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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 . . .”
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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 2018.
“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 like 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 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.”
To prepare for the surgeries Rick did his part. “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.”
For both surgeries, 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 Linnewah 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.
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.”
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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.,” Sonny says. “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 Dr. Naseer Ahmad and the staff 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.”
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.”
Gloria and Charlie Gilbert, and baby Daisy
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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 actually 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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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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“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!”
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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."
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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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.”