Oncology navigator has ‘walked the walk’
By LISA LAW
AMERICUS — On Jan.. 31, 2008, when she received her screening and the results of having breast cancer, Suzanne Usry, 41, of Americus, was mostly known for her work at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center’s business office as a financial counselor. However, now in remission, and as a survivor, she proudly serves in a position she calls, “her calling” as Oncology Navigator at Phoebe’s Oncology/Hematology Department.
The first thought after Usry’s diagnosis was what her daughter, Amber, would do without her in her life.
“What would she do without me?” she said, reflecting on the loss of her own mother to ovarian cancer at an early age.
“I was only 10 years old when my mother died from cancer. My mother was only 30 years old when she was diagnosed and died at 31. I always thought my sister Tammy made it to 30 years old, without cancer and I was already past 30 years; I was clear,” she said as she explained she thought it may have been hereditary. However, Ursy said she has since had a Hereditary Cancer Panel, which is a cancer test which blends both genetic test status and personal cancer family history, to help identify elevated risk for eight important cancers by analyzing multiple, clinically significant genes which correlate to a person’s susceptibility/sensitively to developing various cancers .
“There was no genetic link to my cancer,” she said explaining the results of her test and how her breast cancer was detected.
“It was detected during a routine screening (mammogram),” Usry added as she described she had been experiencing pain on her right side, just under her rib cage, but had no idea it was cancer. Her screening found 13 auxiliary lymph nodes. From there a biopsy was carried out swiftly and two of the lymph nodes were found positive.
Usry said although she was in a state of shock, a feeling which is hard to explain for her, from the beginning of her diagnosis, her oncology physician, Dr. Chirag Jani, was extraordinary and all of her cancer treatments were carried out locally at Phoebe Sumter Oncology, from her gynecology, pathology, surgeries, and chemo, with the exception of radiation, which in most cases, is referred to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. She also said the service and the care of her Phoebe family were extraordinary.
“Since 2010, I have been in remission,” she said, adding that she has been on a preventative medication for six years with no reoccurrence of cancer.
Usry said she is a survivor and a fighter, never giving in to the silent killer. She said during her treatments she forced herself to get up and go. She said she refused to let the cancer beat her down.
“I made myself get up,” she said, describing days of watching her hair begin to disappear and eventually purchasing a wig. She also described days of barely making it to the restroom, and then lying down inside the bathroom on the tile with the placement of cool/damp towels against her face feeling very good to her as the treatments took their course.
Ursy said she has experience and gained knowledge through being a survivor and hopes to help and comfort others who are going through similar situations.
“Since I was sick it was like my calling,” she said, explaining her position at the oncology department and her passion for helping patients with their financial concerns and with concerns of their well-being,” she said as she reflected on the tremendous support she received during a very traumatizing part of her life.
“I had a lot of support from my family and from my ‘hospital family,’” Ursy said ,adding gratefully, “Many of my fellow employees donated over 100 hours of their vacation pay for me. Now, that is how you pay it forward!” she said as tears welled in her eyes.
Usry added, “Support is the key in getting well.” She said that sometimes just a smile and someone telling you, “You are here for a reason and God has plans for you,” is all it takes. She said ashe wakes up every morning thanking God for another day and another reason to smile.
Usry has 21 years in finance with the business office at Phoebe Sumter. She has been in her present position as Oncology Navigator for a year and her responsibilities consist of an array of tasks from assisting customers with various resources, financial concerns, drug replacement, financial aid, support services, education and care.
“I knew this was where my heart was and I found peace in my position,” she said, describing how she doesn’t mind going the extra mile for her customers because she has received the ability to relate to their situations.
“I find myself finding ways to help my customers find resources,” she said. “I know what it feels like to have those questions and concerns such as, ‘What do I do next?” and ‘How do I pay for it?’ There are ways and means of finding financial resources. They are out there; you just have to be willing to find them.”
“We have two employees in our clinic who have had breast cancer at an early age,” she said and this is a plus when addressing the worries which often accompany the prognosis of cancer and how just a smile and how important it is knowing you are being consoled by someone who has experienced treatments themselves.
She is also very involved in the American Cancer Society, an organization which is involved in the support of survivors at Phoebe Sumter and which served as a great support to her during her treatments and continues to support her on her journey as a survivor.