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Todd Newhouse has to think a minute when asked about his experience at Orthopedics Northwest. There have been so many.
“Dr. (Todd) Orvald did my back surgery 18 years ago,” he begins. “It’s funny, because he also did my grandma’s knee surgery. Oh yeah! In 2007 I got a super-bad infection in my hand and it was going up my arm — the antibiotics weren’t working. I was going to Sunnyside at the time and I asked to go up to Yakima — to ONW. Dr. Hwang heard about my case, and he called me and said, “You’ve got to get up here now! He said I was a few hours from losing my hand. They said I’d be lucky to get back 75 percent use of my hand, but with physical therapy I got it all back.”
And, we’re off. The active members of the Newhouse family of Sunnyside are repeat customers at Orthopedics Northwest, and for recovery and care at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital. It is no easy feat for Todd Newhouse, a tree fruit and grape farmer, to recall his family’s rich history of care at ONW. That’s probably because he has four generations of Newhouses to consider — from his youngest, Chase, age 9, to his grandma, who’s 92.
“My younger daughter, Chase, was born with a trigger thumb . . . annnnnd something else in there needed fixed. Dr. (John) Hwang fixed that when she was a baby. Then she broke her elbow real bad when she was 3. She broke collar bone, and he fixed that, too. He did my brother’s shoulder surgery, and my dad’s, too.”
We haven’t even talked about Brielle yet. She’s Todd’s oldest. Brielle is very athletic. Very. Basketball, swimming, track, volleyball. And athletes get injured.
“Dr. (Richard) Roux did a knee surgery on her. Dr. Hwang treated her for a shoulder injury. Her finger was a big one — that was a four-year deal starting in eighth grade. She just had surgery on it this spring after the sports seasons were over.”
Brielle now attends Washington State University, on an academic scholarship. “I asked her if she was going to do something there and she said, ‘Naw, I’m done with sports, Dad.” But Brielle does want to get into a good nursing program, and while in high school she shadowed Dr. Hwang at work a couple of times.
So, really, the folks at Orthopedics Northwest have become like family to the Newhouse clan. “Yeah, it’s true. We don’t think about going anywhere else. If you can’t get in, if it’s bad or uncomfortable, you can always get in to the after-hours clinic. We’ve used that a couple of times.
“I’ve dealt with at least four doctors there over the years, and I’ve always been happy with any of them. Dr. Hwang, though, he’s definitely our go-to guy. I refer everyone I can to him. We’re right here between Yakima and the Tri-Cities, and I’m always trying to get everyone to make the shorter drive to Yakima to get better care.”
One almost hesitates to ask, but how’s it going for Newhouse family lately?
“Everybody’s good,” Todd reports. “But I’ve got three boys in football right now: 8th grade, 10th grade and 12th grade.”
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Pregnant with twins and diagnosed with breast cancer. Watch Austyn's story.
Austyn Hutton had her first child, son Lyon, at Virginia Mason Memorial in 2011.
A little over a year later, she had son Blaise there, too. 2013.
Three years later, Austyn Hutton was back at VMM’s Family Birthplace to deliver twins, Lola Jane and Easton Shepherd.
And from there? North Star Lodge, Virginia Mason Memorial’s cancer care center. Austyn Hutton, 27 years old and nine months pregnant with twins, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Virginia Mason Memorial is my team for everything,” she says. It’s a busy weekday afternoon at the Hutton house. The living room looks like rush hour for kids: They’re everywhere. “I was diagnosed right before the twins were born.”
That would be Feb. 2, 2016, what she calls “The Worst Day of My Life” in her blog about her journey as a “wife, mom, coffee lover and cancer thriver.” It is a no-holds-barred look at Austyn’s life as she works through it, including her struggle with anxiety, depression, anger, lack of energy, her decision to seek therapy and more.
“I was 30-weeks pregnant with our twins when I found the lump. The following day I was sent in for an ultrasound on my breast. Then I was sent in for a biopsy and mammogram.
“I actually found it the same day I was told that our daughter wasn’t growing the way she should be and I would need to lay low. My doctor had me lying on the couch all day, every day, so more blood would go to Lola’s placenta, giving her a better chance to grow. So I was basically on bed rest and laid on the couch with my 4-year-old and 2-year-old and watched TV . . . for literally hours and hours.
“It would be totally insane to have breast cancer,” I thought. I have NO FAMILY HISTORY. And I had never heard of someone in their 20s getting breast cancer. I thought what was really happening was related to the fact that I was in my third trimester with two babies. Lots of weird stuff can happen to your body, especially your breasts. I figured the results would come back as no big deal and life would go on
“Trevor met me at `Ohana and we sat together, waiting. Our nurse navigator, the woman who had the horrible job of delivering the news (and would later become so important to me) came and took us back to a private room. We sat down and tried to act like life-changing news wasn’t going to happen.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Your results came back positive.’ I stared at her for a second. Even though I sensed that this was the truth, I thought she was joking.
“She made it clear that this was no laughing matter, but not in a cold way. She was loving and incredibly sympathetic. She later told me she cried when she read my results and that this was only the second time she’d had to deliver this news to a pregnant woman in the 20+ years she’d worked there.”
Ten days before the twins were born Austyn was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Seven weeks after they were born, she started six months of chemotherapy. Then came a lumpectomy, where cancer was also found in nearby lymph nodes. Stage 2 became Stage 3 and she had a second surgery to remove more lymph nodes, also an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) followed by seven weeks of radiation.
She tells her readers, “In January of 2017, almost a full year after I began treatment, I finished. I then began my life as a cancer survivor.”
And how did Austyn Hutton, cancer thriver, feel about her care at North Star Lodge and 'Ohana Breast Health Center? Like this:
“Because I go five days a week to the cancer center, I have been really getting to know everyone who works there! I feel like I’m visiting with my friends instead of going to a treatment appointment. I always leave with a smile on my face. The staff at North Star Lodge does an amazing job at treating their patients like friends.
“At the beginning of treatment we decided that at the end of it all we would throw a giant party and invite anyone and everyone who wants to come. So if you are on our medical team, come! If you babysat our kids, cooked us meals, ran errands for us, come! If you prayed for us, sent us encouraging messages, or have just been following our story, COME! Seriously, we would love to see all of you, even if we haven’t seen you in 10 years! Guys! I don’t have cancer anymore!”
Most recently she wrote: “Since treatment has ended I get mammograms every six months as part of my routine check-ups. They are a fairly quick and painless scan, and I can be in and out of `Ohana in about 20 minutes. It seems like it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but sometimes it kind of is.
“`Ohana is where I went in when I first found my lump. It’s where I had my ultrasound, mammogram, biopsy and later on met with my nurse navigator to hear my diagnosis.”
If Austyn had to choose one takeaway from her experience it would be this: “Don’t wait until you’re 40. Self-exams should start now!”
To follow Austyn Hutton’s blog go to austynswellnessjourney.com.
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Many people get kidney stones once in their life. It’s something they never forget — the searing, intense pain.
Other folks, like Stephen Stokesberry for instance, get them again. And again. And again. It seems to Stephen that they usually strike at night or on the weekend, and often when he and his wife are traveling far from home.
“That tube between the kidney and the bladder is really tiny,” he says, “and when the stones are in there it hurts like hell. It’s like a red hot knife jabbed into your nether regions.
“I end up in the emergency room because they always happen on the weekends. Or I’m in Winthrop at 9 o’clock at night. (That time it meant a 90-minute ambulance ride to Omak.)”
Kidney stones are no joke. Stephen is particularly susceptible to calcium oxalate stones. It is the most common type of kidney stone and is linked to foods high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance found in plants and animals. These foods include beets, black tea, chocolate, nuts, potatoes, spinach and more.
Or as Stephen puts it, “Everything I kinda like is not good for me: peanut butter, broccoli, fruit with small seeds, almonds . . .
“I think the first kidney stone I had I was probably 40,” he says, thinking back. “I’ve probably had at least seven instances in my life.
“My most recent episode was in March 2019. It started hurting and I thought, ‘Ohhh, shoot another kidney stone.’ How do I know it was kidney stones? Oh, you know! I went to the ER. They did an MRI, and once they knew what it was they gave me painkillers.
“The pain can last half an hour or up to two hours. Once the stone passes into the bladder, the exit tube is much bigger. The stone must have passed into the bladder while I was there, because the pain went away. I went home.”
Emergency room care is great for, well, emergencies. But for Stephen’s continued care for kidney stones and other issues, he has long relied on Dr. Mark Uhlman at Yakima Urology Associates.
“He’s my primary doctor as far I’m concerned,” says Stephen. “I also have prostate problems, so I see him regularly.
“About a month after I had that latest round of kidney stones, it was time for my six-month prostate checkup. Dr. Uhlman was looking at my records, and he saw from the MRI that I had many stones, about 16 of them. He said to me, ‘You know, I should blast these all out.’
Stephen made an appointment. Dr. Uhlman took aim at Stephen’s kidney stones right in the office (using a process called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy). The whole deal, in and out, took about two hours.
“They blasted them all apart, but they’re still in me,” Stephen says, matter of factly. “They’re sand now. Tiny, tiny, tiny. And they’re telling me I’m not supposed to eat certain foods so that they might pass through, and so the bits that don’t do that don’t grow as fast. They also tell me to drink almost a gallon of water every day.”
Stephen takes his reoccurring kidney stones in stride, being the veteran that he is. But if he could give younger men a bit of advice it would be this:
“If you don’t want to be surprised, you should go to a urologist to find out if you’re conducive to kidney stones. The other thing you should do is interview your father and your uncles. My grandfather had a history of kidney stones. Nobody went to the hospital then. You know what my grandfather did? He paced the floor. I found this out from my mother only after my first bout of kidney stones.
“Find out if people in your family have suffered from kidney stones . . . or diabetes, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Find out.”
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Shelly Smith has been overweight for as long as she can remember. “I had a German grandmother who loved to feed her granddaughter. And I loved everything Grandma and Grandpa made. Oh, yes, I did. I’ve always had a sweet tooth.”
But 30 pounds from now that will no longer be true. Ever again.
“I’ve done Weight Watchers, HMR (a medically supervised fasting diet), you name it. I’ve done them all, like everybody else,” she says. “I thought it was going to be my life for the rest of my life, and I was just going to have to live with it.”
But in June 2018 Shelly’s life began to change. On a doctor’s advice, Shelly and her mother signed up for Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Memorial’s DPP program is a year-long series of classes that helps people in the Yakima Valley lose weight and, thus, improve their health.
“The first week I lost two or three pounds. That got me a little bit excited,” she says. “The next week I lost 2 or 3 pounds and that was it, I was in.”
“This is going to be a place where I can successfully manage my weight for the rest of my life,” Shelly says with new confidence. “I’m working on my last 30 pounds. My goal is 250. I’m not planning on being skinny or thin: I will just weigh a lot less. My knees don’t hurt, I’m mobile. I feel better physically and mentally. I feel more happy and positive.”
Over the past year, Shelly Smith has become a woman in control, losing 105 pounds and dropping from 383 pounds to 278.5. “105 pounds,” she says mostly to herself. “Woo-hoo! I am thrilled to death. I have to tell you, even that .5 is important. Every point counts. I might not remember any other numbers, but come tomorrow morning or anytime during the day I know that number.”
Shelly, 58, is a secretary for the Department of Ecology. She works early, gets off at 3 p.m. “That way I can go straight to the gym. I try to go every day for an hour.”
Much has changed about how Shelly and her mom eat. “We read labels. I saw Johnsonville brats in Safeway. Ohhhh, how I love Johnsonville brats. I flipped over the package and the calories weren’t too bad, but 27 grams of fat is out of this world! That’s half my grams for the whole day.
“We’re big on fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Protein is huge for me. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m a carnivore and I have to have protein.”
