The Cancer Support Center gives patients an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on.
It was the holiday season. Outside it was cheerful, boisterous and sunny.
But inside Mary Hodges’ world, everything went instantly dark. “I’m
so sorry to give you such bad news at this time of year,” the doctor said.
Something was said about “a mastectomy” and “chemotherapy,”
and then, “Do you have any questions?” But a shocked and stunned
Hodges could only choke back tears. Her thoughts were jumbled. What was
she supposed to do now?
Like most people new to cancer’s grip, she was terrified. Friends
and family rushed to her side and embraced her with loving arms. And,
she recalls, so did the compassionate team at the
Vasek and Anna Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center at Torrance Memorial, where her cancer was diagnosed.
The staff helped calm her mind and ease her nerves. They never wavered
when it came to positivity and encouragement; and neither did Miriam.
Miriam Sleven, RN, is the cancer survivorship program coordinator for the
Cancer Resource Center at Torrance Memorial. As Hodges said her name, she smiled as if remembering
a sweet, longtime friend.
“Miriam was so warm; so caring,” Hodges said. “Sure,
she gave me a lot of great information and told me about support groups
and places in the community that I might find helpful. But really, the
most important thing she did for me was to simply be there. She talked
and walked me through the entire journey one step at a time.”
The Cancer Resource Center is there for anyone affected by cancer, regardless
of where they live or where they’re being treated. A team of advanced
practice nurses, certified in oncology, offer one-to-one support for patients
and their families, as well as information about different types of cancer,
treatment options and helpful resources. All the services are free.
The Cancer Resource Center receives funding in part from the
Ambassador Program—Torrance Memorial’s annual giving program. Members include
physicians, community members and volunteers who, through their donations,
support the Cancer Resource Center, oncology services, rehabilitation
services and health education. For newly diagnosed cancer patients like
Mary Hodges, the support is invaluable.
“Through financial support from the Ambassador Program, Mary’s
experience with the nurse navigators and Cancer Resource Center highlights
the guidance and coordination of care she received during each phase of
her treatment,” says Judith Gassner, senior director of development
and principal gifts.
Hodges learned about the Cancer Resource Center through the Navigation
Program at the Vasek and Maria Polak Breast Diagnostic Center. There,
each newly diagnosed patient is matched with her own nurse navigator—a
specially trained registered nurse who does everything from setting up
appointments with specialists to answering questions about treatments
and side effects, to serving as a liaison between the patient and their
team of physicians.
Nurse navigators refer patients to the Cancer Resource Center for additional
support, which often means they are offered another ear to listen or shoulder
to lean on—invaluable for the newly diagnosed. There is much collaboration
and communication between the hospital and the Cancer Resource Center,
which ensures that patient care is seamless and that their experience
is as comfortable as possible.
“We’re the patient’s advocate, and we also help people
learn how to be their own advocate when it comes to their treatment and
care,” Sleven says. “We listen to the individual patient and
help them identify what their needs are, and then we help facilitate that
for them. Often it’s helpful for patients and families to simply
get some perspective and reassurance that what they’re feeling is
For Sleven, being there for people during one of the most challenging times
in their lives is a gift that she is grateful she’s able to give.
“I went into nursing to help people, and my role at the Cancer Resource
Center is another way of doing that beyond taking care of patients at
the bedside. It’s humbling and satisfying to be able to do what
It’s now been 21/2 years since Hodges was told she had breast cancer.
The disease is in remission, and Hodges says she is feeling “fantastic.”
She still takes to heart much of the advice she got from Sleven during
her illness, including the frequent reminder: “Be good to yourself.”
On the day of this interview, Hodges had already been to her favorite Zumba
class (she goes to the gym every day) and had done some volunteer work.
In fact, volunteering has proven to be great medicine—Hodges says
it made her feel better to help others while she was sick, and it gave
her a sense of purpose during a time filled with many unknowns.
In fact, she has found volunteering so meaningful that she hopes to pursue
a new career in nonprofit work. “I’m always trying to help
someone, because that gives me inspiration,” she says.
And speaking of inspiration, though she has moved on with her life, she
will always treasure the team at Torrance Memorial who helped save it—not
just physically but emotionally.
“I love, love, love Torrance Memorial,” she says."From
the friendship I formed with Miriam to every doctor and nurse who treated
me, to the overall positive vibe there. One time I got a card in the mail
from the nurses who took care of me during an overnight hospital stay.
The card said, ‘Thanks for being such a good patient!’
She continues, “Honestly, who does that? It made me feel really special.”