Crown Point woman volunteers at hospital that saved her life - October 19, 2018

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

Written by Giles Bruce

MERRILLVILLE — Evelyn Cole liked the hospital that treated her for breast cancer so much that she never left.

Well, she does go home at night, but the 77-year-old is at Methodist Hospitals Southlake campus most days of the week, volunteering as a way to give back to a facility she feels saved her life and treated her husband with compassion in his dying days.

“I like the people, and I learn something new all the time,” the Crown Point retiree said, in between socializing with hospital staffers on a recent afternoon. “One thing I feel good about it is when someone says, ‘Thank you for helping.'”

Coles, a retired school employee with three kids and five grandchildren, was first impacted by Methodist a decade ago, when her husband spent three months there after being diagnosed with the brain cancer that ultimately killed him.

“I made so many friends there with the nurses,” she said. “Everybody was good to me as well as him. So when he passed away I decided that was the place to be.”

Not long after, she started volunteering at the hospital.

Six years later, she was a patient there.

Her yearly mammogram showed something was amiss. A biopsy found she had stage 0 breast cancer (essentially a precancerous growth). She had it taken out with outpatient surgery.

Her physician told her she was a candidate for a newer form of radiation. The SAVI device would get her treatment done in days rather than months. She went for it.

The device was implanted under her arm to deliver radiation directly to the spot on the breast where the growth had been removed. She said it only bothered her when she slept; she put a pillow under it to prevent her from laying on it. She went to Methodist to have radiation pumped into little tubes extending from her body, twice a day for five days.

And that was it. She’s been cancer-free since.

Her physician told her she was a candidate for a newer form of radiation. The SAVI device would get her treatment done in days rather than months. She went for it.

The device was implanted under her arm to deliver radiation directly to the spot on the breast where the growth had been removed. She said it only bothered her when she slept; she put a pillow under it to prevent her from laying on it. She went to Methodist to have radiation pumped into little tubes extending from her body, twice a day for five days.

And that was it. She’s been cancer-free since.

“I would recommend that if women can have this, to have this,” she said of the SAVI device, which has been around since 2006. “It was different, but it was worth it to me. People need to know it’s available.”

Patients are eligible for SAVI if they have early stage cancers that haven’t spread to the lymph nodes, said Dr. Bob Woodburn, a radiation oncologist at Methodist Hospitals.

“Over the years there has been a trend for targeted therapies in breast cancer to limit the amount of lung, heart and normal breast tissue that’s exposed to radiation,” he said.

Her story also illustrates the importance of early detection. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, affecting 1 in 8, but is survivable when caught early.

Cole has gotten her yearly mammogram, religiously, since the age of 40.

“Anybody that says they’re over a certain age and they don’t need them is crazy,” she said. “I don’t care how old you are. You need a mammogram every year.”

Woodburn recommends women also self-examine their breasts monthly.

Nowadays, Cole volunteers at the hospital four days a week, seven hours at a time. She splits her shifts between pre-admissions and breast cancer care.

At the breast center, she counsels other women on what it’s like to have the disease. She said the facility is, compared to other parts of the hospital, “quiet and peaceful.”

“She’s a very pleasant individual with a very positive attitude, and it’s a pleasure to have her in our department,” Woodburn said. “She’s very valuable in helping people with this process. A lot of patients are very willing to speak with others who are going through the same process.”