Hoag Genetic Counselor Becomes Cancer Patient: Jeanne’s Story
“It’s hard to keep cancer a secret in the cancer center,” Jeanne Homer, M.S., says, but the Hoag Family Cancer Institute genetic counselor did a pretty good job of it.
For five months, Homer wore wigs and sought treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma without missing a single day of work or rousing suspicion from her friends and colleagues at Hoag. She doesn’t like to be the focus of attention, and she didn’t want people to make assumptions about her or feel sorry for her.
The easiest way to have kept her diagnosis a secret, of course, would have been to seek treatment elsewhere. But after 17 years of helping patients and their families navigate their cancer risk at Hoag Family Cancer Institute, Homer never even considered it.
“I wouldn’t get my care anywhere else,” she says. “When you work somewhere, you know all the inside ‘stuff.’ There isn’t any of that here. Everybody is completely dedicated to what they do and are just experts. I wouldn’t have dreamed of going anywhere else.”
The fact that Hoag has treatment facilities throughout Orange County worked in Homer’s favor. She was able to undergo her rounds of chemotherapy at Hoag Health Center Irvine, away from the Patty & George Hoag Cancer Center in Newport Beach where she works.
“It allowed me to limit exposure where I work,” she says. “Even though the Irvine clinicians didn’t know who I was or what I do, I was treated so well. It wasn’t because of who I am. I didn’t get special treatment. They are all just so professional and caring and perfect.”
Homer was equally impressed with the speed at which the Hoag cancer team operates. She has long had a front-row seat to how cancer care is delivered at Hoag, but becoming a patient afforded her an entirely different perspective.
For example, Homer underwent a biopsy on a Thursday, just before boarding a plane for Arizona. Over the weekend, she received both her test results and the news that oncologist Louis VanderMolen, M.D., secured an appointment for her at 7 a.m. the following Monday.
“Other patients who I see tell me he does that. I think he does that for people because when you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s really tough until you know what you’re dealing with,” Homer says.
Following chemotherapy, Homer underwent radiation treatment with Brian Kim, M.D., just one floor down from where she works. Again, she says the staff was attentive to her needs and helped her move through the treatment process.
“I got insurance authorization just before Thanksgiving, and I asked, ‘Can I come in today?’” she says. “They managed to squeeze me in, and that made such a difference. That meant that I finished radiation before Christmas.”
As advanced as Hoag’s medicine is, it is always rooted in humanity. Homer says that every step of the way doctors, nurses and staff made every effort to remove whatever stress and anxiety they could.
“Dr. Kim called me at home on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving to let me know that my post-chemo PET scan was normal,” she says. “This was an enormous relief to me that allowed me to relax for the rest of the long weekend.”
By her second radiation appointment, all the nurses, technicians and registration colleagues who didn’t know her before knew her name. They took the time to ask how she was doing, and those little things made all the difference to Homer as she navigated a disease that temporarily stole her taste buds, her hair and her energy.
In fact, as stellar as the medical treatment is, she is particularly grateful for Hoag Family Cancer Institute’s integrated support services, such as the dietician Jessica Tamashiro, R.D., C.S.O., and Karey York who provides wigs, scarves and hats to cancer patients at no charge. When she speaks about Elaine Louie, CMT, BCTMB, CLT, who performs oncology massages, Homer’s voice cracks.
“When you’re doing chemo, you’re hooked up to machines, and when you’re undergoing radiation oncology, you’re hooked up to machines. Having massages was the opposite of all the machines. That was special,” she says. “I didn’t cry when I was diagnosed, but I cried when I had my first massage. It felt like somebody was caring for me.”
Asked why she wanted to “go public” with her story after working so hard to keep her cancer secret, Homer cites her gratitude.
“From the schedulers to the registration check-in folks, to financial navigator Laura Clark, all were professional and efficient. And all treated me not only as a patient, but also as a person, which is super-important,” she says.
“I remember that when I had my chemo port inserted, one of the staff, after chatting with me, said, ‘You make cancer look easy,’” she says. “For some reason, that made me feel really good. But it was Hoag that made it seem easy.”