But Shelly is no saint, she just knows her limits.
“I rarely eat potato chips,” she says. “If I do, I’ll grab one out of the bag and enjoy that. If we have a hamburger, we’ve switched to the smaller buns. I stick as close as possible to my 3 ounces of meat or chicken on the bun. With Halloween and Easter candy, I read the bag. I do my math, because I can have one piece and it’ll be just fine.
“Even weighing myself has been kind of a journey. At first it was disappointing: I’m not losing weight fast enough. I was beating myself up. But the scale is not my enemy. The scale is my tool. It tells me where I’m at today, and it helps me get to where I want to be, figure out what I’m going do to get back to where I want to be. It’s my management tool. It informs me.”
She pauses and then adds, “The funny thing is, until you have a conversation like the one we’re having now, you have no idea you were pulling it together. Oh, my goodness, I really have a clue!”
Shelly is finally losing the weight just for Shelly. No one else.
“If you think I’m too heavy or you don’t think I look the way you want me to, there’s the door,” she says. “Do what the heck you want and leave me alone. I don’t need your grief.
“I think I can be content now and happy with my goal choice. I think it’s very doable and very livable.”
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Candie Turner’s business card tells you a lot about her: “Jim’s Wife * Brian’s Mother * Voracious Reader * Volunteer.”
But it doesn’t tell you everything. Like that she worked with Jim in the insurance business for 33 years. Or that she got breast cancer: Invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I was retired for a year, then I got cancer,” she says, mildly amused and greatly annoyed by the irony.
Candie, 67, found out in the usual way. “I went to `Ohana (Virginia Mason Memorial’s breast health center) for my mammogram in May 2018. It showed an ultra-bright tiny dot. They told me to come back in six months, and I did. They called me back for an ultrasound, then called me back and told me they would like me to have a biopsy.
“Courtney Lombardi, the nurse navigator at `Ohana, she’s wonderful. She sat me down and said simply, ‘You’ve got cancer. This is a rough week. It’s only Wednesday and you’re the fourth positive this week.”
Candie got right in for surgery. She had a lumpectomy and three lymph nodes removed. Then it was on to chemotherapy and radiation treatment at VMM’s North Star Lodge Cancer Care Center. She will also have Herceptin treatments every three weeks for a year. It will decrease the overexpression of a gene Candie carries that increases her risk that her cancer might reappear.
“I never knew anyone who had cancer until I got it,” she says. “I told the person who cuts my hair and she said, ‘Oh yeah. I had it three times.’
“I’m a coward about this,” she says humbly. “But at North Star I’m constantly bumping up against very brave women. Going to North Star becomes the new normal when you’re in treatment, but everybody’s so nice you kind of look forward to it. My nurse navigator, Beth Palmer, is fabulous. You’d think she was always having a good day. I don’t know if she is or not, but she never shows it.
“So what happens when I finish radiation? Ugh, I’ll have to clean my house, I guess.”
Chemotherapy was quite an eye-opener for Candie. And she would like to share her experience for others who might follow in her footsteps.
“The farther out I get from chemo the better I feel,” she says. “I didn’t even know I was feeling crappy!
“I had a real stew of side effects. My hair fell out in buckets, and I had no idea about chemo rash. It started in the web between my thumb and forefinger and ran up my arm. I lost my toenails. I looked at them and thought, those look weird. I bent over and pulled on one, and it just came out. The inside of my nose was raw, my mouth was raw, and I’ve got lymphedema in my left arm.
“I look so weird. I look so weird,” says Candie. She is prone to repeating herself to drive home a point. She removes her blue bandana. “Look, fuzz! I look like an ostrich!” Jim bought her two wigs, but Candie says they’re too hot. “Way too hot,” she repeats.
“When I lost my hair, I looked in the mirror and I thought I know that head! I know that head. And when my son, who’s bald, came up from the Bay Area for Easter, I looked at his head and I told him, “Yep, we’re related. I know that head!”
If there is more to report, Candie can’t recall it right now. “I blame it on chemo brain. I have chemo brain really bad. My husband is the most solid human being in history, and he is my memory. If I don’t remember somebody’s name, he does. If I don’t remember a number or a date, he does.”
Candie’s easy humor gets her through. Her determination keeps her going. Between Herceptin treatments she and Jim plan head to their son’s home in California for a visit. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I call it ‘the Drive the Kids Crazy Trip!’ ” And once more for emphasis she says, “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
*Editor’s note: Candie Turner has finished both chemotherapy and radiation, and says she feels really good. The trip to see her son and daughter-in-law? “It was great. It was great!” she reports.
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If Barb Gulley, 57, could tell women just one thing it would be this: “Get. Your. Mammogram.” She says it just like that, too.
“I had a friend a long time ago who was almost 10 years younger than me. Her name was Juanita, but I called her Jenny. She was 29, and very close to me and my family. She came to me one day and said, ‘I have a lump on my breast,’ but she didn’t have any insurance and didn’t know what to do. She and I went to a doctor, and the doctor ordered a mammogram. When it came back it was Stage 4 breast cancer. She died at 29.
“That’s why I always get my mammogram.
“You saved my life, Jen,” says Barb, more to herself than to anyone else in the room.
“One day, years after Jenny died, I went in for my mammogram and they called me back. I had a biopsy. It was cancer. I was shocked as hell. I was like, WHAT?” Barb says. “After my experience with Jen I thought I was on my death bed. But you know what? It was one-half point before Stage 1. I had a lumpectomy, and they removed one of my lymph nodes to check it, but it was clean. I had a month of radiation, and it was gone.
“I know it went down like this because I get my mammogram every year,” Barb says. “I know. Being called back is frightening. But the nurse navigator told me, ‘You are so lucky because you caught it. You are your own best advocate.”
Barb Gulley does not fool around when it comes to her health. About 10 years ago she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For that care she travels to Seattle to see neurologist Dr. Mariko Kita, chief of medicine at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
Barb is a few years out from her breast cancer diagnosis now. She is cancer free and a survivor. She continues to be a regular at `Ohana, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Breast Health Center. And she still drives over to North Star Lodge, but these days it’s for hormone therapy to prevent her form of cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, from returning. Barb Gulley will have this therapy for five years as the medicine blocks hormone receptors and keeps her cancer free.
“Dr. (Steven) Register was my radiologist. I loooooove him. He was just so nice,” she says. “Now I see Dr. (Sri) Obulareddy – I call her Dr. O.”
Barb Gulley can’t say this enough to anyone with breasts who will listen: “Get. A. Mammogram. My God, so you don’t like having your boob crushed. Who cares?”
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Brenda Hubert has two things to thank for her status as a breast cancer survivor: that little voice in her head and a mammogram.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do it. I’ll just put it off.’ But I’ve had it done every year since I was 40, so I thought, ‘Oh, just get it done!’
“And the mammogram found it.” Infiltrative lobular carcinoma, Stage 1, and in two lymph nodes.
Brenda, an 8th grade history teacher at Granger Middle School, was diagnosed May 1, 2018. “They caught it early enough that I just had radiation — four weeks and that was it. If I had put it off until fall it probably would have been Stage 2.”
Brenda, 57, had a lumpectomy and 2 lymph nodes removed in July 2018. “I thought, oh crap, I’ll have to stay in the hospital, but I didn’t. My surgeon Dr. (John) Kisala was great. So was my oncologist at North Star Lodge, Dr. (Siva) Mannem, my radiologist, Dr. (Cheryl) Davison, and my nurse, Brandy (Stevens).
“When I first met Dr. Davison, she sat down and looked straight at me. She drew a picture of my breast, where my tumor was, where the lymph nodes were and where they were going to do the radiation. I was really impressed.”
Brenda finished radiation treatments in September 2018. Two months later, though, her left side felt hot. It was red. Brenda called Dr. Davison, who told her, “Get up here right away.” Brenda took two courses of antibiotics: The infection was stubborn. In January, she saw Dr. Davison again and she determined that Brenda had lymphedema (Swelling that generally occurs in one of the arms or legs. It is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.) Brenda was referred to the Lymphedema Clinic right inside North Star Lodge. She now wears a compression vest to encourage the fluid that has built up inside her chest to move (imagine wearing Spanx all the time!).
“I nag people at work to get to `Ohana (Virginia Mason Memorial’s Breast Health Center). I wouldn’t go anywhere else, seriously. I tell my friends, ‘They have coffee. They have tea. There’s water in the lounge.’ I’ve always had good care there.”
Brenda is struck by the what-ifs.
“I feel blessed by God,” she says. “And I had great support from my family and my school. You know, I’ve been teaching there so long some of my former students are now teachers there!
“On the day of our 8th grade recognition assembly, I noticed a lot of the kids were wearing pink. That’s odd, I thought. Then I went into the gym and there were all these pink balloons. I asked one of the students, ‘What’s all the pink for?’ She said, ‘Dur, Miss. Hubert!’ I broke down and cried.
“Then, on the last day of school, I got called down to the gym. The whole staff was in there wearing pink T-shirts that said, ‘Nobody in this family fights alone.’ They really are my family.
“In the end, I feel so lucky. It was all because I was like, ‘You. Gotta. Go. Get. That. Mammogram.’ ”
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“I hate you. I don’t want to be here. And I’m not going to show you what I eat. Period.”
That’s what he said. That’s what Eddie Gulley told Lori Gibbons on his very first day of class at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Lori is the program’s facilitator and she’s heard a lot over the years. Folks beginning their journey out of obesity, being out of shape and dangerously close to becoming diabetic are often fearful and intimidated. But she had never heard “I hate you.”
“Yeah,” says Eddie, 61. “I did say that, but it was in a loving way!” It’s been eight months since Eddie met Lori on that first day of class. And in all that time, Eddie Gulley, who has weighed as much as 315 pounds in his life, never missed one class in the year-long series. Not one.
Why? Because Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program is a lot like group therapy. And group therapy works for Eddie.
“I lost my job 5 years ago at Longview Fiber (after 35 years) and I lost my insurance. I didn’t go to doctors for quite some time. I weighed 315 when I left work. We lived out in the hills, though, and I walked those hills and got down to 252. But my wife has multiple sclerosis and then was diagnosed with breast cancer, so we moved into town to be closer to doctors. Then I got really depressed because we weren’t out in the country anymore.
“I was an emotional eater. There are so many things in life that can throw you off: The first time I blew my back out at work, that screwed my head up. While waiting for surgery I blew up to 270 pounds just sittin’ around drinkin’ beer.
“After the first surgery, they gave me a job as a janitor. It was a physical job, and I lost weight until another slip, trip or fall, and then it was surgery again.
“Then our first-born son died of SIDS in March 1990.”
After the death, the Gulleys were referred to Memorial’s SIDS support group. Eddie found comfort, a way to live on. The couple became group facilitators.
“Also, couple of years ago I went to a psychologist who had a group for men who have had bad accidents and couldn’t work. We would meet once a week and talk about losing our jobs, our lifeline and our families. It helped me very much: Group therapy has really helped me. First, the SIDS group, then the men’s group and now Diabetes Prevention.
“I got into the Diabetes Prevention Program when I went to see Dr. (Nicola) Bocek (at Family Medicine of Yakima). She said, ‘You know, you’ve had a second round of blood work and your A1C is out there. You need to change your way of eating and so forth.’ This wasn’t my first rodeo. I had doctors tell me stuff over the years. Dr. Bocek hooked me up with the DPP classes. I’m thankful for that. Support groups have worked for me. At 57 I was like, I really don’t care. But at 61 I suddenly care!
“After I filled out the paperwork for class, though, I became diabetic. I thought, I don’t want to die. It would take eight people to pack me into the casket! You get so big that you think, who are you?
And now? Eddie eagerly shows Lori his food log.
