurse navigator Vicki Hallum, shown here
helping with a Look Good ... Feel Better
class, is there for women every step of
the way on their cancer journey

After more than 17 years as a nurse, Vicki Hallum has a sixth sense about people. She knows when something’s bothering them emotionally or physically.

She got that impression in April 2012 during a phone conversation with her real estate agent, Marsha Shilling. Hallum decided to follow her instincts.

“Marsha, I can tell something’s on your mind,” Hallum said. “We can put business aside for a bit, if you’d like.”

Shilling, then 47 years old, confided that she’d had a large lump on her breast for quite some time but had been too afraid to seek help.

Hallum, certified breast care nurse and breast cancer nurse navigator at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, was able to reassure Shilling and connect her to services that would ultimately save her life.

Discovering a diagnosis 

“I believe women facing breast cancer need to be empowered,” Hallum says. “Knowledge is power, so the more knowledge I can give them, the more successful they’ll be in their treatment process.”

Hallum begins imparting that knowledge — and a decent dose of empowerment — from early on in a patient’s cancer journey, making herself available to patients as a resource, a guide, and support.

“Some patients are young and working; some are single moms; some are in low-income situations,” Hallum says. “We discuss everything — medical allergies, family issues, transportation concerns, child care, finances. I try to assess all those factors and connect women with the support and assistance they need.”

Such was the case for Shilling, who was ultimately diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer that had spread to both her lymph nodes and lungs — a devastating diagnosis with a discouraging prognosis.

“My husband, Richard, and I believe God put Vicki in our lives,” Shilling says. “She was with us every step of the way, from my mammogram through the biopsy and surgeries. She answered questions we had about procedures, next steps, and the whole process. Most important, she was there for us as a friend.”

Charting a course for treatment

Marsha Shilling, breast cancer patient success story at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, Texas
“I believe God put Vicki in our lives. She
was with us every step of the way.”
— Marsha Shilling

That “whole process” can be overwhelming and intimidating. To streamline care, a roundtable of oncology specialists from Texas Oncology – Methodist Charlton Cancer Center and Methodist Charlton gathers semimonthly to create individualized care plans for each patient.

Hallum helps women understand these care plans and incorporate them into their busy lives as moms, wives, and professionals. She is there for their surgeries and their first chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“The fear of not knowing what’s going on is the worst fear they can experience, so all patients have my direct line to call me and ask questions,” Hallum says.

“I can tell them we have a plan, that we can treat breast cancer. I can help decompress their fears and give them direction and hope.”

Life after cancer

Shilling has been cancer-free since October 2012. Looking back on her journey, she knows that God used Hallum and the nurse navigation program in her healing process. The experience even inspired her to become a pastor and start Pampering and Hope Women’s Ministry for women facing cancer, crisis, and other illness.

“God used many people in my healing process: my husband, my church family at Crossroads of Life Assembly of God, the doctors and nurses, the Methodist Charlton medical staff, and Vicki,” she says. “God still works miracles today, and I am the living proof.”

From the summer 2014 edition of Shine magazine. 

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