Hollis Cancer Center Testimonials
A Mother’s Journey
Lucy Abell was 4 years old when DeAnne Abell was being treated for breast cancer. All Lucy can recall about the trips to accompany her mom for chemotherapy treatments are the care providers at Lakeland Regional Health Hollis Cancer Center offering her and her sister cookies and drinks.
As her mom, DeAnne Abell, now 39, talks from the couch in her south Lakeland home about conquering breast cancer seven years ago, Lucy, 10, and Makenzie, 9, curl up in her arms.
“At 3 and 4 years old, they don’t really understand. They just know that Mommy doesn’t feel good,” says DeAnne, recalling how very fatigued she was from the chemotherapy drugs. “When I first started the treatment, it was hard, really hard. I came home at night, I got sick, really sick. I thought, ‘What will they do without me?’”
That was a while ago – long past the weeks of chemo treatments and rounds of radiation and a right breast lumpectomy with 11 nodes removed.
“The Hollis Cancer Center team gave me Christmases with my kids, birthdays with my kids, time alone with my husband, vacations,” said DeAnne, who has three adult children (Vincent, 29; Kevin, 27; and Nicole, 26) as well as Lucy and Makenzie, three grandsons and a granddaughter on the way.
DeAnne was diagnosed with Stage 3 Aggressive Breast Cancer in 2008. “I remember that word ‘aggressive’ being used often,” she said, noting that a nagging bruise on her chest led to her diagnosis.
The petite strawberry blond-haired woman was singularly focused initially on whether she might lose her hair during chemotherapy.
“I wasn’t sure how to feel when I found out I had cancer. I remember thinking, ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’ I finally was talking to a nurse later that day, who spoke candidly and said, ‘Yes, you’re going to lose your hair.’ That’s when I broke down. I thought, ‘Okay, well, this is real.’”
The Hollis Cancer Center team members, DeAnne said, have always been straightforward with her. “They let me be me through the treatment. I have to be sarcastic. I have to make a joke out of something that’s heavy and they allowed that.”
Asking questions – sometimes over and over again – was okay, DeAnne learned. “The Hollis Cancer Center team gave us a moment to take it all in. And then they’d tell us again. They would tell us it’s okay to not understand everything at first.”
Her care providers also made sure that not only her daughters were entertained but also that her husband and mother were at ease. “My husband had to deal with this too, not just me. He got the opportunity to meet with the counselor. They made sure my mom was also comfortable with what was going on. They focus on the patient, but they make sure the family is comfortable.”
Even now, through her twice-a-year follow-ups, DeAnne said she is impressed at the personal nature of the care she receives at the Hollis Cancer Center. “Every time I go in there, someone calls me by my name. I just think that’s amazing.”
She has the utmost respect for her physicians and care team. “My breast cancer responded very, very well to the surgery and treatment – that was before chemo and radiation. I mean, they know what they are doing!”
By the movie décor and family portraits at their house and the friends and family members who pop in and out of their home, it is clear the Abells have a vibrant life filled with love and laughter, where cancer once touched their lives but no longer controls it.
On a Mission
Eula Dixon knew something was not quite right when her husband returned from his annual physician visit, refusing to face her.
“He wouldn’t turn around. He wouldn’t let me see his face. I kept asking how the appointment went,” said Eula, who has been married to her high school sweetheart, Johnny Dixon, for 40 years. “When he finally turned around, I knew. I saw the tears on his face.”
That was 18 years ago when Johnny was 42 years old. He heard the diagnosis that would change his life: He had prostate cancer. “It was very frightening,” said Johnny, who has three daughters, one son and seven grandchildren.
“I don’t know if it was my first or second reaction, but I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to be a widow. I’m too young,” said Eula.
The Dixons’ oldest daughter was touring with her college chorale when her father received the difficult news. Not wanting to interrupt the tour or his daughter’s frame of mind, Johnny decided to tell only the chorus director. When the tour ended, the choir director wasted no time by having the tour bus drop his daughter off at the Dixons’ front door.
“We are a very, very close family. In the midst of not knowing, I had to talk to God about something. I needed assurance. That allowed me to tell my family that I’m not going anywhere.”
Johnny’s Cancer Journey
New to Lakeland Regional Health Hollis Cancer Center, the Dixons at once felt welcome and nurtured. “There was no question too big, no time was too much. They gave me more security. My care team made me feel like I was the only patient.” The Hollis Cancer Center’s inviting lobby and decor, passionate care providers and knowledgeable medical staff made the whole journey less intimidating for the Dixons. “You actually feel free because it’s such an easy atmosphere,” Johnny explains. “It’s kind of like a five-star hotel. It feels very comfortable.”
Johnny worked with his urologic oncologist at the Hollis Cancer Center to come up with a treatment plan. With the support of his family and medical team, Johnny underwent a radical prostatectomy at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, where he spent several days in recovery. He went home with a colostomy bag while he recuperated over the next five or six weeks.
“My physician called me personally. He called me just to check on me. That was like, ‘Wow!’ That was like my oldest brother was sitting there, just holding my hand.”
Johnny said he felt little to no pain following his surgery and soon returned to his job as a truck driver for Publix Super Markets, Inc., from where he would eventually retire after 36 years as a loyal employee.
On a Mission
Once Johnny’s procedure and recovery were deemed successful, he pledged himself to become a huge advocate for prostate cancer awareness, particularly among Lakeland’s minority community.