“What turned me around was after I started with the My Fitness Pal thing. I couldn’t write stuff down in little books: What I wrote down, I didn’t want Lori to read, too personal. But the My Fitness Pal app took the personal away. A month later, you look at what you ate and you think: Wow, why did I eat that? 89 fat grams? Why did I do that? It’s teaching me a different way to eat. And it’s tracking my footsteps: I don’t even have to put that in.
“I feel much better mentally. The weight weighs on your brain massively: Am I going to have a heart attack, something else? When the weight began to fall off I thought, this is a much better way to live. I don’t groan getting up in my truck. And sleeping? The first day we went camping I slept 12 hours! And I can breathe easier.
“I have the food basically under control, but I need to walk more; every day at least 2 miles so my body is in a daily rhythm. The type of pain I have is horrific, but I can still walk.”
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Ashley Wilson is one of those women who sailed through her pregnancy. Except for two things: 1.) Tiny toes poking her in the ribcage at nine months. And . . .
2.) “I was six months pregnant in October, and it was deer season. I wasn’t going to miss deer season! Dustin and I love to go hunting. I had little trouble, but I kept up with him. So, really, our son Jackson has already gone hunting. Oh yeah, he’s also gone fishing!
“We both like the outdoors.” Make that all three of them like the outdoors.
“He is an awesome first child,” says Ashley. “He’s happy and always smiling. He has his sounds for when he’s tired and hungry, but he is the happiest boy.”
Ashley Wilson is a medical assistant, so she was well aware of her good fortune when it came time to have her first child. “During delivery you go into it hoping there won’t be any complications, but being in the medical field, you know something could always pop up.”
Aside from a little early-pregnancy nausea, nothing did. “For the first child, it was a really good experience. Everything was smooth sailing, and Dr. (Kevin) Harrington (at Generations Ob-Gyn) was more than amazing. I was super comfortable with him: I could ask him anything and everything, and I knew I would get an honest answer.”
Ashley worked right up until the day before she was induced. Baby Jackson was expected on Jan. 24, 2019. He was born on the 29th, 9 pounds, 2 ounces, and 20 inches long.
“By the time I was all hooked up it was 7 a.m. Jackson was born at 7:32 p.m. It was an all-day thing.
“The nurses at Memorial were awesome. The breastfeeding team was very helpful because, honestly, we did not go to any of those parenting classes. They just never matched up to our schedules. I’m not saying I went into it blindfolded because my sister has kids but . . .
“When we were in the hospital, Jackson was crying and crying, and we didn’t know what to do. A nurse came in and I swear she was the baby whisperer. Late night and early morning — she helped us a ton.
“This is probably the most realistic parenting class we’re going through right now: Life. Sometimes, we joke though, ‘Dang we should have gone to one of those classes!’
Ashley and Dustin quickly figured out how best to care for their son. “When I was still on maternity leave and Jackson wanted to eat every other hour, Dustin and I took shifts so we could both get some rest. Now we have it down. We know his hungry sounds, his tired sounds. We still work on it together, we just do. He’s the right partner to do this with.
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I know how important family is. I had a great first experience. I would do it over again in a heartbeat, and I probably will! I just hope Dr. Harrington is still around.”
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Catie Valdez, 26, is a baby professional. She works at Generations OB/Gyn as a medical assistant. She sees mothers-to-be every day on the job, listens to their questions, helps them find the answers.
But still, when it was time for her to give birth to daughter Alessandra at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Family Birthplace, she had questions of her own. “Will I really know when I’m in labor?” she wondered. Dr. (Leslie) McLemore, who is both her boss and her doctor, told her “Oh, you’ll know. You’ll know!”
But she kind of didn’t know. “Turns out I was in labor all day, but it wasn’t that bad,” Catie says. “Then my water broke at 8:45 p.m., I got to the hospital at 9:30 p.m. and had Ale (Alessandra) at 10:15 p.m.
“With Bella (Isabella), I was going to get ready and go in to work and just ask one of the doctors there to check and tell me if I needed to go to the hospital, but I decided to just head there instead. I was admitted at 6 a.m. and had her at 10:30 p.m.”
Catie Valdez is one of those women who has no trouble being pregnant. Both times she worked right up until she delivered. (Her baby shower with her Generations workmates was one day before she gave birth to Ale.) Catie suffers no nausea, loses the weight easily and, while pregnant with Ale, she actually craved healthy food!
But that doesn’t mean the past two years have been easy. Not by a longshot.
“I had Ale on Dec. 2, 2017, and I took full maternity leave, three months. The day after I came back to work, my husband, Freddie, was so ill he was admitted to Swedish Hospital in Issaquah. He was there from the end of February until early April. They were trying to figure out what was wrong with him that whole time!”
Doctors removed 10 feet of Freddie’s large intestine, most unusual for a man 24 years old. He also had another surgery in August 2018 and again in December. “We thought he was done,” Catie says, “but he got sick, and in May 2019 he had surgery again. And he probably needs one more.” She sighs, looks worried, but is determined to continue her story.
“That’s the reason we had our second baby so soon — the doctors told us Freddy might not be able to have babies after the August surgery. I had a six-week window, and I got pregnant in July 2018. Isabella was born on March 19, 2019. Freddy adores the girls. He told me, ‘I feel God gave me girls to help me some day.’ ”
And this is where she explains why, in their case especially, it truly did take a village to make life manageable for this young couple. The Valdezes live in Toppenish, where they were raised. Freddy has a barbershop there. Both their families live there.
“My mom helped me so much, she stayed with me. Freddy’s mom stayed with him in the hospital. Then my parents took the baby on the weekends so I could be with Freddy. Our babysitter takes care of all of my parents’ grandkids, so the cousins are together all day while we’re at work.
“Then, when I left for Freddie’s surgery, everybody at Generations pitched in. They helped us stay afloat. They brought me toilet paper, groceries, gift cards, diapers.
“I have my family at home, and I have my family at work. God has truly blessed me. I have amazing people in my life.
“I love my job, and, honestly, it’s because of the doctors. They’re so good to us. They are so generous to their patients and to all of us there. Anything we ask they don’t just tell us the answer, they teach us. And having babies myself has helped me in my job. Now, for instance, when patients call in with mastitis (inflammation of the breast tissue), I know how painful that is. I feel so bad for them, and I know I can help.”
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“I love it a lot,” Corynn Holmes says simply, a smile traveling across her face. Corynn is tall and slender and graceful. Take a good look at her and you will know she’s talking about ballet. She’s a natural.
Corynn, 13, is the youngest of three sisters. Her older sisters were track stars at Davis High School, but at age 11 Corynn went her own way.
“I saw Misty Copeland, who is a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre on TV. She’s the first African American to have that high of a title in two decades,” she says in awe. “I started watching her dance and I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. So I started doing some research and watching YouTube tutorials. Then I said to my mom, “I really want to try ballet.” And so I went to Miss Lisa (at Yakima School of Ballet), and that’s where it really started.”
By “it” Corynn is speaking both of her new-found passion for ballet and, not long after lacing up her first pair of pointe shoes, a chronic pain behind her right ankle. Corynn and her mom tried rest, ice, they saw a physical therapist. The pain would disappear, Corynn would dance, and the pain would return.
Corynn’s mom called Orthopedics Northwest.
“The doctors told me that a little bone was getting pinched between my heel and my ankle,” Corynn says. “It was causing a lot of swelling. I’d take a break and the swelling would go down. I’d go back and it would swell.
“I went to Dr. Snyder initially for X-rays and a diagnosis, and then he wanted me to see Dr. DeMill for a second opinion. They agreed. Taking a break was not working. They thought removing it was the best thing.
“That bone is just a little thing!” says Corynn. The pain, however, was a big deal.
Most people don’t even have an os trigonum, the bone that was the source of Corynn’s troubles. People are either born with it or they are not. It makes itself known during the teen-age years, when one area of the ankle bone does not fuse with the rest of the bone. Most people don’t even know they have an os trigonum. But others, like Corynn, develop a painful condition known as os trigonum syndrome. Not surprisingly, os trigonum syndrome is often caused by repeated downward pointing of the toes -- common among ballet dancers, soccer players and other athletes.
Corynn needed help. She very much wanted to get back to class, up on her toes and onward with ballet.
“Oct. 7, 2016, is when I went on pointe,” she says without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a big day in the life of a ballet dancer. “Me, Emma and Lizzy and our moms went to Seattle to get our first point shoes. I was so excited!
“Everything was going pretty well. And then almost nine months after I got on pointe, I was at a summer intensive near Seattle and we were dancing a lot. The second week I was having some pinching behind my right ankle. They said it would be OK if we iced it, taped it up and took it easy. But I got back home and it was still hurting and I couldn’t be in pointe shoes.
“Miss Lisa said to take a little break and come back. So I did. I got new pointe shoes cuz mine were dead. I was all excited and everything was going well. In the fall – November -- I was preparing for The Nutcracker with the Moscow Ballet at the Capitol Theatre (Corynn was one of the Arabians). I was still having a little bit of pain, but it wasn’t as bad and I was being careful.
“But then it started hurting again.”
On March 14, 2018, Corynn had outpatient surgery at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital. A month later? “I went back to ballet! We did physical therapy at Lakeview Physical Therapy and I was doing hot yoga. Both of those really helped.”
“I just love it so much,” says Corynn for what must be at least the 10th time in 20 minutes. “I’m going to ballet tonight and I’m so excited.
“I’m so excited!”
GLORIA and CHARLIE GILBERT, and baby Daisy
Born Nov. 10, 2017
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Gloria and Charlie Gilbert call their new daughter, Daisy Jeanne Gilbert, “our fun baby.”
“I don’t think any baby is easy – but she’s really funny and fun,” says Gloria, jiggling little Daisy in her arms. Daisy, for her part, seems pretty darned happy to be there. “She’s very curious and very determined and, at 8 months, she’s starting to become her own little person.”
Gloria and Charlie are busy professionals. She is the general manager of Gilbert Cellars, and Charlie heads up national sales for the Yakima winery, a family business in which they are also partners. Work consumes as much of their lives as they allow. Adding a child into the mix seemed daunting, but only until Daisy got here.
“I’m pleasantly surprised how much I’ve enjoyed it and how easily it’s fit into our lives, having a baby,” Gloria says. “It’s tough enough running and growing a business. I decided that I was just going to let happen what happens. It’s still been a challenge, though. Like this week I’m sick, Daisy’s sick, and Charlie’s on the road for a business trip.”
“I spent my entire pregnancy planning for my child and how my role would change,” says Gloria, a planner by necessity. “My pregnancy was really easy, actually. I was sick until 14 weeks but I could still work and exercise. I did Pilates until 38 weeks. Doing that was something I could control. I could tell how my body was changing: It was kind of a touchstone for me. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and I wanted to be able to recover quickly.”
Daisy is now working her way across the floor toward a little yellow duck. Or the fireplace. She’s fascinated by both of them. Like her parents, she’s very busy.
Gloria and Charlie had every intention of going to Virginia Mason Memorial’s Baby Basics class together, but, uh, they forgot. “We were busy with work and we missed our first class, so I went to the rest of them and Charlie went to Daddy Boot Camp,” Gloria says. “I’m kind of glad we went separately, though. I felt like we learned the same information but in different ways, and Charlie was really confident he knew what to do.”
“It was pretty comical though,” Charlie says of the hands-on class just for soon-to-be dads. “All the swaddles were terrible at the beginning!”
Gloria had a let’s-just-see-how-this-goes attitude about giving birth. Good thing.
“I pre checked in, which was great. I recommend that to anyone. I walked around the fourth floor for an hour because I wasn’t dilated enough, but by 3 a.m. I was 3 centimeters.
“I said, ‘Let’s see what happens,’ but I told them I definitely wanted an epidural (to lessen pain). They gave me a blood test – and I just have to say right now that my nurse Lori (Serl) was adorable and amazing. She was my nurse all the way through – and before it came back I was at 10. There was no time for an epidural. That really put a damper on my day!
