Finish Strong

Darcy's Story Of Cancer & Care

Darcy loves to rowAt age 72, Darcy Wells of La Conner had a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis and a decision to make. This form of cancer could be aggressive, fast growing and difficult to treat. Time was of the essence. Almost to the day, she’d been a widow for one year and was just getting her life back. The news in 2016 came as a frightening shock.

First, she wanted a second opinion. Familiar with both Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), she weighed her options carefully. Knowing that Skagit Regional Health’s Cancer Care Center in Mount Vernon has a network membership with SCCA and is located in her own area at Skagit Valley Hospital, a world away from Seattle’s urban hub, she embraced the care she found closer to the comforts of home. An essential component to Wells’ healing process was the proximity Skagit Regional Health provides. “One of the most important factors of cancer care being here in Skagit Valley is the fact it allowed me to be at home with the full support of family and friends,” she recalled.

Wells immediately reached out to Dominique Dailly, Program Manager and former Patient Navigator at The Breast Institute. Dailly came aboard Skagit Regional Health’s team in 2006, where she identified patients’ needs and co-created the Patient Navigator position with Oncologist Theodore Kim, DO. According to Dailly, “Darcy contacted me immediately and said: ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer: what do I do?’ ”

Dailly was able to explain the multi-disciplinary approach to breast cancer and how The Breast Institute works. Directly after their initial call, Dailly went to work assembling Wells’ physician team and their conversations continued. “We walked hand in hand during her treatment,” Dailly recounted.

Darcy WellsAfter committing to Skagit Regional Health, within one week, Wells had five body scans and a whirl of doctor’s appointments (including a second opinion at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center). “The doctors here (at Skagit Regional Health), after diagnosis, moved so rapidly,” she recalled. She was relieved to be so close to quality care she trusted. “I used to do business in Seattle and drive, sometimes, five times a week. The realization that I live in La Conner and can drive across the valley for nine miles and be here, connected to this facility – that is linked to Fred Hutch and the University of Washington – that’s as good as it gets,” she affirmed.

A formula of familiarity with her surroundings, logistical ease around transportation, a strategized physical and mental routine, as well as a solid personal support system, promoted her confidence as she faced a series of strong chemotherapy treatments.

“My daughter, Stacy, would often sit through infusions with me and take me home and my son, Steven, would join me at my appointments. Stacy also orchestrated family and friends to bring dinner to me for the first two months when I was in the midst of really heavy chemo,” Wells said with gratitude.

There wasn’t a time when she found herself alone. Her neighbor, Katy Jensen always drove her to appointments and her children were great sources of strength, as well as her sister, cousin and close friends. Based on her doctor’s recommendation, due to the high dosage of chemotherapy she received, someone always stayed with her for the first four days after each treatment.

Her neighbors and walking three miles with them each morning was another powerful touchstone. Fortunate to have, “a fabulous network of friends,” Wells was encouraged to use Caring Bridge, (a free personalized health journal service for people facing health challenges), as a way of generating more strength and support for what lie ahead. She found solace in being able to openly and honestly express and document what happened throughout all the major steps of her cancer journey. In addition, the resource provided a cancer network component, where friends were able to share specific cancer information and a wide range of suggestions.

A close family friend’s daughter from Calgary, Canada, shared she’d just had another friend diagnosed with the same type of cancer. She sent a list of suggestions, inclusive of a suggested treatment for neuropathy (identified as a potential side effect of the chemotherapy drug Taxol). The information emboldened Wells to take proactive measures with her own care.

During infusions, she asked her Oncologist Mehrdad Jafari, MD to have her hands and feet put on ice in an attempt to prevent neuropathy from occurring. Although it wasn’t a practice he’d implemented previously, Dr. Jafari explained the potential benefits and helped facilitate the procedure. “I can tell you today, I have no neuropathy in my hands and feet,” Wells attested. “The nurses, every single nurse I saw each Monday, would help facilitate and were in total support of what I did,” she added.

Staying active was her creed throughout her treatment. “If this counts as an activity . . . attending my six grandchildren’s sporting events also kept me going, and I tried to attend everything I could,” she said with a laugh.

Darcy looks out on the waterWells is also an avid rower. Since 1948, she and her family have retreated to Idaho’s Priest Lake every summer. She keeps her rowing shell stored there, a place where memory and beauty converge, patiently awaiting her seasonal return. “My goal, even though I was in the middle of five months of chemotherapy treatment, was to be there a number of days, so early in the morning, I could be on that beautiful, pristine lake, in my rowing shell, and just see those oars dip in the water,” she remembered.

Dr. Jafari was supportive of his patient seeking the life-affirming calm of distant waters. The inspiration she found in her boat reflected the tenacity she demonstrated in returning to finish her chemo. Moving forward toward the horizon of a cancer-free diagnosis was her destination.

“The doctors truly helped me accomplish that goal, and Dr. Jafari was wonderful in that regard, in all regards really; I just adore him,” she confided. “I don’t think I could’ve gotten better care and support anywhere.”

After nine months of treatment, just two days shy of 2017, Wells was cancer free.