Carol: Getting Back What You Give

Radiation Oncology at Mercy

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Sometimes you get back in life what you give. And sometimes what you receive is a far better gift.

For Carol of Anne Arundel County, MD, giving meant caring about others. What she received was a new lease on life, thanks to her family, and the doctors and staff at Mercy Medical Center.

In 2012, Carol discovered she had Merkel Cell Carcinoma, also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. It is a rare and aggressive skin cancer, which develops on, or just beneath, the skin and in hair follicles.  The disease began innocently enough as a small nodule on her elbow, which she initially ignored. After awhile though, she thought it just wasn’t right.

It wasn’t.

From Caregiver to Needing Care

Carol first went to see her primary care physician who referred her to a Baltimore-area surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed the growth as Merkel Cell Carcinoma and recommended she receive radiation therapy as treatment.

Unfortunately for Carol, she had experience with cancer. In 2011, she had lost her father to the disease, and had helped take care of him through his painful struggle. “When I heard the diagnosis I thought about my father and wondered if what I had was somehow genetic,” she said. “I think because of that we didn’t take this lightly at all.”

In fact, Carol’s daughters, who had watched their mother nurse her own father, took over; partly as a way to return the kind of love and care they’d seen their mother give. “They did a lot of research on the disease and the treatment of it,” Carol said. “They were instrumental in helping me move forward.”

Her daughter’s research had turned up some positive information. While Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a rare disease which was only recently identified by researchers, there are two doctors in Maryland with expertise in treating it. And the best news was that both of them practice at the same hospital - Mercy Medical Center.

Even with that fact in hand, Carol and her family wanted to be sure they were doing the right thing. “We had a consultation at another hospital just to see what was out there,” she said. “In the end there was no real choice to be made. Even though the other hospital was closer to home, we chose Mercy for the treatments. It was hands down the right place.”

A Caring Touch

“Mercy is just wonderful,” she added. “You feel as if you’re the only person they’re treating there. It made the choice easy.”

Carol would eventually be treated by Dr. Maria Jacobs, Director of Radiation Oncology at Mercy.

In all, Carol would receive 30 radiation treatments on her elbow – 15 minutes each treatment, five days a week for six weeks. She didn’t complain. She looked at it as a gift. “It wasn’t easy going to the hospital every morning for radiation treatment, but it went fast, and I had no real side effects,” she said. “I had to look at the bright side of it. At least I was alive to fight. You have to keep it in perspective.”

Her choice to receive treatment at Mercy was validated on her first consultation at the hospital when a nurse named Donna met with her. “She said to me, ‘I read the chart the doctor put together on you and I know what you have, but I want to know what you think.’ That kind of personal touch and caring means so much when you’re going through something like this.”

Having Plenty

Carol’s giving nature even extended to her treatments. She said she would go to Mercy for her radiation therapy and see the same people there week after week, some of them struggling. “I would go in to the hospital and say to people there ‘you’re in the best place you could possibly be,’ and I meant it.”

On one occasion, she said, after one of her positive affirmations in the radiation clinic, a woman, a stranger awaiting her own treatment, said to Carol, “You have such a bright and happy soul.”

She could see it too. Carol was still giving. And she was receiving as well.

Carol finished her radiation treatments in May 2013. She continues to have regular follow-up appointments with Jacobs, but she feels like she is through the worst and is looking now only at the bright side. She is back to work in her job as a mortgage analyst, she cherishes her time with her husband, her daughters, her two grandchildren. She feels like she’s gotten back in spades whatever kindnesses she may have given along the way.

“You have to be grateful for what you’ve been given,” she said. “I can’t understand how anyone could get through something like this being depressed. Between my family, my work family, the doctors and staff at Mercy and even the other patients, I was given so much support that I couldn’t get down about it. You have to have something to hang on to. I had plenty.”

Carol's Treatment Team