Editor's note: Margaret Ann Alligood is chairwoman of the Friends of the Cancer Center Advisory Council. This story has been updated with that correction.
Susie Godwin is a breast cancer survivor.
Not only a survivor, but one of the more fortunate women who has heard those chilling words —"You have breast cancer.”
Godwin had our attention Saturday evening at her home, where she and her husband, Prescott Godwin, were hosting a Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation celebration of faith, hope and courage benefit for the Irene Thompson Byrd Cancer Care Endowment as part of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“In 2015, Jesse Byrd established the endowment in memory of his late wife,” said Sabrina Brooks, vice president of Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation. “We have passed $1 million that will take care of generations to come, and we are very grateful.”
Grateful to not only Jesse Byrd, who died at age 88 on May 13, but also to Dr. Kamal Bakri, the longtime co-director of medical oncology and director of the Cancer Center. Bakri died at age 72 on July 28.
Brooks asked for a moment of silence in their memory.
“When you walk in that Cancer Center,” Brooks said, “I hope you will keep their memories alive.”
The moment was solemn.
‘A shining light’
Cancer knows no boundaries, from lung cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, cervical cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, thyroid cancer, uterine cancer, lymphoma, mesothelioma and myeloma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And breast cancer.
It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your gender, your race or your age. It doesn’t care about the title below your name, about your tax bracket or whether you live in the fancy neighborhood or under a bridge.
Cancer is mean-spirited.
“August was the busiest month on record for our cancer centers,” said Chris Tart, vice president for professional services at CFVH and president of Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital. “September was a close second. Now, more than ever, our community chooses to get their care right here at home. And we’re proud of that.
“Our entire team delivers top-notch care every single day. You don’t have to travel north to get the latest and best treatments. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful service readily available to all who need our help. Many people consider our cancer center as a shining light for our entire health system and our community. Regardless of your ability to pay, anyone can and will receive the best care and treatments from our team.”
CFVH, he said, still works in concert with UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and at Duke Medical Center, but “our health system continues to invest in our growth.”
He would introduce Drs. Abhijeet Bhirud and Avinash Pasam, physicians who are following in the footsteps of Bakri and the soon-to-be retiring Dr. Hugh Bryan at the Cancer Center.
“They are new physicians bringing new ideas,” he said. “We have made major improvements with state-of-the-art equipment” to include what will be less radiation time for patient treatment.
Bhirud is a radiation oncologist and medical director for radiation oncology.
“We have new cutting-edge technology,” Bhirud said.
Pasam is a medical oncologist at Health Pavilion North, where new renovations are underway.
“We have an incredible team,” Pasam said.
Tart brought more good news, too.
“Our health system continues to acknowledge the importance of access to high-quality cancer care and continues to invest in growth, provider and staff recruitment, treatments, and facilities,” he said. “At Health Pavilion North Cancer Center, we are currently remodeling the entire infusion space to offer a better patient experience and increase capacity. Also, we are building out the infamous ‘rock room’ on the first floor to expand Cancer Center exam room and clinician space.”
And further good news.
“At Harnett Health, we are in the final stages of design of a medical office building at Central Harnett Hospital in Lillington,” Tart said. “This office building will house our current medical oncology department there and also be home to radiation oncology, which has not been available in Harnett County until now. We are happy to bring that service to our neighbors to the north. At Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center, we are developing a master plan for a multiyear, multiphase project to expand so we can effectively provide treatments and care to our growing patient population. So, these are some busy and exciting times in our cancer centers.”
And he would introduce Mary Kulig.
“Mary Kulig was one of the first people I met in the Cancer Center 17 years ago,” Tart said about the corporate director of nursing for the Cancer Center and a nurse with a compassionate heart for cancer patients. “She is a huge resource for our providers, staff and patients. I’m not sure we’d be nearly as far along without having Mary’s leadership all of these years. You won’t meet a better person or nurse.”
Cape Fear Valley Cancer Centers saw 271 new oncology and hematology patients and 101 new consults in radiation oncology in August, according to Kulig, and 7,737 patients checked in through CFV and HPN Cancer Center kiosks.
Susie Godwin offered a testimonial of her own.
“I was diagnosed with a non-aggressive breast cancer,” she said. “I had a lumpectomy.”
Godwin, 69, says she was diagnosed in 2016 and could have had the surgery at Duke or UNC, but she changed her mind after talking with Margaret Ann Alligood, who was treated for breast cancer in 2014 at Cape Fear Medical Center. Alligood now is chairwoman of the Friends of the Cancer Center Advisory Council.
Godwin says she listened to Alligood‘s story and decided to have her surgery at Cape Fear Valley.
“I was so impressed,” she said. “Everyone there on staff was amazing. I felt at ease with the nurses, the doctors. I’m so grateful we have the Cancer Center here, and that I am still here.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.