“I thought there’d be more buildup, but it was eight hours start to finish. I was in the hospital about 24 hours.”
Charlie calls his wife’s quick delivery “the accidental natural childbirth.”
So, what has turned out to be the hardest part of adding a baby to the family? “Work,” Gloria says, no hesitation. “Feeling like I’m able to give her enough time. Luckily because we are business owners we have relatively flexible work schedules.”
Her advice for new parents? “Sleep training was really important for us: I still want to spend time with my husband. And at my six-week appointment they told us to start baby proofing the house, because once the baby’s here things start getting fun and you won’t want to do anything else.
“It’s funny, you wait so long for your baby to get here, and I thought the developments would come more slowly. But, boom!, her teeth were out; boom!, she was sleeping through the night. Now we’re looking for new things to do with our fun baby!”
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Sonny and Linda Salsbury are of a certain age. The age before anybody knew just how harmful the sun’s rays could be.
“We’re both from L.A.,” says Sonny. “We went to the beach constantly and covered ourselves with baby oil and got as dark as we could. And, you know what? When I told my dermatologist that he said that he did the same thing!”
If only we had known then what we know now.
“I’ve had one bad melanoma and three other lesser melanomas over the years,” says Sonny, who’s 80. “I’ve also had basal cell and squamous cell (carcinoma).”
After years of back-and-forth between Southern California and Yakima, Sonny, a youth minister, and Linda recently returned to Yakima for good. “We’re back here in our house, a big, old Victorian built in 1904, and it’s our favorite house of all the places we’ve ever lived.”
Sonny figures he has thousands of kids, two of their own and the rest from his years of ministering to young people, some of those years spent at Yakima’s First Presbyterian Church. “Some of my kids even showed up (from both Yakima and California) to help us settle back into our home!”
And he is grateful. Not just for the help settling in, but for the care he’s gotten from the team at Virginia Mason Memorial’s North Star Lodge. “Doctors found a small spot on my liver in fall 2017, and now I get an infusion of Keytruda every three weeks. It’s been great: I’ve had no side effects. In fact I’m going down to Emerald Cove Day Camp in San Juan Capistrano this summer to be the camp granddaddy: lead singing, take the kids on hikes, tell them stories.”
Washington ranks among the top 10 states for the highest rates of new cases of melanoma of the skin. So, what would Sonny like all of his kids and the rest of us to know about the sun and its effects on skin?
“Wear that sunscreen,” he says. “Get out of the tanning beds. And if you’ve ever had skin cancer, don’t miss your checkups: Get your moles checked.”
And finally, he says quietly, “It’s more important to be alive and be the color God made you.”
Roger and Marilyn Yockey
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It just didn’t make sense to Roger Yockey. How could he be so overweight when the people that he and his wife were meeting on volunteer missions around the world had so very little?
“Marilyn and I have done a lot of volunteer work in Central America, Portugal, the Caribbean, and the United States. We usually work with children who may have been abandoned or have special needs that cannot be met by families because they are very poor,” says Roger.
“I have photographs next to where I eat and next to where I watch TV of a child who has this look on his face like ‘What am I going to eat? Where am I going to sleep? Where am I going to live?’ I tell myself, ‘Roger, why should you be overweight, grossly so, when so many people are starving, especially children?”
Roger’s a little bit out of breath right about now. “We can talk while I ride the exercise bike,” he says into the phone. “I do at least 30 minutes a day.”
Roger Yockey, and his wife, Marilyn, both 78, moved to Yakima from Seattle when they retired. They wanted to be closer to the grandkids. Roger was a journalist and a journalism teacher at Seattle University. He also worked in communications for labor unions and in community organizing. Roger also ran a micro loan program for women, people of color and displaced workers.
As the Yockeys grew older, their waistlines grew larger. Roger went to the doctor. “Thanks to a wonderful physician at Virginia Mason Memorial, Dr. Silvia Labes (a primary care provider at Memorial Cornerstone Medicine) she saw indications that I was pre-diabetic and recommended the program.”
Roger is referring to Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program, a year-long series that teaches participants how to incorporate a healthy diet and exercise into their lives. The result is . . . well, as Roger says, “when I first went in I was what they call ‘morbidly obese.’ I weighed in at 295 pounds and I’m 5-feet, 9- inches tall.
“But somewhere along the way through the program I was told not only was I not diabetic, I was not even pre-diabetic. I weigh now about what I did when I was married and in the Marine Corps Reserve, 192. I went from a size 52 waist to a 40.”
For Roger, having his wife as his partner in the program made all the difference. “The two important things for us: It really helps if you have a partner. Marilyn and I tracked what we ate with a focus on calories and fat. That’s our guide. And the group sessions, you’re talking to other people and they’re telling you what their experiences have been. And then you weigh in.”
Marilyn, who’s lost about 65 pounds, walks at least 30 minutes a day, rides the bike for 30 and goes to aerobics class twice each week.
The Yockeys, who have shed about 168 pounds between them, are Diabetes Prevention Program graduates now. But they still show up to weigh in, because, like with everything, there are always challenges. “Eating out is a problem,” says Roger. “Red Robin and Red Lobster are great for working with you on dietary restrictions. The wonderful thing about the Café at Virginia Mason Memorial is they list the calories in the entrees, and I think the food there is just delicious.”
Temptation is everywhere. But the Yockeys are knowledgeable and prepared. “I love coffee and a cookie with it,” says Roger. “So I pick out a cookie that’s pretty low in fat and calories, and I just eat one.
“Last July we went to Guatemala for a week, and we’re already investigating where we’re going this year. Thanks to Marilyn, a cane and God, I make it. I just wish I had done this years ago.”
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As the longtime former CEO of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, Rick Linneweh is used to being a take-charge guy. As a young man he was an athlete, always has been really. At age 75 he skis, golfs, enjoys fly fishing, walking, Pilates and working out with weights.
So when his knees started talking to him, Rick talked back. And took charge.
“I was walking down the Great Wall of China after I had climbed all those steps — and they’re very uneven, I’ll tell you. I thought, “Oh, my goodness gracious, this is more than I can take. Without being morose, I figure I have 10 or 15 years left, and I wasn’t going to wait until my knees were really rotten to get them fixed.
“Coincidentally, I was getting into my SUV and I twisted myself around to get in. My foot stayed where it was, but my knee moved, and it crunched.”
The Great Wall of China challenge was in February 2017. The SUV twist-and-crunch occurred in February 2018. Rick called Orthopedics Northwest for a fix: surgeries for two total knee replacements by Dr. Richard Roux — the first in May 2018, the second in July of that year.
“As a young man, I participated in organized athletics and I was, needless to say, hard on my knees. So I previously had the meniscus removed on both of them.” (Each knee has two menisci — C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as a cushion between the shinbone and thighbone. A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling and stiffness. Patients also might feel a block to knee motion and have trouble extending the knee fully.)
But, over the long haul, Rick Linneweh was really more used to running a family of health care services than being a patient at one. This time, though, he was on the receiving end.
“At Orthopedics Northwest I’ve never been involved in something that was so well coordinated. The physicians, to the hospital, to the physical therapy service, it was a beautifully orchestrated dance. I was really taken by the education program the orthopedic surgeon had me attend so that I would know what was going to happen, about the medications I would be taking. There was incredible communication for all parts of the service.
“The hospital, with its pre-op preparation, was great. The day of the procedure was phenomenal. I intended to be one of the 50 percent who come home the same day. But my wife, Linda, was adamant that I stay the night.”
Rick did his part to prepare for the surgeries. “I made a three-prong decision: I made sure my legs were in good shape. I got my weight to a level it hadn’t been in several years. Then I took it from the perspective of an injured athlete who was going to get better and stronger.
“And, you know, I was among family. It actually was very pleasurable to be on the other side so I could be part of the family by being a patient.”
After each surgery, Rick was up and walking that night.
“The only pain medication I took was Tylenol Plus. I was gung-ho on physical therapy because of the perspective of being a recuperating athlete. I graduated out of the PT program six weeks earlier than normal because I was also working out at the Yakima Athletic Club.
“I was in good shape going into it, and I kept myself in high spirits during the whole thing, so I’m in good stead now.”
Next up for the Linnewehs? “We’re going to Germany in October. Going to be doing quite a bit of walking there, so I’m getting ready for that.”
No matter what else Rick Linneweh takes on this trip, you can bet he will be packing his can-do attitude, a natural curiosity for other cultures and his two new knees from Orthopedics Northwest.
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“You’ll know me,” says Rachel Boucher. “I’m 5 feet, 7 inches -- and I have no hair.”
And there she is, standing at the counter at Starbucks helping her son Andrew and daughter, Natalie, pick out a big, ice-cold, whipped-creamy, coffee-type drink. Rachel Boucher, wife, teacher, mom of three. And currently patient, in treatment for aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer.
“When we found out the diagnosis we had just put an offer on a house,” Rachel says, her hands gripping an iced mocha. “My husband’s in the military and we’ve been here for the past three years. The kids really like it here -- we all do -- and we decided that this is where we want to live.
“We thought maybe we shouldn’t buy the house, because we didn’t know what would happen, but Dr. (Nanette) Robinson at Virginia Mason, she’s amazing. She told us, “This is fixable. Why wouldn’t you buy the house?
“I was shell-shocked when I found out, but I thought, yeah, this took our family’s security away and we can’t let it take away one more thing.”
Rachel was 37 when she was diagnosed on Feb. 20, 2018, after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy at 'Ohana, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Mammography Center. 'Ohana nurse navigator Betsy Medrano handed her a copy of ““The Comprehensive Patient Navigation Guide: Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook” with this advice: “Read it. Knowledge is your weapon.”
Within days Rachel was off to Virginia Mason in Seattle for surgery and then on to North Star Lodge for chemotherapy and radiation. As she speaks, Rachel has two more chemotherapy treatments before beginning radiation therapy.
“My husband found it,” Rachel says of the lumps in her right breast. “We didn’t think it was that big, but there were five tumors and it had spread to my lymph nodes.
“I had breast reduction surgery. They told me it was better to keep some of the tissue because you can’t get follow-ups (with mammograms and tomography) without it. I asked my surgeon, Dr. (Janie) Grumley, ‘What about my other breast?’ She told me, ‘Oh, we can make them match! We want everything to be pretty.’ And that’s what they did.”
A few weeks later, Rachel returned to Virginia Mason to have more tissue removed, ensuring there were no lingering cancer cells. “There’s been more science involved in all of this than I ever thought possible,” said Rachel.
Meanwhile, when able, Rachel was teaching fourth grade at Robertson Elementary, preparing to move and tending to her family -- husband Patrick, a master sergeant in the Army, daughter Hannah, 16, son Andrew, 14, and daughter Natalie, 7.
“When we told the kids, Hannah completely broke down. Natalie was in shock; she yelled, “Don’t touch me!” Andrew was also in shock, but quiet. I realized Natalie thought it was contagious: I assured her it was not. Then I told Hannah, “It’s OK. Hannah, I’m a bad-ass mother!
“My parents dropped everything and flew right out to be with us. My mom made me a quilt with BAM on it and T-shirts for the kids and Patrick. So, now I really am a bad-ass mother.”
Rachel is comforted by the results of genetic testing at North Star Lodge: There are no genetic markers for breast cancer in her family. “That was a great experience. They drew a whole diagram of our family tree for me,” she says.
“North Star is amazing. The volunteers are amazing. I can’t believe people go there just to ask you, “Can I get you anything? And the women who make the hats and scarves (The North Star Knitters). I was looking online for a seatbelt cover because of the medication port in my chest, but they had them at North Star.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Patrick, though, has been my rock. It’s been crappy circumstances, but it’s made us even closer.”
