Polly was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer in 2007, 10 years after her original diagnosis.
Polly’s first diagnosis in 1997 came after a routine mammogram. “The radiologist detected something and I went to my gynecologist. She referred me to UNC, telling me it was the best place to go.” Polly underwent surgery and chemotherapy and after close follow-up was released in April of 2007 to routine surveillance.
“I thought I was fine. In August of 2007 I came down with pneumonia, and the scans showed tumors in my lungs. I believed it was the end at that point, but Dr. Carey prescribed Femara, and for the past five years, I take a pill once a day. I’m in a chronic situation with my disease and it’s very manageable. I feel blessed.”
Polly had a friend diagnosed with esophageal cancer and brought him to UNC. “He was a lifelong friend, and I was glad to help him. I told him, ‘You’ve got to come to UNC.’ I came with him to his appointments and treatments. Unfortunately his cancer was very aggressive, and he passed away last June."
“At that point, I had experience as a patient and as a caregiver. I’m retired and was anxious to contribute in some way. I felt like the hospital is doing such a wonderful job for me and did such a wonderful job for my friend. I was so grateful and I decided that I’d like to give back.” Polly was nominated to serve on the N.C. Cancer Hospital Patient and Family Advisory Board and joined the Board in the fall of 2011.
She is the incoming Advisory Board Vice Chair. “I want to learn as much as I can. I want to find a way that the Board can best represent the general population of patients and families. I think it would be easy to think that my experience is everybody else’s experience, and just lay it out as THE patient experience, but that’s probably not so. I want to find ways to really represent patients and families and understand what they’re going through.”
She adds, “I think it’s very difficult for people who have no experience with cancer, so frightening. UNC really makes an effort to alleviate some of that fear and to educate the patient. ”
Polly serves on several hospital committees and teams. “I am on the Ambulatory Patient Experience team, where we focus on projects to improve the overall patient experience in ambulatory clinics. I am very interested in hospice care since my friend was cared for by Hospice. It really made me realize how important it is, and I completed the “No One Dies Alone” inpatient Compassionate Companions at UNC. I will be participating on the newly formed Inpatient Hospice team that starts up in March. I also serve on the Partnering with Patients and Families team. We evaluate communication methods and conduct surveys to determine ways to improve the relationships patients and families have with doctors, nurses and staff in the cancer hospital.”
As an experienced patient, Polly has suggestions to those who are newly diagnosed. “Pray a lot and educate yourself as much as possible. You really have to become an advocate of your own care and ask a lot of questions of your doctors and nurses or your PA. You have to keep on living. A sense of humor helps. Don’t be afraid because for many people cancer now acts more like a chronic disease than an imminent end-of-life situation.”