“I celebrate being cancer-free by opening my mouth and talking about prostate cancer,” said Johnny, whose follow-up visits have gone from twice a year to annually. “After I was diagnosed and had my treatment, I wanted to give back.”
Johnny is active in speaking to local men’s groups, whose members go out into the community to educate and offer screenings.
“‘Why were minorities at such a higher risk for prostate cancer?’” Johnny wondered. “That was my impetus for going out into the community.”
The overwhelming silence among men about prostate cancer, says Johnny, both scares and angers him. “It wasn’t a shame, to me, to have prostate cancer. Life is better than death. Information can save lives.”
Prompted by statistics showing black men are 60% more likely than white men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease, Johnny gets prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests during regular physical exams with his primary-care physician. Spreading the word about PSA testing has become Johnny’s mission.
“If you don’t know your test results, that’s where the problem is. When you know, it brings about a calmness.”
A Shared Experience
Strong handsome horses, the deep lowing of cows and fresh morning dew on the 500 acres of pasture in the heart of Frostproof have a way of putting your mind at ease.
Since 2009, Greenwood Ranch has become a place for rejuvenation, respite and rejoicing for Terry and Kathy Greenwood.
“I just enjoy it,” said Terry. “We get up in the morning and say, ‘Let’s go see our cattle, our horses.’ You get to watch the changes in the animals. There’s always something happening somewhere on the grounds.”
Life wasn’t always like this for the Greenwoods.
Terry Greenwood grew up in the automobile business in Ohio. He and Kathy raised five children and dreamed of maybe retiring to Wyoming or someplace out West. Then in January 2005, Terry’s PSA numbers were normal but his physician felt something out of the ordinary during a physical exam. A biopsy determined he had prostate cancer. He was 50 years old. “We all became extremely scared, and we were trying to find a safe place to get to.”
He wasn’t finding a lot of confidence in the physicians from whom he sought advice. His father, Bud Greenwood, underwent successful prostate cancer surgery 10 years earlier in Lakeland, Florida, so he decided to see what his father’s physician at the Lakeland Regional Health Hollis Cancer Center had to say.
Terry and his middle daughter boarded a plane to Florida. “It was the best I felt talking to a doctor up to that point,” Terry said of his introduction to the Hollis Cancer Center. “My new doctor told me the same things every other doctor had told me, except I trusted him. It was a different feeling when I spoke to him because it was like speaking to my best buddy. My daughter got the same feeling.”
Despite his confidence in his physician, Terry was frightened of his diagnosis and tried to work through his feelings by riding and caring for his horses. “‘Am I going to die in a couple of years?’ I didn’t feel I was going to be as lucky as my Dad.”
Terry felt at peace at the Hollis Cancer Center and quickly became known as “The Cowboy.” “I just felt like everything was at ease. I thought, ‘Everyone is going to be crying, going to be in distress.’ But everyone was just hanging out.”
He also relished the personal care. “My physician was there for me every step of my journey. When I was recovering, he knew exactly what I did that day.”
Terry’s care team also made an impression on him. “I felt there was nobody else walking through the door today except me.”
Terry said one of the hardest parts of his cancer journey was ceding control. “It’s about letting go, letting the professionals take over.”
His children supported him with the business, with medical care. “My family became extremely scared so they tried to take care of me in different ways.” His dad, too, was always by his side. Though no one would have wished it, this disease gave the two men a special bond. “The experience of going through cancer with your father takes some of the loneliness out of it. It gives you some confidence.”
Terry’s diagnosis, his father Bud said, was difficult. “I went to the hospital every day. I was very concerned, but I felt so good about the good care he would get.”
Bud should know. All his doctors back in Ohio in 1997 told him his cancer was too aggressive, that his cancer was beyond treatment. He was 61 years old. “They did not give me any encouragement,” Bud recalls. In a twist of fate, he wound up in Dr. Smith’s office at the Lakeland Regional Health Hollis Cancer Center. “Dr. Smith called and said, ‘I think we should go for it.’ And that was 19 years ago.”
Being cancer-free is a gift, both men agree. “You appreciate the morning,” said Bud, 81, who has six children, 17 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild and four more great-grandchildren on the way. “You appreciate the sunrise even more.”
“The compassion, gentleness and honesty shown to me by the Hollis Cancer Center’s team of doctors, staff, front desk and even the cookie lady were what got me through it…You always made me feel optimistic. With my hope and longevity restored, I press on every day. I love you all.”
– Jennifer Vazquez, cervical cancer patient
“At the Hollis Cancer Center, I got immediate testing, an immediate diagnosis, and immediate care.”
– Constance Kimbley, breast cancer patient
“I have an aggressive type of cancer and it was time to take drastic measures…When I heard about the trial from Dr. Hodge, I felt privileged to have this type of care and the chance to help others who may be in my shoes one day.”
– Merle Clark, prostate cancer clinical trial patient
“All the doctors and nurses at Lakeland Regional were very professional, and they were very personable. I was at the cancer center so often, I was on a first name basis with all the nurses…She (Jo Horrell) always knew what answers I needed even when I didn’t know what questions to ask.”
– Paul Leonard, colon cancer survivor
“I knew right there, in my heart, that there will be people coming from different angles of my life to be there for me. And I was grateful that I felt in my heart I was at the best cancer center ever, and I also knew that I had the doctors that were going to see to the best path for me.”
– Jennifer Dennis, patient and breast cancer survivor