The couple had previously planned an anniversary trip Las Vegas. Rachel shuffled chemotherapy appointments. They kept the date. “Since my hair started falling out and I shaved the rest of it, people keep complementing my hair. It’s the weirdest thing,” she says. “The Uber driver who picked us up said, ‘I love your hair.’ I said, ‘Thanks?’ It happened twice!
“It’s been really hard, but I feel I’ve been lucky through the chemo, I didn’t get sick. You really do never know what’s going to happen.”
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Terry Martin had just retired, on Sept. 24, 2016, and received her first retirement check after 30 years working as an English professor at Central Washington University. Two weeks later? A bad mammogram. But, considering the alternative, she says, “How lucky that I go in for my mammogram each year?”
Today, Terry has finished radiation treatments and five months of chemotherapy. “I’m going to hit the reset button and start over,” she says from the most comfortable chair in her living room of rolling hills and orchard views. “I’ve got plane tickets for Mexico and Costa Rica (a belated birthday trip).
Terry choses her words carefully. She is a writer. So during her treatment year that’s what she did. Friends and family got regular updates about her journey through cancer and life with her spouse, Jane (who, herself had breast cancer 15 years ago).
Here’s Terry’s most recent email:
When I met with my oncologist yesterday I asked her whether at this point I can say “I had cancer.” After all, I didn’t know I had it when all this began, so how can I believe I don’t have it now, right?
She said while they’ve gotten everything they could see, and zapped the hell out of any areas likely to have microscopic traces, using the past tense like this wouldn’t really be accurate. What I can say is that I have had cancer, and that I am now in remission.
So that’s where we are. And it feels good enough.
That said, I don’t have to go back to see her for three months. For now, I’ll have just one medical appointment a month or so (Oct: mammogram, Nov: surgeon, Dec: oncologist, Jan: radiologist, etc.) which feels like heaven to me.
From diagnosis at `Ohana Mammography Center to treatment at North Star Lodge, Terry knows that cancer doesn’t care one bit about anybody’s busy schedule.
“I went from a Day Timer in 15-minute slots to open, to then filled with medical appointments,” she says. “I’d never even had surgery before. It really changed the pace of my life. But I didn’t get real scared, and I was surprised about that. I really tried to stay in the moment, but it’s a pretty tough balancing act, taking it one day at a time and holding hope.”
Terry had invasive ductal carcinoma; late stage and in three sites. Her treatment included a lumpectomy, surgery to remove the tumor and some of the normal tissue that surrounds it.
And, yes, Terry lost her hair. Running her hand across her head she says, bemused, “I’m at the stage between dryer lint and dust bunny.”
Support came in many forms. Artist friends filled Terry’s life with their creativity. “But they also understood about my need to hole up and hunker down. Jane, though, walked every step of it with me. I’d done that for her. We know how to show up for each other in that way.
“My mom was diagnosed at 46 with breast cancer and she died at 54. I really felt Mom here with me, but I also had to remember that this is my story, not hers.
“I felt very held through the whole process, and it’s not just North Star; that kind of care started at `Ohana. I really trusted my doctors and the staff. I love Dr. (Vicky) Jones and Dr. (Cheryl) Davison; I like smart women who are good at what they do. And my surgeon, Peter Young (at Cascade Surgical Partners). I felt I was in such skilled hands.
“When I walked into North Star, I’d cross those healing waters (the water feature that cuts through the facility) – I felt it. And I felt very fortunate to get to stay home for my treatment.
“This has changed me in ways I don’t even understand yet. I find myself in a sorority I never meant to pledge. It’s great to have this year over.
“Hope. That’s my word. I just held hope for the whole thing.”
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Life can really beat you up sometimes. Especially when you are an adventuresome sort of person. Just ask René Rodríguez. He’s been through it. Even as he drinks his coffee you can tell. René sits up straight and tall, is tan and fit. But a long scar snakes its way up the center of his left knee. The right is trussed up in tape (tore a hamstring working out).
That, however, is nothing. Since 2015 René Rodríguez, 68, has been no stranger to the surgeons at Orthopedics Northwest, where he’s had both knees replaced, surgery on both wrists to repair the carpel tunnels, repair work for a crushed bone in his left hand, surgery on his rotator cuff and an operation to repair the ulna bone in his forearm.
Life’s tough, but René and the team at Orthopedics Northwest are tougher.
René is still in therapy after having his right foot repaired recently. In a few months he will have his left foot operated on. Here’s what he says about that: “My X-rays were up on the board in the hallway at ONW for a post-surgery check, and Dr. (Shyler) DeMill walked by and saw my foot up there. He stopped and said, ‘Who did that? I gotta redo this or you’re not going to be walking right. Your knees will hurt, then your hips.’ ”
What the heck happened to René Rodríguez, Navy veteran, registered nurse and all-around civic-minded person who spent many years heading up local efforts for the March of Dimes?
He begins cryptically: “There were several incidents in the service. I had a couple of ejections from aircraft, and I took a big fall rock climbing.”
René’s was a life of adventure and hard work at full throttle. His job in the Navy was to deliver F4 fighter jets to aircraft carriers, harrowing landings under the best circumstances. From there he went into the aerospace business. “I’m very hands on,” he says. “I was in there with the guys every day.” There was also a stint as a farmer with his then father-in-law and another fighting fires as a pilot in the forest service. René says, “really hard work.”
René doesn’t consider his luck to be bad. Not at all. The opposite in fact. “I feel really well cared for at ONW,” he says. “Dr. (John) Adkison gave me pills for the pain, but I didn’t even have to take them. Just ice and maybe a couple of shots of Wild Turkey. That’s how good those guys are.”
René is still in rehab for his right foot, and he’s doing his best to take it easy. “All my doctors say I need time for myself,” he says. “I’m finally getting six to seven hours of sleep. And I do a lot of walking and I work out at home.”
So, after the left foot, it’s all good, right? Anything else? “I finally started wearing contacts,” he says with a grin. “Oh yeah! I had surgery on my eye, I forgot about that . . .”
Andrea (Andy) Snyder
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Andy Snyder wasn’t feeling well. She tried working through the day as a pharmacy tech at Cornerstone Medicine, but she thought maybe she should see somebody. So she headed over to Inspire Health, Virginia Mason Memorial’s clinic for employees and their families.
“I was feeling off, but mostly nauseous and just dragging. I asked for something for the nauseousness. I got that and left,” says Andy. “I still wasn’t feeling good come Monday, so I went back in. The next day, Jennifer Martin (clinic physician assistant) called to check on me. She had a feeling and asked me to come back for blood work. I went in that day.
“I remember my dad was with me because I didn’t feel like driving. We went out for lunch, and while we were there Jennifer called and asked me to come back so she could talk to me.”
And there it was: acute myeloid leukemia.
“I was born in this hospital, I work at this hospital, and I spent my 40th birthday in this hospital,” Andy says of that time almost four years ago now.
“Shocked?” Andy says to a question not-yet asked. “Who wouldn’t be? I was stunned stupid at first. You don’t know what to think. She told me my white blood-cell count was astronomical, which is indicative of cancer. I didn’t know what kind of cancer, but she got me into North Star within a day or two. It was boom!
“Dr. Tony Ha did a bone marrow biopsy. Within the week I had another appointment, and he broke it to me. He admitted me to the hospital to start chemo that day. I was in and out of Virginia Mason Memorial for about two months. The staff at our hospital was just great. They saw to your every need. They all went above and beyond. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything.”
Andy then went to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington to prepare for a stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplants are used to replace bone marrow that has been destroyed by cancer or the chemo and/or radiation used to treat the cancer. Transplant lets doctors use much higher doses of chemo to try to kill cancer cells.
Andy’s best shot for a stem cell match were her siblings. Four kids were born to the Snyder family of Toppenish. Andy’s younger brother, Chris, however, died of T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare form of the malignancy, in December 2005. That left one brother and a sister as her best possibilities.
“They tested my sister and my brother, and my sister was my perfect match,” Andy says.
Not only did Brooke, who also works at Virginia Mason Memorial (in patient access) give her older sister her stem cells, she went to Seattle and cared for Andy during chemotherapy, the transplant and until Andy’s immune system recovered.
“They took the stem cells from her, and within a couple days they came into the room and they showed me the bag. It looked like a bag of blood, and they hooked me up. It was not invasive at all. That was on March 20, 2015. They say that’s your birthday when you get your stem cell transplant, and my nurse came in and sang happy birthday to me.”
And then you wait. “They want to be sure it takes,” says Andy. “Because your immune system is so low they don’t want you to be out, so you just have to wait. I stayed in the hospital about a month,” Andy says.
And now? Cured. Every four months she heads to North Star for a checkup with Dr. Siva Mannem. “I feel good,” Andy says.
And her relationship with Brooke, now her blood sister in more ways than one? “She told me, ‘For the rest of my life whenever I put my hand out, you have to put a Pepsi in it.’ That’s the price for saving my life,” says Andy, smiling.
Brooke adds, “People say Andy’s ornerier now that she’s got my stem cells; I’m the ornery one! We’ve always been close. I do think we’re nicer to each other, but we still have fights -- we are siblings.”
“I’m grateful, you bet,” says Andy. “For all the people who looked after me. It wasn’t a one-man show. I think, overall, there were a few hundred people involved. From the nurses and aides and the doctors who were upfront in my face, to the techs who took my blood, the receptionists who greeted me at appointments. So many people.
“I can appreciate all the little things better now. In this age, everybody is touched by cancer somehow.”
Angel Perez and Macayla Smith
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Angel Perez and Macayla Smith work out at the gym. They try to eat a low-carb diet. They have two cars, a nice apartment and enjoy spending their weekends with the kids.
Just another typical Yakima Valley family, right? Not even close.
“It’s so awesome getting up and not chasing the dragon,” says Angel.
The dragon was heroin.
“We were very active in the drug scene,” Angel says. “I was in gangs. I’ve been in prison twice. Macayla and I were on the streets; We were homeless. We used everything from heroin to methamphetamines to alcohol, but heroin was our drug of choice.”
That was almost three years ago, when the couple began their long journey to get off the streets and out of addiction.
“We’d hit rock bottom; I was done,” Angel says. “Ever since they took my little boy it kinda woke me up and opened my eyes. I told Macayla, ‘No, the streets ain’t nothing for us. Our son is our little angel, and we’re going to get him back.”
Angel and Macayla got themselves into out-patient treatment; they go to classes, see counselors. As Angel says, “Whatever it takes, we did it and we did it as a couple. We set some goals and . . .”
“We met them one by one,” says Macayla, finishing Angel’s sentence, holding his hand.
One of those goals included dealing with Hepatitis C. Angel long knew he had Hep C, but “I was kinda scared, and when you’re using you don’t care.”
His doctor referred him to Virginia Mason Memorial’s Liver Clinic, and now the couple can add being Hep C free to their list of accomplishments.
“In the beginning it was hard,” says Macayla of their transformation from homelessness and addiction to being the parents of three with playdates and jobs.
How did they do it? “Well, we fell in love, that’s for sure!” she says, laughing. “We’ve had each other’s backs ever since.”
“We go to Planet Fitness,” says Angel. “I go five days a week. It gets your body back. I feel so good to be getting my health back, you know what I mean? Now, instead of smoking, I get ready for the gym.
“We did an awesome thing. We showed them. We tell other people, you got this, you can do this, too. We got rid of our old friends, but whenever they see us they say ‘Good job!’ ”
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Connie Polina’s heart was dying. But she didn’t know that.
The first time the pain came, you could understand. Connie was at her brother’s funeral. He had been shot dead, on March 7, 1993. It was a painful, stressful time.
“I got a really sharp pain in my chest,” she says. “But because I was the oldest, I had to be strong. The pain went away, and I didn’t pay any more attention to it.”
