Quick diagnosis and comprehensive care earn North Star Lodge a fan for life
"I went into North Star Lodge on July 31, 2019, and Dr. Vicky Jones looked at me and said, 'You know you're here because you have breast cancer, right?'"
It might sound strange, but Cheryl McLean says hearing those words was a huge relief. The 61-year-old had been fighting a mysterious illness for nearly four months and was so sick her husband, Tim, had to use a wheelchair to take her to her appointment with Dr. Jones.
Earlier that year Cheryl noticed her left hand and arm were swollen after a day of gardening. She and Tim live in Mossyrock, WA, but were staying in Utah at the time to help take care of their grandkids. Cheryl thought she was having an allergic reaction. Then she found a big knot near her shoulder. She went to the emergency room, where doctors prescribed antibiotics.
Then her left breast started to swell, but it was so full of fluid she couldn't get a mammogram. A series of doctors each diagnosed something different. Blood clot. Collapsed vein. Frozen shoulder. With each treatment, the pain increased. Cheryl became bedridden.
Late in July, Tim told her, "That's it. We're putting you in the RV and taking you back to Washington." The couple had intended to first visit their son Josh and his wife Sandie in Moxee. But 12 hours later, Cheryl was in the Emergency Department at Yakima Valley Memorial hospital instead. "The doctor saw my breast and immediately knew something was wrong," she says. "He told my husband it could be cancer and ordered a biopsy.
"Here I'd been in Utah from April to July and they said it was everything but cancer. I was in Yakima for two hours and they diagnosed it!"
When she heard that, Sandie knew just what to do. She recommended North Star Lodge. It's where her own mother was treated for breast cancer, and Sandie credits North Star with saving her life.
NSL sees more than 5,000 patients a year. They treat all types of cancer and follow numerous clinical trials — to provide cutting-edge options. They offer complete oncology care, as well as physical therapy, counseling and education. A team of providers is assigned to each patient for treatment and support. It's no wonder people come from near and far to receive treatment there.
Cheryl is especially grateful for her doctor, Vicky Jones, and Beth Palmer, the Nurse Navigator who was by her side during chemotherapy and radiation. "I want to hug her every time I see her. I can't say enough about her. She's busy, but she takes time. She wants to know what's going on in my life, if I'm eating my spinach. I feel like they're family."
Cheryl is now finished with chemo and radiation. But because her cancer was HER-2 positive, she will need infusions of a drug called Herceptin every three weeks for the rest of her life. "When I walk into North Star now," she says, "people are shocked. I have makeup on, I'm not in a wheelchair, my hair's coming in. They remember me hunched over, watching the floor in case I fell down. They're just amazed!"
Even though she and Tim live two and a half hours away from Yakima, Cheryl is a devoted North Star fan. "That's how much I love that place. There are cancer centers an hour from my home, but I'm going to North Star." She has always gotten regular mammograms, and will continue to get them.
Cheryl walks two or three miles every day now. "Sometimes it just feels like a really bad dream," she says. "I was close to death, but I never believed it because of the people at North Star Lodge."