‘I want to be there for it’: Area’s first cancer survivorship clinic treating patients

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Claudia Jokinen is a retiree, a traveler and a survivor. But her survival is less of an event and more of a journey.

“I had a pain. I went to urgent care, which is totally unlike me,” Jokinen said. “Usually I just go, ‘yeah, OK whatever, it’ll go away.’”

In August 2018, Jokinen went to an urgent care facility. There, the doctor took a chest X-ray and told her she either had pneumonia or cancer.

“I went, ‘excuse me,’” Jokinen said, laughingly, while turning her head. “Here I am sitting in urgent care.”

From there, she went to her primary care doctor. First, they treated her for pneumonia, which she didn’t have. Then, the battle against her lung cancer commenced.

“I kind of decided I wasn’t going to get really down about it. OK, we’re going to find out what happens next,” she said.

Jokinen had been a smoker but quit 15 years prior to her diagnosis.

“I didn’t start regretting that, I didn’t, I just wasn’t going to give it too much time and attention,” she said.

She started chemotherapy and radiation treatments before having surgery. Two scans later, there’s no sign of cancer.

“Scan is clear,” Jokinen said. “So, I get to be a survivor.”

But, Jokinen says one of the things they didn’t talk about while being treated was how she would feel afterward.

“It’s a chore. It’s a chore,” she described, of how it feels to breathe following her surgery. “I just kind of remind myself that it’s OK.”

To help with her physical and mental recovery, Jokinen is utilizing the area’s first cancer survivorship clinic, located within Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I don’t know that it would be survivable,” Jokinen said, of her recovery without the support she receives at the clinic. “I mean, you could worry about surviving cancer, but you would really be, it’s overwhelming.”

“You get to know the patient, you get to know their families because they’re on a journey for a long time,” Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Nurse Practitioner and Advance Practice Provider Jill Hyson said.

At the clinic, they focus on survivorship care, promoting health, addressing long-term needs while monitoring for new or returning cancers.

“Our patients are living longer,” Hyson said. “Our patients are surviving because of the advancement in our treatments and early detection.”

The clinic also provides support for quality-of-life issues such as anxiety, depression, body image, relationships and returning to work, hospital officials said.

“We have time. We have time to talk to them about their cancer journey,” Hyson said.

Patients are referred to the clinic by their surgeon or oncologist and visits are covered by most insurance plans.

“They like being removed from that hustle and bustle treatment area and just coming into this sort of warm, inviting environment,” Hyson said.

Jokinen’s treatments are allowing her to be more attentive to everything around her because, in her words, she wants “to be there for it.” For her, that begins with the next breath.

“Mostly next is just being. Breathing,” she said. “It’s appreciating where I am and who I am.”

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