Stage four cancer. These words swirled in Kimberly DiBona’s mind, unsure of what to make of them. She had been referred to Boston Medical Center’s Cancer Care Center following an abdominal hysterectomy, which revealed a tumor in the smooth muscle of her uterus, known as leiomyosarcoma. More scans disclosed the cancer had spread to other parts of her body.
It was a lot for Kimberly to take in, and she couldn’t help but think the worst. “I always thought cancer meant a death sentence,” she recalls. She had so many questions but before she could voice them, she hesitated. “I was afraid. I was embarrassed that if I asked the wrong question I might sound unintelligent.”
All that changed when Kimberly met her oncologist Adam Lerner, MD. “Dr. Lerner explained everything to me in a way that was very easy to understand,” she says. Lerner advised Kimberly to go home that night and write down all of her questions, noting there was no such thing as a stupid or wrong one. “So that’s exactly what I did,” she says. “I returned the next day with my little notebook and we went through my entire list of questions. He answered every single one of them.”
Lerner’s support extended beyond just the appointment, letting Kimberly know she could contact him at any time. “When you’re going through a frightening illness you want to feel you can get a hold of folks who know you best and have the ability to take care of a problem quickly,” Lerner explains. “I make a point of sharing my cell phone number and making myself as available as possible.”
In addition to helping Kimberly better understand her diagnosis, Lerner worked with her to determine the best course of treatment. There were a number of approaches available, and Lerner advocated for Kimberly in finding the perfect fit. Kimberly started with an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. Despite some challenging side effects, the family-like support she received from her cancer care team helped her stay positive—she even resumed working full-time. “Our clinic has a lot of very caring providers who pay attention to how people are feeling as they’re going through these tough times,” notes Lerner.
Lerner also ensured Kimberly felt informed during treatment. “He gives me loads of papers to read at every appointment and walks me through how I am going to feel” she says. “Everything has been put in front of me so I feel more in control about what is happening.”
In addition to providing education and understanding, Kimberly’s cancer care team made sure she knew she could lean on them. This was especially the case with her Physician Assistant Fran Blevins, PA-C, with whom she formed a close bond. “She’s such a pleasure to have as a patient. She’s always smiling and when she walks down the hall, everyone says hi to her,” notes Blevins. In addition to keeping Kimberly’s spirits high, Blevins explains that a close, trusting relationship is an invaluable component to cancer care. “In building that relationship, I want patients to feel they can trust me and contact me when anything comes up,” she continues. “It’s especially important when going through these treatments, which can be rough and things can change quickly. I want patients to feel they can get in touch with me.”
One instance in particular showed the strength of Kimberly’s bond with Lerner and Blevins. “I had been working long days and became dehydrated and passed out,” she says. Upon arriving to BMC’s Emergency Department, Kimberly was met by Lerner, who was there to check on her. Then, an email at 3am. It was from Blevins, who was on vacation in Germany, asking how she was doing.
As Kimberly’s treatment progressed, her medical team found a form of chemotherapy that was a perfect fit. “The treatment yielded an excellent response with good control of the disease,” Lerner explains. While Kimberly may always need to be on a treatment regimen, she is leading a normal life. “She’s still living a full life despite a treatment that is intermittently making it difficult,” says Lerner. “She’s not letting her illness change her life any more than it has to.”
Kimberly is quick to point out her cancer care team is the reason she is doing so well today. “They helped me feel like this was just a bump in the road of life,” Kimberly concludes. “I feel blessed. And it’s 99 percent because of BMC.”