The Benefits of Staying Close to Home for Cancer Care


Sharon Sharon Bjorlo's Story

"They were very professional, but very warm and compassionate at the same time."

My family and I aren't originally from the Eastern Shore. We moved here from New Jersey about 12 years ago. My husband and I had some flexibility in our jobs and were looking for a good place to raise our two children. It feels like home now, and when I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was glad that, while my surgery was in Newport News, all of my post-surgical follow-up, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, has been here in our home community.

I did a lot of research on my own regarding some new drugs and read about something that seemed to be a good fit for my particular diagnosis. My medical oncologist, Dr. Stith, and the staff were very open minded about my wishes, and they had done their research, too, so I felt that I was getting the most up-to-date treatment. It's my nature to pay attention to what's going on with my body and to be informed, so I asked a lot of questions, continued doing research and felt like I was empowered to be a part of my care team.

I ended up having a hard time with the chemo, but everyone at Riverside Shore Cancer Center went above and beyond to help me get through. They were very professional but very warm and compassionate at the same time. I'd even get calls at night to make sure I was doing alright. I told people that the staff must leave their own challenges and difficulties at the door because whenever I was there, and that included nearly every day for eight months, they were nothing but positive and supportive. They never seemed to have an off day.

Nobody is ever going to tell you that cancer treatment is easy. But I can truly say that in all the time I was at the Cancer Center, I didn't have a single bad experience.

Walt BennettWalt "Skip" Bennett's Story

"The whole experience created an atmosphere of healing for me."

This past winter I was working on the water as usual. Along with aquaculture, scalloping and sea clamming is what I've been doing for most of my adult life. I've been all up and down the Atlantic coast. It's definitely hard work, sometimes in tough conditions, but I generally felt strong and healthy while I was doing it. During those winter months though, I was really dragging. I kept thinking I'd start to feel better but it didn't happen. Things only got worse so I finally went to the doctor. The diagnosis was Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that has a big impact on the immune system.

I had my initial treatment across the bay but was able to get back to the Shore right after that for the rest of my chemotherapy which turned out to be a very good thing. I was born in Nassawadox and raised in Cape Charles. My family and friends are in this community, so being able to get back home mattered a lot to me. Given the way I was feeling some of the time during chemo, not having to travel back and forth was a real plus.

Once I started at the Riverside Shore Cancer Center, Dr. Stith let me know that this was a treatable disease, something that I could come back from. That kind of positive thinking really lifted my spirits. Getting that kind of support and very close personal attention has been as important in helping me beat the lymphoma as the treatment itself. During the whole time I was there, everyone at the Cancer Center was very professional but also very comforting. The place, the people, and the whole experience created an atmosphere of healing for me.

Billye D CustisBillye D. Custis's Story

"I really don't think I could have made it if I had to cross the water."

I've lived in Onley all my life. I've been on the town council and I've been the mayor, so being involved in the community is something that's part of who I am, something that I take very seriously. That's part of the reason why when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to stay close to the people who have been part of my work, my life and my support all these years. The other part is that I knew I would get the kind of care I needed to get back to my family and friends as healthy as possible.

At the Riverside Shore Cancer Center I was a name, not a number. I felt valued not only as a patient but as a person. And I felt a real sense of compassion that came along with the staff's skills and training. Starting with my mammogram and biopsy and going through surgery and chemotherapy I was able to travel just a short distance to get treatment. I was tired and slept a lot during that time, kind of in the "chemo fog" that people talk about. I really don't think I could have made it if I had to cross the water.

The kind of care I got and the overall experience led me to become a volunteer at the Cancer Center. I listen to people describing their own experience and I talk a bit about what I went through. Someone will say, "I'm feeling this or I'm feeling that" and I'm able to share that world with them, we're able to be on the same page. I believe that if I can help one person it's all worthwhile. So having a healing place close to home made a difference in my treatment. And now it's making difference in my ability to give something back to the people and the community I'm part of through volunteering.