Together, we can ease treatments, help save lives

As the president of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, it’s my responsibility to work toward fulfilling the mission of the organization; namely, to take a leading role in sustaining, improving and speaking for the Clinton area economic community. I believe what I’m about to talk about hits the three action components of our mission statement.

I’m going to talk about the fund-raising campaign going on in our community for a new linear accelerator at Mercy Health Center and why it’s important to every one of us!

Maybe you don’t have any idea what a linear accelerator is. I didn’t. Until I needed it. For others like me, I’m sharing my story. If you want to skip the details, feel free to go to the last few paragraphs and learn how you can help.

The day before Thanksgiving in 2011 I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. We were living in Knoxville, Iowa at the time, and our adult children and their respective boyfriend and girlfriends were all coming home for the holiday. After Thanksgiving dinner I asked for their attention and calmly told the kids that I had been diagnosed with uterine cancer and would be heading to the hospital the next day for some preliminary tests so that surgery could be scheduled as soon as possible. I assured them that everything would be fine but it is news that stuns the recipient when it is delivered.

The preliminary work was done by my physician in Knoxville (a town of about 8,000 people) but I had to go to Des Moines for the surgery because the Knoxville hospital had neither a surgeon nor an adequate surgical facility. The drive to Des Moines was about 50 minutes from our house to the hospital. On December 5, I had a complete hysterectomy and a couple of days later, when the tests came back, the surgeon told me I would need to have radiation because of the type and location of the cancer. The greatest words I heard were that I wouldn’t need chemo!

I had an aggressive schedule for treatment as I intended to dance at my sons’ weddings in April and November. Late in January of 2012 I began a series of 25 external radiation treatments – five weeks of Monday through Friday trips to Des Moines, 100 miles roundtrip, in Iowa’s winter weather. That was followed by two internal treatments with treatment completed by March 12, 2012.

For the initial visit, I was brought into the room that houses the linear accelerator. I was directed to lie down on the table and the technicians positioned me for maximum effect from the radiation. I was given three little tattoos to mark positions on my hips and abdomen that the technicians would use when lining up the machine. Then a mold – much like a plaster cast – was made of my legs in the supine position. That mold was affixed to the table prior to every treatment and helped keep my body in the same position for every one of those 25 treatments.

In my case there was no pain or discomfort during the treatment. I simply laid on the table and the machine rotated around the area to be radiated. It stopped, made a few noises and then moved on to the next spot. Each treatment took about 20 minutes and I was good for another day.

I was lucky. I had a wonderful surgeon and radiologist who took great care of me throughout the four months of active treatment and recovery. Mercy Health in Des Moines has a wonderful oncology center with access to the various treatment options needed to treat all kinds of cancers. The winter weather was cooperative that year, and there was only one day that the drive was little bit “iffy.” I didn’t suffer any side effects from the radiation, so I was able to work until about 2:30 every day, drive into Des Moines for the final appointment of the day, and then drive back home in time for dinner in the evening. I didn’t have to inconvenience other people to drive me and I could still give my employer about five to six hours a day at the office.

So how does that tie into the mission of the Chamber of Commerce?

Driving 100 miles or more every day is often necessary, as it was in my case. For me, it worked out OK. However, if we had been living in Clinton at that time, I would have had the luxury of radiation treatments right here at home. I could have scheduled them during a lunch hour and not missed any time at work. There would have been no worry about missing treatments due to bad roads. If I had suffered ill effects from the treatments, it would not have been a big inconvenience for others to help me with transportation to and from the treatments.

I was a salaried employee and had enough banked sick time, so I didn’t lose any wages during that time. But from the employer side of things, they lost a minimum of 50 to 75 hours of productivity during the time I was driving back and forth from Des Moines and having treatments. Had I been an hourly paid employee, I would have lost that same number of hours in wages and my employer would have lost the productivity.

Health care benefits are an important part of the total employment package to both the employer and the wage-earner. Having first-rate healthcare options available in our community is a blessing that you don’t realize until you need it.

In the next few weeks you may receive a call from a volunteer asking you to support the fund drive for a new linear accelerator. As you prepare for this call, think about the cost of employee absenteeism to your business. Give some consideration to the benefit of having this life-saving medical equipment close to home when you or someone you love is dealing with cancer.

Try to put a value on just one life – an employee, a friend or family member, or maybe even your own! None of us, no matter how wealthy we may be, could come close to donating an amount of money anywhere near the value of a life. But together we can reach the goal.

I am grateful for the availability of the linear accelerator at a time I needed it. I hope neither I nor any member of my family will need it in the future, but I want to make sure it’s available.

I have already made my pledge to “pay it forward,” to be part of a healthcare system that provides needed treatment options to the community. My contribution – and yours – toward the purchase of a new linear accelerator is a gift to countless people who find themselves in a battle to become “cancer survivors” instead of “cancer victims.”

I encourage you to search your heart and then make the decision to do what you can to ensure that we all receive the best possible care right here in Clinton!

Maureen Miller,

President/CEO of the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce