A Remarkably Unexpected Journey
Deena Barlev had just finished her third backpacking trip across the Grand Canyon at the age of 60 and was feeling healthy, strong, and brave. Two weeks later, her life changed. “I went in for a breast screening MRI that had been suggested six months earlier, despite a stable mammogram,” she says. “I thought it was an odd recommendation at the time. But it might have saved my life.”
The MRI revealed a tiny mass; a biopsy confirmed it was cancer. “I was apprehensive,” Barlev says. “My father and brother died of cancer within a year of each other just a few years ago, and even with world-class medicine, their care too often fell through the cracks.”
Barlev was fortunate to be referred to the cancer specialists at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center. “During the entire journey, my team communicated with each other and with me in a way that was professional, personal, and positive. Never was I treated like just another cancer case. They took the time to get to know my values and priorities,” she says. “It always felt like a partnership.”
“I search for adequate words to express my immense gratitude and fondness for every single person who cared for me,” she adds. “They’ve had a remarkable impact on my life that goes beyond their medical interventions. Getting a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, but my experience has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Barlev is now paying it forward by serving on the Oncology Patient Family Advisory Council at MedStar Montgomery and the Cancer Care Philanthropy Council, and volunteering with the American Cancer Society as a driver for patients needing transportation to oncology appointments. “A lot of people want to put their cancer experience behind them … my goal is to do whatever I can to put my experience to good use. I thank everyone who cared for me for their kindness, compassion, and expertise. I will always be grateful.”
Bringing Health Care Home
In the eyes of Bryan Gibbs, the MedStar House Call Program is a godsend. As the primary caregiver for his grandmother, Beatrice Gibbs, an 82-year-old with dementia, he already had a lot on his plate tending to her daily needs. When she fell and broke her right shoulder last year, then developed a deep vein thrombosis—a potentially serious blood clot—in her left leg, he didn’t know what he was going to do.
“The doctors prescribed blood thinners to treat her deep vein thrombosis and keep the clot from getting bigger. She also required significant bedrest,” he says. “So, she was admitted into the Inpatient Rehabilitation Center at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. But it was clear that she was going to have a lot of mobility issues when she came home.”
One of Bryan’s biggest concerns was getting Beatrice to and from doctor’s appointments. “She used to be able to use a walker, so it was easier to get her in and out of the car. But now she was in a wheelchair.”
Then a social worker at MedStar Good Samaritan told him about the MedStar House Call Program, which offers home-based care, coordinating all medical and social services for people with advanced illnesses where they live. “Once she initially came home, a team from the program, typically her doctor and a social worker, came to our home every two weeks. Now they visit once a month unless she has problems,” Bryan explained.
“Having her healthcare providers come to our home, rather than having to take her out has been a huge blessing,” says the 45-year-old, who also provides assistance to his father, who has cancer and is on dialysis. “I try to stay positive, but sometimes it is tough. I can’t explain how grateful I am for all that they do. It’s a big help."
A Creative Approach to Healing
Five years ago, Anthony Imamura was told he had Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after a visit to the emergency department at a hospital near his home, “I was shocked but determined to do everything in my power to get better,” he says.
Imamura was facing six rounds of chemotherapy, each requiring a five day stay in the hospital. He received his first round of treatment at the hospital where he was diagnosed. “I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but I was expecting a better quality of care,” he says.
He decided to research other healthcare providers in the area and found a renowned specialist at MedStar Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center who had extensive experience treating his type of cancer. He transferred there for his care and he’s forever grateful that he did.
“It was such a different experience. What made it truly remarkable was their approach to care,” he says. “Cancer is a complex disease that affects you physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Patients are often left to deal with the psychological aspects on their own. Not at MedStar Georgetown.”
He was soon introduced to the Lombardi Arts and Humanities program, which uses the arts to reduce the trauma of hospitalization. “Seeing the artists create and hearing the musicians perform brought a peaceful calm to the anxiety I felt during my hospital stays and clinic visits,” he says. “The more I discovered about the program, the more my interest flourished.”
Imamura is now cancer free and serves on the Advisory Council for the Arts and Humanities program. “I have always believed in giving back. Helping to spread the word about this incredible program is a way for me to express my immense gratitude,” he says. “It was a life-changing experience and I am so thankful to everyone at MedStar Georgetown for addressing my needs as a whole person.”
The program also led to an introduction to Theresa Stone, MD, who runs the Fresh and Savory Culinary Medicine program at MedStar Health Lafayette Centre. When she found out he had culinary training, she asked him to help with the program, which teaches patients how to eat healthier. He spends several hours each week working with Dr. Stone and her patients as a chef educator.