Life went on. Spring became summer, and summer became fall. Then it was Christmas. “I got another one on Dec. 24. I was at my mother-in-law’s making tamales, but I ignored it again.”
The next day, Christmas, she had another sharp pain. This one she could not ignore. “I didn’t know what was happening. We went to the hospital in Toppenish, but they didn’t know either. I don’t smoke or drink. I exercise; I took my boys walking every day.”
Women having a heart attack often do not present the same symptoms as men. But Connie was eventually diagnosed and on her way to Yakima for open-heart surgery -- on Dec. 27, 1993, with Dr. Duane Monick of the Yakima Heart Center. Shortly thereafter doctors determined she also needed a defibrillator to monitor and help regulate irregular life-threatening heart rhythms. For that surgery, in April 1994, she was off to Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
Her heart, however, was permanently damaged, so Dr. Monick, her cardiologist, sent her to see Dr. Daniel Fishbein at the University of Washington. Over the next six years he tried to help Connie using medication and another surgical procedure, but in January 2000 her name was added to the list of those waiting for a new heart – a transplant.
And here’s where her story gets really exciting:
“When they put you on the list they give you a pager so they can reach you when there’s a heart. Six months later I got the page. We had four hours to get to the UW, and we’re three hours away. I had been telling my husband all that time, ‘Make sure the car is gassed up. Make sure the car is running OK, but on the way over it overheated at the summit on I-90. We had to pull over.
“I called the UW and they said, ‘You have to call 911!’ I kept telling my husband, ‘This heart is mine! This heart is mine, we have to get there!’ The ambulance came and at some point they put me in a helicopter.
“When I got to the UW everybody already knew my story. They called me the Queen of Hearts! I even got there before my heart, which was from a woman in Yakima.”
On June 20, 2000, Connie Polina, who had just turned 40 years old, had her heart replaced thanks to a donation from a stranger.
“It was meant to be,” she says, her eyes full of tears.
Boy, was it. Connie, whose formal name is Consuelo, found out that her donor was also named Consuelo. Also, Connie has three children. So did her donor.
“What I prayed for was for God to just give me the strength to see my kids graduate. I’ve seen all three graduate, and my boys are now 38, 36 and 30. And I have three grandkids and one on the way.
“When I see my grandkids I think of Consuelo. I think of my donor. Her youngest was 11 months old when she died.”
Connie and Robert have been married almost 38 years now. Connie, who worked all her life except for the years when her heart didn’t allow it, is back at it, working part time as a secretary at Roy Farms.
“I feel really good now,” she says, her eyes bright. “Dr. Monick retired and now his son, Dr. Erik Monick is my cardiologist. I see him once a year at the Yakima Heart Center, and twice a year I go to the UW. That’s it.
“When I was having those chest pains it just felt like anxiety. Now I’m always telling my sisters and my daughters-in-law to get checkups.
“I’ve got stubborn sisters, but I keep telling them.”
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At first Dr. Ross Bethel, family physician, was losing weight because of a deal he made with a patient.
“My patient was diabetic and she told me, ‘I just can’t lay off sweets.’ So I told her that I would if she would for three months. I lost weight, and I kept losing it. I thought, this must be the secret!
“But then I lost too much weight, and I had pain radiating from my liver to my shoulder. I felt around and there was a huge lump – a big one, like a baseball.”
That’s the moment, on July 24, 2017, that Dr. Ross Bethel -- father, husband and family physician at Selah Family Medicine -- went from doctor to patient. “Two days later I had a colonoscopy and that confirmed it. It was colon cancer that had spread to my liver. And that made it Stage 4. That meant I had about three years.”
A few days later, Dr. Bethel began recording his cancer journey in a blog at caringbridge.org: “Heidi was with me when I found out. We told Zach and Kate that night. Matthew was at camp and just got home now, so had to break the news to him also. Those have been the hardest moments. Other things hit us along the way . . . future hopes that probably won't become reality. Then tears come. But the love and support of my family and friends is a marvelous blessing.”
Dr. Bethel left work to focus on his family and his treatment. “I figured, this is my retirement,” he says. “As much as I love my job, I didn’t want to lose that time with my family. I took the kids to school, went to all the games. We were just around.”
Everyone who sees me for the first time since this has happened tells me how good I look (because of the weight loss). No one used to tell me that, so cancer has made me better looking!
He started chemotherapy quickly, and then in October 2017 his colon became obstructed. Dr. Bethel had an emergency ileostomy at Virginia Mason Medical Center. (A procedure in which the lowest part of the small intestine is brought through an opening in the stomach. Digestive contents leave the body through the opening, and the drainage is collected in a pouch attached to the skin.)
Dr. Vicky Jones at North Star Lodge thought a second opinion would be a smart idea. She sent Dr. Bethel to Dr. Alan Venook at the University of California San Francisco. He thought that most of the tumors could be cut from the liver (which has the ability to regenerate). This increased Dr. Bethel’s chances of surviving to 40 percent at five years.
You may not be of the right generation to know the REM song “Losing my Religion.” Well, I’m not doing that, but on December 11 I will be losing part of my liver.
By the end of January 2018 Dr. Bethel felt well enough to return to work part time, doing administrative duties and working on leadership projects.
“On one hand you’re preparing wills, making sure life insurance is up to date. On the other hand you’re praying you won’t die, praying for a miracle,” he says. “Faith is the hope for things we don’t yet see. I have a new understanding of faith now. But my faith is not blind. I could still have a recurrence. I know that.”
In March, Dr. Bethel completed chemotherapy treatments: Great news! Tomorrow is my last round of chemo. All has been going well and I feel great. Going back to work has been fun but tiring. Heidi had surgery on her ankle this week and is non-weight bearing for a month, so I have had the privilege of caring for her instead of the other way around.
In April the left side of Dr. Bethel’s colon was removed and the ileostomy was reversed. He started seeing patients again in June.
“I love my patients and they love me. They were all crying when I left the practice, so now that I’m back at work all my patients are crying again.” He smiles.
“I’m amazed at the response, at people’s support. When I went to chemo education class they told me I had to flush the toilet twice. We have an old house with an old toilet, and we often have to do that anyway. So I called the plumber for a new toilet. He told the guy down at the store, ‘Did you hear about what happened to Dr. Bethel?’ Well, I had treated that guy’s mom and he looked at the plumber and said, ‘For Dr. Bethel? Pick one!’ Now, I can certainly afford a toilet, but for him to do that . . . so many kindnesses.”
In two to three months there will be another CT scan. “There’s still this ongoing waiting game, which is what most cancer patients deal with – will it come back?”
And life from here?
“My poor kids have to have their first colonoscopy at age 36. I told them,” Dr. Bethel says. “Also, I’m a pescatarian now, I eat fish.
“I want to raise my kids. I want to know my grandkids, and I want to grow old with Heidi. So that’s what I started praying for.”
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Linda Amendola, 61, is a runner. She eats healthy food and has never smoked. And, for work, she is a mammogram technician.
None of that mattered, though, when Linda Amendola got breast cancer.
“I do regular self-exams and I noticed a little dimpling,” she begins. “I never thought it would happen to me.”
And then, “I shouldn’t have skipped my mammogram.”
Yep. Cancer happens even to the professionals. When Linda skipped her mammogram, the Amendolas were in the process of moving to Yakima from Oregon. Her husband, Mark, was already here settling into his job. She was working full time and selling the house there.
“I think everybody thinks it won’t happen to them,” she says. “But I had a sister-in-law who died of breast cancer at 38 and another one who is a 10-year survivor.”
Linda’s breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, wasn’t discovered until she joined Mark here and began her new job at `Ohana, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Mammography Center. “I saw how large it was when I saw the mammogram images. I was very fortunate not to have involvement of my lymph nodes.”
Soon after discovering the cancer, April 2017, Linda began chemotherapy with Dr. Vicky Jones at North Star Lodge, had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and then started radiation with Dr. Steven Register. “North Star was wonderful. The nurses are so compassionate, even the front desk people. And I can’t forget how great the volunteers were. They brought me pillows and warm blankets, snacks, ice water and juice, almost even before I knew wanted it.
“If I didn’t have North Star I would have been driving to Seattle every three weeks for a year.“
“Linda’s tough,” says Mark. “But North Star Lodge is the real hero.”
Mark and their two daughters were there for Linda every step of the way. “They were very, very supportive. And Mark was awesome: he cooked, he cleaned, he went to every chemo and doctor’s appointment with me.
“I also had great co-workers who called to see if they could go to the grocery store or do any cooking for me.”
Today, though, Linda has completed her year of “exhaustion and everything tasting bad (even ice cream!).”
“I just had my (chemotherapy) port removed on Tuesday. I’m all finished!”
Now it’s back to life at full throttle. In fact, even before she had finished chemotherapy, Linda joined her family at the Wenatchee Marathon on April 20, 2018, running the half. “It wasn’t pretty,” she says. “It was my slowest half ever, 2:17.”
Perhaps. But her previous marathon times make Linda automatically eligible for the New York Marathon this November.
“I don’t know why I developed breast cancer, but because I did God has brought the most wonderful people into my life.
“Life is good,” she says over a cup of coffee, the sun making her smile even brighter. “I have a lot to look forward to. We like to travel. We have a trip planned to Tahiti. So that’s the goal.”
Has her own experience affected her work at `Ohana? You bet.
“I’m extra supportive now, especially about the fear factor. Now I know. ”
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A sense of humor. If you’ve just gotten married and then had a baby within months and then quit your job to start your own company, you will need to have a sense of humor about it all.
“It’s really important,” says Via Paxton, new wife and first-time mom to son Bodhi. “Throughout all of it -- with Bodhi and with Ty, with everything.”
“Oh yeah,” says Ty, a little bleary-eyed from early morning daddy watch. This after another late night at work, readying Single Hill Brewing in downtown Yakima for a summer opening.
Bodhi Topper Paxton is not even 3 months old on this sunny spring morning. But he has already schooled his parents.
“Ohhhhhh, it was . . . it was . . . I guess I was speechless,” says Ty thinking back to the moment he first saw his son. “It was absolutely incredible, this guy I’d been getting to know on the other side of the wall, and then there he was. I had a surge of deep love I’ve never had before. And, it has deepened my love for Via going through that.”
Via’s journey, from the first contraction to birth, was 40 hours. “It was a really great experience all along the way,” she says of her stay at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Mother/Baby unit and delivery with Dr. Anna Dufault of Generation OB/GYN. “We really liked our nurses, and they really liked us.” Her recommendation for other women about to give birth for the first time is “to really stay totally open-minded. You’re not in control anymore. You have to see how it goes; that allowed me the freedom to make choices.”
Ty learned this: “From a new-dad perspective, during active labor you need to be the gate-keeper in that room. Whatever Mom needs Mom gets. Also, never move more than an arm’s length away from Mom.”
The couple attended Virginia Mason Memorial’s Childbirth Education Classes and Ty is a Daddy Boot Camp graduate, so they had it down come delivery time. “I made it a priority to change the first diaper and to change all the diapers in the hospital,” says Ty. “That was one of the only things I could do to help.”
And the lessons keep coming. “Even at the hospital I was adamant about the three of us being in the room alone, having our time for our new family.”
The hardest part of being a new first-time parent? “For me right now it’s the lack of sleep,” says Ty.
And the best part? “It’s seeing him smile. He just started really tracking,” Ty says. “He recognizes us now, he’s becoming more playful. Seeing this human we brought into the world understanding communication. I talked to him in the womb and I made sort of a didgeridoo sound, and now he knows that sound. It’s amazing.”
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David Jones is an area manager for Goodwill, and sometimes his job requires that he drive to Tacoma for meetings. One Sunday, about four years ago, he did just that, heading out from his home in Yakima early, so he could be ready to go early Monday morning.
