Wanza Coates – Breast Cancer Patient Success Story

Light at the end of the tunnel: Wanza Coates’ breast cancer journey was made easier by nurse navigation

undefinedThe last six years have been tough for Wanza Coates. Her sister passed away in 2009. Her dad followed in 2010. Then in 2011, her husband died unexpectedly. October 2013 brought more pain when her brother succumbed to prostate cancer.

“Mentally, it was a lot to go through,” says Wanza, a 61-year-old retired art teacher.

Still, the tough times were not over. In January 2014, only three months after her annual mammogram, Wanza found a lump in her breast.

“I was afraid, because I have a family history of cancer,” Wanza says. “But I never felt alone, thanks to Methodist Charlton’s nurse navigator program.”

When fears become reality

A diagnostic sonogram led to a biopsy that confirmed Wanza’s fear: The lump was cancerous. Then, a second lump was found during a procedure to remove the first.

“That changed the treatment plan from having no chemotherapy to definitely having chemotherapy,” Wanza says. “While surgery removed the lumps, pathology reports did not indicate a clear margin showing that all the cancer cells had been removed.”

After consulting with her oncologist, Maria Juarez, MD, on the medical staff at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, and again with her surgeon, Wanza decided that a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy were the best treatment options for her.

It was then she was put in touch with Vicki Hallum, RN, CBCN, nurse navigator at Methodist Charlton. As a breast cancer nurse navigator, Hallum provides patients and families with the support, guidance, and resources they need after a breast cancer diagnosis.

A guide through cancer

Wanza Coates became good friends with Vicki Hallum, RN CBCN Wanza Coates became good friends with
Vicki Hallum, RN CBCN (right), during her
cancer journey. The nurse navigator helped
Wanza focus on her own wellness.

Hallum first called Wanza the night before her mastectomy. She spent an hour and a half on the phone with Wanza, answering questions and reassuring her.“I was very nervous about everything I was facing, but Vicki helped tremendously,” Wanza says.

“Wanza had experienced so many losses in such a short time that I had to tell her that this was Wanza’s time,” Hallum says. “She had been grieving for others for so long that she almost needed permission to really care for herself, to devote this time to getting well.”

Wanza says Hallum not only prepared her for surgery but was also there to support her the day of surgery.

“And she was there when I went through both my first and last chemo infusions,” Wanza adds.

Hallum aims to reassure her patients that she’ll walk through this whole journey with them.

“I told Wanza, ‘I’ll be here for you. Side by side, step by step, whatever you need, I’m here,’” she says.

Back on track

Hallum also encouraged Wanza’s active lifestyle. An avid exerciser since 1977, Wanza never let cancer get in the way of physical fitness, even when chemotherapy zapped her strength. From diagnosis all the way through recovering from reconstructive surgery last December, Wanza kept moving.

“I pushed myself, because exercise is what got me through,” Wanza says. “If I was restricted in doing a full exercise routine with cardio and weight lifting, I would walk.”

Now she’s back to her full exercise routine and both feels and looks great. She’s grateful for the support and friendship Hallum provided during some of her darkest days.

“I felt a sense of comfort just knowing that I had a nurse navigator that I could call,” she says. “And that call was always my light at the end of the tunnel.”