Trading Places: A Nurse’s Experience with Stage 4 Mantle Cell Lymphoma

Joanna Hammond, R.N. and Kathryn E. Hitchcock, M.D.  Ph.D.

For 24 years, Joanna Hammond, R.N., mother of four, dedicated much of her life to nursing and serving others. From helping new families in the hospital welcome bundles of joy to nurturing her own children, Hammond always assumed the role of caregiver. But earlier this year, that shifted.

Hammond turned her energy inward to begin the fight of her life — battling stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma. In March, she began outpatient radiation and credits her positive outlook and treatment experience to Kathryn E. Hitchcock, M.D.  Ph.D. (both shown left), a UF College of Medicine radiation oncologist, and her talented team. Nurses are notoriously feisty patients, and Hammond chose not to be admitted to the hospital.

“The most important thing to me was not being stuck in a hospital, so that I could be with my children,” Hammond said. “Dr. Hitchcock never once pushed any agenda, her beliefs or ideas on me. She was completely accepting of what I wanted. She’s become my hero.”

Hitchcock believes we’re all in charge of our own bodies.

“As a doctor, it’s my job to explain super-complicated situations so that people can make informed decisions on their own,” she said.

Each time Hammond went for radiation treatment, she was welcomed by a team of people ready to help. From the front desk clerk to the radiation therapist, every person she interacted with was pleasant and had a can-do attitude, she said. She could tell from their hospitality and attentiveness that they really love what they do.

Hitchcock refers to radiation oncology as a team sport and says every member has a leading role.

“The schedulers and financial specialists have to be capable and warm; nurses help patients cope with side effects; dosimetrists and physicists help prepare technical treatment plans; and radiation therapists give radiation,” she said. “They manage a lot each day, and they are still some of the most cheerful, kind and patient people I’ve ever met in my whole life.”

Before radiation treatments could begin, Hitchcock consulted with UF College of Medicine otolaryngologists to create a plan to help destroy the tumors around Hammond’s facial nerves. After five treatments, her symptoms began to improve.

“Even if the cancer doesn’t go away, they added to the quality of my life,” Hammond said. “My 19-year-old daughter gets to see her mom as normal. It’s really blessed my family.”

According to Hitchcock, that’s her goal.

To read the complete, original article by Nacuya Rucker, visit the current issue of UF Health’s News + Notes.


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