Published on December 16, 2019

Radiation therapists spread cheer

Originally published in the Rocky Mount Telegram

Margaret Applewhite

Many cancer patients will tell you that being diagnosed and treated for cancer is life-changing.

The diagnosis, followed by treatment options, treatment plans, appointments, tests, more appointments, more tests, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can be overwhelming.

Margaret Applewhite, 63, was diagnosed with breast cancer on Sept. 24, underwent a lumpectomy and subsequent radiation treatment, all at the Danny Talbott Cancer Center at Nash UNC Health Care.

“Having someone tell you that you have cancer is a shock to your system. You can hardly comprehend it,” Applewhite said. “It’s scary and can almost paralyze you with fear — you have so many questions and don’t know where to begin. But I found comfort along the way with my doctors and nurses — and especially Chastity and Kimberly, two of my nurses at the Cancer Center.”

Applewhite said that even though her faith and her family and friends helped carry her through her cancer experience, she was surprised how much she looked forward to seeing Chastity Wheeler and Kim Bowen when she went to her radiation appointments. Applewhite received radiation Monday through Friday for seven weeks.

The two radiation oncology therapists said they frequently build friendships with their patients, and they loved getting to know Applewhite and being a part of her life for the seven weeks she came to therapy.

“We try to make sure all of our patients feel as comfortable as we can. We know that they are going through a difficult time in their lives,” Wheeler said. “We get to know our patients personally so we can connect with them. Ms. Applewhite was a wonderful patient and we truly enjoyed becoming a part of her life.”

Creating these moments of connection is intentional at the Cancer Center and throughout Nash UNC Health Care. Called “Moments of Caring,” staff are encouraged to take time to make a connection with a patient, family member of a patient or even other staff members, and offer kindness and empathy to make a difference in calming fears or worries.

Bowen added that Moments of Caring is similar to treating everyone like family.

“I have always tried to treat my patients as if they were my family members. Everyone is someone’s someone,” she said.

Bowen said she draws on her experience of caring for her father when he was fighting cancer eight years ago. Wheeler also cared for a family member after a cancer diagnosis — her grandmother.

“I watched her struggle with this disease for many years. She is the reason that I am in this profession,” Wheeler said. “I took care of her and I want to have the same impact on others.”

Danny Talbott Cancer Center Executive Director Sterling Grimes said the impact Bowen and Wheeler have on patients is long-lasting.

“Chastity and Kim go out of their way to make sure each patient’s daily radiation treatment appointment is as pleasurable as possible. They get to know the person and not just the patient. Moments of Caring become part of each patient’s daily expectation and experience in Radiation Oncology.”

Applewhite said she’s sure Bowen and Wheeler treat all their patients like they treat her, but she’s grateful for the “TLC” they showed her.

“Some days, I came in there and I didn’t feel well, I didn’t feel cheerful,” she said. “The girls were always professional — but more than that, they cared about me. They knew how to make me laugh or smile, and they wouldn’t quit until I was feeling better.”

Wheeler said as much as she takes care of the oncology radiation needs of her patients, encouraging a patient is part of her job, too.

“We love making patients smile and laugh. We love knowing that they actually look forward to coming for their treatment. When you treat someone every day for up to eight weeks, you get to know them pretty well,” Wheeler said. “They share their stories and challenges with you. When we stop caring about making patients feel better, then I know my career as a radiation therapist is over.”

Applewhite recently showed her appreciation to Bowen and Wheeler by sending them flowers and cards.

“I know how much they cheered me up when I needed it,” Applewhite said. “I wanted to do something nice like that for them. They are good people.”