Found for follow-up

Social worker Joy McCall and oncologist Christopher Flowers at Winship Cancer Institute.
Social worker Joy McCall and oncologist Christopher Flowers at Winship Cancer Institute.

 

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When Harriet's cough wouldn't go away, some friends took her to the emergency room at Emory University Hospital.

Whatever happened in Harriet's life, it took five months before she showed up in oncologist Christopher Flowers' office at Winship.

Maybe the doctors would give her something to make her feel better. Instead, the doctor admitted her overnight, did a series of tests, and made an appointment for her to come back when biopsy and other results were ready. He made it sound so urgent, but then doctors always do. Even though she agreed to return, she never did. She had enough things to worry about without trying to get her mind around "a suspicious mass."

But a month later, her chest hurt worse, and a knot had started to grow under her armpit. This time her friends took her to the Grady Hospital ER, but the doctor there was just as urgent sounding as the first one. "This is serious," he said, looking at papers with her name on them. "You need to be in treatment now." Looking back, she knows she should have gone, but she had other problems. No insurance, no savings. She would have had to take off work and for what? Her aunt had gone through chemotherapy, lost her job and hair, and then died anyway.

In health care, what happened next is described as "lost to follow-up." Whatever happened in Harriet's life, it took five months before she showed up in the office of oncologist Christopher Flowers at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute, where he discussed treatment options for her Hodgkin's lymphoma. For young patients with this rare cancer of the lymphatic system, the standard of care is a combination of four chemotherapy drugs all given on the same day. Since Harriet had received no treatment as her disease progressed, aggressive action was needed.

A group in Germany is the leader in clinical trials for her rare cancer, and Flowers was able to get her enrolled. The trial covered the cost of many of her medicines and the care provided by Flowers related to the protocol. In the meantime, social worker Joy McCall worked with Emory Healthcare financial counselors to get all her other costs declared charity care, meaning she would not have to pay them. McCall also helped Harriet apply for Social Security disability benefits, helped her navigate the processes to get medicines not covered by the trial, and stood by her side as the young woman dealt with the complexities not only of care but also of finances. She continues follow-up at Winship.


   
   
 
 

This year Emory's Winship Cancer Institute was renewed as Georgia's only National Cancer Institute–designated cancer center. The reviewers rated Winship as outstanding. NCI designation recognizes not only strong research programs and access to clinical trials but also the center's broad commitment to the community.

 

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