On the drive west, however, David didn’t feel well. “I thought it was indigestion, heartburn. And I was a little nauseous,” he says.
But David, 59, had a job to do. He attended the meeting and drove himself back to Yakima afterward. By this time, though, David was quite ill. “When I got home I was vomiting. I was white as a sheet, and I was in a cold sweat.”
David knew something was horribly wrong. His daughter called 911, but she couldn’t get through. All the circuits from her cell network provider were busy. David and his daughter began to panic. “We could have used my phone, but we weren’t thinking,” he says. “I drove myself in. I wouldn’t even let my daughter do it. But, I have to say, if you want service in the Emergency Department, go in there clutching your chest,” he says, finding a sliver of humor in the most frightening day of his life.
The result? Three days in the hospital. Two stents (installed by Dr. Thomas McLaughlin of the Yakima Heart Center). 99 percent blockage in the main artery. David had a heart attack.
“It really changes your life,” he says quietly over a cup of coffee. “Before this I used to think, how do I get more money in my 401K? How do I get a bigger boat? And afterward I thought, when was the last time I told my wife I love her?
“It changed my whole perspective.”
David’s two daughters and a Virginia Mason Memorial nurse, who was now off-duty, stayed with David until his wife, Lori, could get to the hospital.
“The key takeaway for me was life-changing,” he says.
David, a longtime heavy smoker, immediately quit cigarettes. It was also discovered that he was prediabetic. But, he said to himself, “that’s one pill I’m not going to take.” David and Lori, in support, started attending Virginia Mason Memorial’s year-long Diabetes Prevention Program. They learned how to calculate the fat grams, and to incorporate more fruit, vegetables and yogurt into their diet.
They got hooked on the program, and then became competitive in their quest for good health.
“We didn’t start exercising right away, but then we started going to the YMCA three or four times a week, working out on the treadmill, track and with weights. I lost 35 pounds, and my wife lost over 40!
“We swear by the Diabetes Prevention Program.
“What happened to me was a gift, because I had the classic widow-maker. If you’re anybody -- man, woman -- and you have symptoms, go to the Emergency Department.
“I had no pain in my arm, but it felt like a cramp in my chest. The doctor asked me when the pain started, and I told him, “About two weeks into Mariners season.” Then I was out, in full cardiac arrest. We joked that those would have been my final words.
“But that was four years ago.”
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Nash Mazza was used to working long days jam-packed with a hefty load of stress. But this one day, Feb. 26, 2016, (he’ll never forget it) Nash felt a sharp pain in his left arm. Tightness and pain in his chest. Nash, 41 years old, was having a heart attack.
“At my age, you don’t think about that,” he said.
Fortunately, as the director of environmental services for Virginia Mason Memorial hospital, he didn’t have far to go for help. Staff called a Code Blue and, using his office chair as an ambulance, wheeled him directly from his office into the Emergency Department.
Nash made it. However, doctors discovered he was suffering from severe blockage in his coronary arteries. On March 3 he had open-heart surgery, a quintuple bypass.
Nash got the message. “If I had this at home, I probably would have died,” he says.
Then he made a plan. Almost 12 months later he’d lost 70 pounds and became that guy who begins his days with an hour of cardio, heads to the gym after work and plans healthy menus for every meal.
Nash’s cardiologist, Dr. Dave Krueger of the Yakima Heart Center, is passionate about drilling home his message of a healthy lifestyle as the best way to ward off heart health issues. “I like preventing sudden death,” he says.
Major cardiovascular diseases – heart disease and stroke – are the leading cause of death in Yakima County and throughout the United States. High cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure are the three leading factors.
“We exercise less than we think. We eat more than we think,” says Krueger. “But you really do need to change your life. That means 45 minutes of exercise every day, eating a healthy diet – and absolutely no smoking. I don’t care if you’re 18 or 80! If you exercise every day you’ll feel better, live longer and happier, and, you’ll be more aware of how you feel.”
Of the 1,000 people who die suddenly in America of cardiovascular disease each day, half had warning signs. Nash had a big one in autumn 2015. He went to get a new prescription for his glasses and the exam showed eye trauma. “Hardening of the arteries,” says Krueger. “The back of your eye has small arteries; you can actually see the hardening.”
Mazza knew he should go see his doctor. But he was busy. He had a staff of 90 and hardly enough time to eat. When he did, it was fast food and Coke Cola. He also knew about his family history: A grandmother and two uncles died of heart attacks. His birth mother has diabetes.
Nash stands 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 280 pounds. He knew he was overweight, but he still didn’t think he could have a heart attack. But the signs were there. The day before, Nash woke up with a heartburn kind of feeling. The day it happened, he felt “weird.”
But that’s all behind him now, and Nash’s cardiologist, Dr. Krueger, would like everyone to know that even with inherited traits for heart disease, “You can change your life. A healthy lifestyle is the best medicine.”
Heart attack symptoms in men:
- Chest pain
- Arm pain
- Upper body pain
- Trouble breathing
- Stomach pain
Heart attack symptoms in women:
- Chest pain
- Upper body pain
- Cold sweats
- Trouble breathing
- Unusual fatigue
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Yakima resident Maury Riker has been a lot of things during his years spent in the working world: paramedic, facilities manager, recycling specialist, company owner, billing expert. But in retirement, he’s got an entirely new gig: healthy lifestyle crusader for Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetic Prevention Program.
“My wife’s doctor suggested the program to her. We decided, why not? Let’s go to the orientation.
“I was skeptical, but we went anyway. There was a class starting the very next night.”
That was about three years -- and more than 200 pounds -- ago. That’s when the Riker family—Maury, Patsy and son Michael -- joined Virginia Mason Memorial’s year-long Diabetes Prevention Program and began attending classes, tracking the food they ate, weighing in and adding exercise to their lives. Maury also discovered that he was prediabetic.
And this is Maury Riker now -- down from 307 pounds to 218: “All I’ve ever done to lose weight is walk. Now I’m up to 1.5 to 2 hours every day walking at the YMCA, seven days a week except on Sundays in the summer when they’re closed. When I started, I was really lucky if I could walk around the block, but three months into the class I was no longer prediabetic.
“I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve gotten into the program from the Y. A lot of guys have gone through it. One of them was a guy sitting on a couch in the locker room. He was saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t know what I’m gonna do.’ I took his hand and he said, ‘My name is Dave, and I’ve already a heart attack and the doctor says I have to change my life dramatically.’ I told him this program would do that. That’s a big step for me, putting myself out there. But he walked up to me at the Y the first part of October, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Maury, you saved my life.’ “
Maury tells anyone who will listen about the Diabetes Prevention Program. In fact, Lori Gibbons, the program’s coordinator, made up cards to hand out especially for him.
“I go to every orientation,” says Maury. “They show a video of me, and then I walk into the room to show them that this is not some clown from New York City or Hollywood, it’s me right here in Yakima. I tell them that it’s actually fun to go through the program. It’s easy once you get the hang of it.”
Maury’s a big fan of the program, but he’s also human. He, and the program, allow for that.
“Life is not a level playing field, there are ups and downs,” he says. “For me, the tracking was a pain in the behind having to write it all down. But I track on an app now and it’s great; I know how many calories I’ve eaten and what I have left for dinner.”
Is there room for any guilty pleasures in the Rikers’ lives? “I have a couple,” says Maury. “Cheezit crackers and peanut butter, and we’ve discovered frozen yogurt instead of ice cream!”
Patsy says simply, “The program has changed our lives.”
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MaryKathleen Carpenter did not like going to the doctor. A lot. "All of my life I've hated going. My back and my knee go out occasionally, and I have a bad hip. But no matter what problem I had - my knee, whatever - the doctor would say it was because of my weight. They wouldn't even consider anything else."
MaryKathleen felt dismissed. And judged. But her health problems persisted, and her family convinced her to try again. "They said, if you don't go to the doctor you won't ever find out."
So, reluctantly, she went. And, boy, was it an eye-opener. "All of my doctors said I was overweight, but when I requested my medical records it said, 'obese.'"
And that was it for MaryKathleen, 5-feet-11-inches tall and 278 pounds. One of her doctors had recommended Virginia Mason Memorial's Diabetes Prevention Program, and she went.
"Everybody always said, 'You're big.' That's just how it was," she says. "I was 5-11 in fourth grade.
"I've tried diets all my life. When I started the program I thought, 'I don't know if I can do this the rest of my life. Now I can't see me not doing it. I promised myself when I started that I wasn't going to make any changes to my eating habits that I did not want to."
There's a bag of broccoli on her desk and a phone in her hand; it's open to the MyFitnessPal app. "Now I focus on looking at the nutrients I need: potassium, proteins, fiber, calcium and iron. That broccoli, it's full of potassium and fiber.
"In the program, you need to increase activity by 50 minutes a week, and you've got to track fat and calories. I absolutely adore tracking: I did it for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day. I gives me the control I need."
Also on New Year's Eve, MaryKathleen, age 46, and her husband went out to welcome in 2018. MaryKathleen, 90 pounds lighter, wore her freshman high school homecoming dress, a form-fitting creamy white number with sequins.
MaryKathleen, however, does not adore physical fitness. That part she's doing her way. "I don't care how much you yell at me, I don't care how much you tell me, I'm not joining a gym. What I do is walk during my breaks and at lunch. And I park in the farthest spot away in parking lots."
As MaryKathleen closes out her year-long journey through Virginia Mason Memorial's Diabetes Prevention Program she feels empowered and in charge. "The program gave me direction. It's given me a method. And I'm not the only one. It gives you other people to share with.
"There aren't a lot of things I take time away from my family to do for myself. This taught me that if I want to do something, I can do it. I now have the knowledge and power to make a knowing decision."
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Melva and Johnnie got married May 21, 2017
Melva Torres gently unfolds a long sheet of crinkled tissue paper. It looks like the kind they use to wrap the exam table at the doctor’s office, except this one is covered in the hieroglyphics of cancer. And that’s exactly what it is.
“Dr. Jones wrote it all down for me,” Melva says. “Then she drew pictures of my tumors so I could have an idea about the sizes. I am blessed that she is my doctor.” Melva carefully refolds and stores this very personal map of her breast cancer and its treatment by oncologist Vicky Jones and the staff at North Star Lodge Cancer Care.
“I was too young to be getting an annual mammogram, but I do my own self-exams and I felt a lump,” says Melva, age 40. “Johnnie said, ‘You go in.’”
Johnnie is Melva’s husband. And at that moment, on July 19, 2016, they had been married not quite even two months. They also had two kids at home and two grandchildren. Melva was also working fulltime as the sales manager at a Yakima furniture store and, after her shift, she worked out, usually five times a week. “When they said I had breast cancer I just cried. I thought I was going to die. When we left the office I told my husband I wanted to divorce him; I was going to die and he should move on.
“He said, ‘I took my vows with you, and I’m going to be here until the end.’ After that I thought, God, take me where you need me to go.”
From diagnosis at 'Ohana Mammography Center to treatment at North Star, Melva Torres knows one thing for sure: Cancer does not consult the calendar.
Shortly after diagnosis the couple discovered that Melva was pregnant. “We talked to Dr. Jones right away. We were scared, but she said, ‘We’re going to take care of this. We’ll get this done.’ ” Unfortunately, however, Melva miscarried.
Melva’s cancer was aggressive; she had a lumpectomy and is now on a post-treatment course of Herceptin. She started chemo on Oct. 21, 2016, and her long, curled hair began coming out in clumps almost immediately. “My dad said to me, ‘I want you to cut your hair so you can get it made into a wig.’ I told him, ‘No, it’s too expensive.’ But he didn’t want to hear it. He said, ‘Your hair means so much to you. It is you.”
Support for Melva came in many forms. “I felt very cared for through the whole process, and it’s not just North Star; that kind of care started at 'Ohana. I really trusted my doctors and the staff. I was in such skilled hands.
