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Joan Bartels Cancer Survivor Story

“You have so many doctors working for you. They’re like family; they laugh with you, they cry with you.”

Joan Bartels had been having some abdominal problems, so her doctor thought she might have diverticulitis or some other gastrointestinal condition. But the scan that came back in December 2013 brought unexpected news: There was a mass. It was ovarian cancer. “It was New Year’s Eve,” Bartels recalled. The news cast a pall on the holiday, but she started her new year fighting.

Dr. Dwight Im of Mercy Medical Center performed her surgery.

“I can’t say enough good about Dr. Im,” Bartels said. “He sits down and takes his time with you. He came in on his day off to check on me. He even sends flowers to all of his patients.”

Her surgery was followed up with chemotherapy recommended by medical oncologist Dr. Justinian Ngaiza of Peninsula Regional Oncology & Hematology.

“Dr. Ngaiza is wonderful,” Bartels said. “I had lots of questions; I always bring a notebook with me. He never looks at his watch – he answers every question and always takes his time.”

The chemo was administered at Richard A. Henson Cancer Institute’s outpatient infusion center, where Bartels says she appreciates the nurses’ care. As a retired nurse, she understands what good care is.

“These nurses – they laugh with you, they cry with you. They understand what you’re going through and help you manage it.”

Bartels’ other secret to a positive chemo experience: She enlisted friends who wanted to help, and they enjoyed their time together.

“I brought someone different every time. When is the last time you got to spend eight hours with someone? We get to talk, catch up, make a day of it.”

Her husband has been by her side throughout her experience as well. “He is always there for me,” she said.

Support is an important aspect of surviving cancer, and that’s why Bartels not only took advantage of many of Peninsula Regional’s Cancer Support Services, but also has been reaching out to try to expand them. She went through the “Look Good, Feel Better” class that shares beauty tips for women faced with the unique challenges posed by chemotherapy.

“I felt like a queen – the instructor used me as a model,” she said. “I felt beautiful.”

She also received nutrition consultations, got a wig from Women Supporting Women and attended “Cancer: Surviving and Thriving” classes on healthy survivorship.

“My husband and I learned healthy cooking techniques, meditation – it’s been wonderful,” she said. Bartels says she appreciates the classes and support groups run by cancer support services manager Lisa Barnes, so much so that she has been working to help obtain a grant for the Woman to Woman Program, created by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, which pairs a newly diagnosed ovarian cancer patient with trained survivor volunteers, who provide one-on-one emotional support, mentoring, and education women undergoing treatment, as well as their partners and families.

“It’s a great help to talk to people who have been through what you have – sometimes you just need to talk to someone. Sometimes it’s helpful advice, like about what kinds of things to eat, and other times you just need someone who can understand the fears and sadness and help you to overcome them,” Bartels said.

She stays positive with the help of her family and her faith. Her priest advised her to thank God for three things that happened that day, and try to thank someone every day. She said it has been a boost to her abilities to stay positive.

“Cancer was a gift in some ways,” Bartels said. “I don’t want any more gifts like it, but it taught me how to be patient and positive.”

She said she’s so happy the Richard A. Henson Cancer Institute has two locations on Delmarva.

“At the Henson Cancer Institute, you have so many doctors working for you,” Bartels said. “They’re like family; they laugh with you, they cry with you. It’s wonderful we can get treatment close to home.”