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Sympathetic care team made cancer diagnosis and radiation treatments a little less intimidating

Feb 28, 2024

Patient receives “compassionate, personalized care and empathy” and then pays it forward

Head Shot of a Senior Women Minnie Hayman

When an annual mammogram in 2021 led to a diagnosis of breast cancer for Minnie Hayman of Port Norris, her first reaction was understandable.

“It was a shocker,” Minnie, 73, said.

The difficult news was delivered by Maurice Sheetz, M.D., Minnie’s primary care physician.

“Dr. Sheetz promised me that we were going to hit this together, head on! I needed to hear that. But when I left his office, I went out to my car and held onto the steering wheel, and cried. I told God that I didn’t want to die. I was out of it a bit for the rest of the day.”

But then Minnie said, two things happened quickly; her lifelong faith kicked in and she had a conversation with someone whose judgment she trusted.

“I had a good talk with myself,” she said. “Sometimes you have to do that. I said to myself, ‘This is normal. Lots of people go through it. It’s OK to be devastated, but attitude is everything.’ So, the next morning, I came up swinging!”

Dr. Sheetz referred Minnie for a biopsy. She had a lumpectomy performed by surgeon Per Montero-Pearson, M.D., who has since retired, and who had treated Minnie in the past.

“Both Dr. Sheetz and Dr. Montero are great. Seeing them is like seeing old friends,” Minnie said.

Minnie’s care plan was developed by hematologist/oncologist Shailja Roy, M.D., and radiation oncologist Glenda Smith, M.D., at the Frank and Edith Scarpa Regional Cancer Pavilion at Inspira Medical Center Vineland. It included 20 radiation therapy treatments.

“Dr. Roy and Dr. Smith were awesome and encouraging. I liked them right off the bat. Everyone was so positive and upbeat,” Minnie said. “They told me, ‘Don’t worry. We are going to take good care of you.’ The team there is awesome.”

Minnie said that radiation therapists Cindy Fox and Vitaliy Nechay treated her like family, something she greatly appreciated since she had retired from a career working with patients at the state of New Jersey’s Vineland Development Center. The facility provides a comprehensive array of services for women and men with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The entire team at the radiation center really touched my heart. Cindy would tuck me in with a blanket during the treatments. I could feel how much they all cared for their patients. They weren’t just doing a job.”

One day, during her treatment, the song “Memories” by Maroon 5 played over the sound system. Minnie told Cindy that that song uplifted her because it reminded her of her daughter, Kim, a registered nurse who had worked with her at the development center. Kim passed away, at age 42, several years earlier, after a battle with lupus.

When Cindy made sure that the song played during Minnie’s next treatment, it brought her to tears.

“Kim had a contagious smile and heart of gold,” Minnie said. “And Cindy showed me the love of a daughter. I would lie there and listen each time. It felt like Kim was there with me. I get emotional just talking about it now, almost two years later.” 

Minnie is doing very well and sees Dr. Roy for periodic checkups. She stops in at the radiation center, “whenever I’m in the neighborhood”.

“I just want to say ‘Hi’ and let them know I’m doing fine,” Minnie said. “Inspira takes good care of me and my family. We are an Inspira family.”

Minnie said she is busier than ever, helping to care for her large family, including a daughter who has frequent doctor appointments and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren whose ages range from in their forties to one year old. Levar Hayman, Kim’s son, is a business analyst for Inspira Health.

“I get up at 5:30 every morning and drive some of the grandkids to school,” she said. “I run harder than a John Deere tractor, but I also do everything I’m supposed to, including taking my medications and making my doctor visits.”

Minnie used her experience at Inspira to help the daughter of her best friend, who had also received a cancer diagnosis and was being treated at Inspira.

“It’s important for people starting their journey to see someone who is doing well long after treatments ended. I told her how wonderful the people at Inspira were. I tried to let her feel my energy. I wanted to give her hope. Recently, at church, she hugged me and thanked me.”

“If you help someone, you know that you’re not living in vain,” Minnie said. “You have a rich life, rich in spirit. The people at Inspira did that for me and I’m trying to do it for others.”

Topics: Cancer Care, Patient Stories