“When I walked into North Star, I felt very fortunate to get to stay home for my treatment.” See a video of survivor Melva Torres and her cancer-care team at:
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Kate Gottlieb is someone who craves organization. She’s a busy community health professional, civic organizer, wife and fitness junkie.
Then she got pregnant.
“I had this whole birth plan,” she says. “I thought it was going to go so perfectly. It was going to be (husband) Jordan and the baby and I alone for the first hour, skin-to-skin bonding. None of that happened. I did none of that.”
But here’s what did happen.
“I had a terrible pregnancy,” Kate says. “Five months of morning sickness and then my dad passed after having cancer for 18 years when I was seven months, so I was really miserable.
“I did not enjoy being pregnant. My parents lived five hours from here. During November and December I traveled home every other weekend. I was home 12 days when he was on hospice.
“In February I slipped on the ice, and I got rear-ended in March and totaled my car. I know it sounds really exaggerated, but it’s not.”
But that was just the nine months before the big event. There’s more:
“I went past my due date, April 18, 2017. I was miserable. My father-in-law is a pediatrician and he told me that the baby was really large. He said, ‘Oh, no, he’s too big. This baby’s too big.’
“I was always out walking, mostly on the Cowiche Canyon Trail uplands route. My sister said I was trying to hike that baby out.”
But on April 22 Kate was induced. “About 2 in the morning the contractions were firing up, and I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to have a totally natural child birth, but now I’m yelling, ‘When can I get that epidural?’ I was throwing up I was in so much pain. I even had a contraction while they were putting in the epidural. But the guy who put in my epidural was aaa-mazing.
“So then I could finally sleep. They kept checking me, but I was slow to dilate. At 10 in the morning I pushed for an hour and took a break. We started again at 4 p.m. and pushed for another two hours. At 7:30 p.m. I pushed for two more hours.
“Then my doctor, Leslie McLemore, said they could see his hair and that I may need a C-section. I said, ‘No, I’m going to try harder, believe in me!’ And she did. She literally massaged him out. But he was not breathing, so he came out blue. They had already called the NICU team, which was just outside the door.
“They quick cut the umbilical cord and rushed him to the NICU team. They gave him his first breaths with the respirator. Then they wrapped him up put him on me so briefly. But I couldn’t see him because my eyes were bulged from pushing. I had broken blood vessels all over my face.
“The baby had to go to the NICU for a couple of hours so my husband FaceTimed me -- and that’s where I saw our baby for a long time the first time.”
“Everyone was so great. The labor and delivery nurse stayed an hour past her shift to help me deliver. She kept saying, ‘Come on, Mama, you got this, Mama.’ I didn’t want to fail her. The nurses are so dedicated to help you deliver that baby in the safest way possible.”
World, meet Quin Thomas Sansom Gottlieb: 8 pounds, 11 ounces; 22 inches long; born 9:30 p.m. April 23, 2017. Quin, named after Lake Quinault, where his mother grew up, is an especially delightful boy. He runs when he could walk, enjoys eating dirt (if he can get away with it) and has big blue eyes that don’t miss a thing.
“He is amazing,” says Kate of her son. “But it was a rough start. He had colic the first four months. I had to bounce around with him, get on the yoga ball. He would only stop crying with me. Everybody thought I was just being protective, but, no, he would only stop crying with me.”
Kate was well-schooled in motherhood. “I took all the Childbirth Education classes at Memorial. They were really helpful for me as a first-time mom. The most helpful class for me was probably the pre-natal yoga. I absolutely loved it. It prepared me for experiencing contractions.
“When I was having trouble breast feeding I went to Maternal Health for the Wednesday drop-in and I also would call in. They were super helpful, such a great resource.”
That all happened over a year ago. Today Quin is a big healthy boy with an even bigger curiosity and a grin that’ll melt your heart.
“I swear to God he went heaven, he saw my dad and my dad sent him back down,” Kate says.
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The living room at Dale Meck’s house is fully furnished: changing table, extra diapers, toys flung here and there. Turn the corner and you’re in the kitchen: more toys, sippy cups, clothes heaped on the dining table, a teething ring tossed onto the kitchen island, where, by the way, there is also a baby who is clamped to its surface in her booster seat. She has wet cookie stuck to her cheek. This is Evelyn. She is 9 months old.
“We’re fully loaded now,” says Dale of his houseful: wife Kate, daughter Evelyn and their son Arthur, 3 ½. “In one year I went from being pretty care free to having a wife, a house and kids, and I changed jobs. It happened all at once.”
Like it does.
Dale went from daddy rookie at age 32 to pro status in short order. And now he is the leader of Virginia Mason Memorial’s Daddy Boot Camp, part of VMM’s series of Childbirth Education classes. Dale has stayed home from work today because Evelyn wasn’t well enough to go to day care. But he’s got this. No problem.
“I went to the class the first time for the same reason almost all the guys go: their partner signs them up,” he says. But Dale learned the basics: how to change a diaper, hold a baby’s head, swaddle for sleep. More. And he felt ready.
“It’s a pretty powerful moment when the nurses all leave and it’s ‘WAHHHHH!’ and you realize that this new person is 100 percent dependent on you.
“Also, dads need to know that you’re taking two new people home from the hospital. You’re taking home a new baby and you’re taking home a new mom. New mom is protecting her baby, she’s cave mom. She’s now a fierce protector of her infant. You’ve got to be more patient.”
Armed with real-life experience, Dale, with Arthur in tow, returned to the class as a veteran dad on his way to become Daddy Boot Camp leader.
“The ideal class is ‘veteran’ dads, their 3 to 5 month old babies, and the ‘rookie’ dads to be. The key being the babies: We don’t have a class unless there are babies. The rookies get to watch a dad be a dad to a real baby. In two hours that baby has a diaper blowout, they’re fussy -- some of the veteran dads never sit down the whole time because they are shushing or soothing their little one.
“It’s a hands-on experience. The guys come out of class and they’ve held a baby, they’ve seen a diaper change. They’ve had the chance to ask ‘guy questions’ without mom or mother-in-law around. The veterans set the tempo and the tone. Some of the dads, their baby has a poop and they hand it over to one of the guys and say, ‘Hey, you want to change this?’ That’s how it works.
“Every time I come back from Daddy Boot Camp my wife says, ‘You really like that class!’ I do. It’s really interesting to watch a bunch of guys come in with their arms crossed, but by the end of class they got to see a dad with his new baby and he’s glowing and he can’t talk about anything but that baby.
“Some guys come in they’re worried about the diaper. But they come back and say, ‘Oh, that. No big deal. I can change a diaper in the back of my pickup with one hand.’
“Once you have a group of really good veterans, it’s a thing that feeds off itself. It’s organic. It’s a cool deal.
“I like the Wednesday night bowling analogy: you go to the lanes and you just found out that your truck needs new brakes, but you don’t know how to do that. There’s this other guy on your team, though, and he has a truck, and he just replaced his brakes, so you find out from him.”
“It’s like that with the class, expectant dads can learn tips and tricks from the dads who were in their shoes as rookies only months before. Guys don’t need to be told how to be a dad – that comes naturally, and we all have our own style. But it sure was helpful knowing what worked, what to try, and what to watch out for.”
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Lisa Jaeger was 26 years old when she found out she was infected with Hepatitis C. She got it from her husband in the late 1980s.
Because there was no cure at the time, Lisa Jaeger lived with the deadly virus for the next 30 years. “I believe it was through drug activity. Billy had gotten in with some people he shouldn’t have,” she says.
Lisa, now 57, knew Billy had Hep C, “but, you know, that was back in the old-school days. Back then you didn’t worry about it. You didn’t know it was going come back and attack you later.”
Hep C is called “the silent killer” because people infected back then might only be showing symptoms now -- most often cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis C was not even discovered until 1989. And that makes people born between 1945 and 1965, the baby boom generation, most susceptible to the disease. Before Hep C, sterilization standards were not what they are today, and donated blood wasn’t screened for the virus until 1992.
Although they had been long divorced, Lisa and Billy remained close -- right up until he died of liver cancer about five years ago. “I sat with him and I watched him knowing he had cancer and he was dying,” says Lisa. “I sat with Billy until the day he died.
“Of course, I thought that was my path, too. Of course, I thought my liver would explode. I knew people who had Hepatitis C and they died. Nine years ago a friend of mine died. She said, ‘I so want to live, but my body’s shutting down on me.’
“I’ve seen a lot of people pass and I thought, wow, when is my time coming?”
But that was then. Lisa Jaeger today is cured -- thanks to the Liver Clinic at Virginia Mason Memorial, Tanda Ferguson, the nurse practitioner who runs the clinic, and to the drug Harvoni. No longer does the Hep C virus course through her bloodstream.
“Now my whole body is coming together,” says Lisa, a smile of relief spreading across her face. She starts to cry, then stops. “I am blessed. When I went to see Tanda I had tried so many things that didn’t work, I didn’t think she could help me. But Tanda said, ‘No, we got it. I’m not giving up on you.
“When you have Hepatitis C you can’t give blood; you have pains in your stomach; it leads to cancer. Still, to this day I go in every six months to see Tanda because of all the medications I’ve taken over the years. We’re always watching for cancers. She’ll have me for the rest of my life.
“Being cured gives me strength to do things I couldn’t before. Now I can go out and help people, which makes me feel real good. There’s a battle with everything all your life. We all have to worry about what we end up with at the end.”
But for Lisa Jaeger, mother of two and grandmother of five, (not until July 2018) it will not be Hepatitis C.
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Monday, July 11, 2016, is a day Arleen Harman will never forget.
At noon, Arleen, the owner of beauty salon in Yakima, was shopping at Fred Meyer when she collapsed. A blood clot was blocking an artery, and Arleen, age 55, had a stroke. At noon.
She was rushed to the Emergency Department at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital and then airlifted to Boeing Field in Seattle, on her way to treatment at Virginia Mason Hospital & Medical Center.
By 4:15 p.m. that afternoon doctors at Virginia Mason called Arleen’s husband, Kevin, to tell him that his wife was out of surgery and in recovery.
From stroke in Yakima -- to repair in Seattle at Virginia Mason in four hours.
“I didn’t really know I had a stroke, but I felt like I had a stroke,” said Arleen. “My right side was drooping. My thinking was spot on, but I couldn’t speak: I’m a talker – that was foreign to me.
I knew that it happened and that I was extremely terrified, but while I was there in the Emergency Department at Memorial I knew I was in the best place possible.”
Arleen’s sister accompanied her on the flight to Seattle. “When we were on I-5 in the ambulance all the traffic was stopped and I thought, “Why is traffic stopped? Oh! It’s for me!”
The Harmans are no strangers to Virginia Mason: “We were already well-acquainted with VM,” Arleen said. “Kevin had surgery there and numerous orthopedic consultations last year.”
“When I got to Virginia Mason, Dr. (David) Robinson came to see me with a whole panel of doctors, a pharmacist and a resident. I’m normally a very in-control person, but I just released and said, ‘Well, I guess I’m supposed to be here.’
The next day, Tuesday, Arleen was up -- walking and taking physical therapy. On Friday she returned home to Yakima. And on Saturday? Arleen was outside in her park-like backyard watering the garden and speaking clearly, for the most part.
To help determine the reason for her stroke, Arleen received an insertable cardiac monitor at Virginia Mason six weeks later. It was discovered that she had a rapid heartbeat. Arleen later began having instances of AFib, which were increasing in severity. On October 25, 2017, Arleen again made the drive from Yakima to Virginia Mason in Seattle for an ablation, a procedure to treat atrial fibrillation (AFib).
“You know what? I’m doing great,” she said. “We won’t know for 6 months if it was a complete success, but so far I haven’t had any incidence of AFib.”