Canton Woman Finds ‘Wonderful and Attentive’ Cancer Care At Canton-Potsdam Hospital

There are moments as a woman and a mother when you know something isn’t right. For Jolene, it led to a breast cancer diagnosis. Her cancer team was with her every step of the way.

Oct. 3, 2023 6   min read

Jolene and her husband in August 2018

Jolene runs every chance she can.

Living in Canton with her husband and young son, Jolene puts in long hours, training her body to handle long distances. Like many runners, the practice sharpens her physically and mentally – making her more in tune with what her limits are and allowing her to find joy.

Jolene with her arms out on Jenkins Mountain, surrounded by pine trees and a view of an Adirondack lake
Jolene, her son, and husband hiking in winter gear in 2022

Jolene began running in undergraduate school as a way to distress mentally and physically, even when the journey was hard. After years of working in public and community health, Jolene shifted her professional focus to become a nurse. She worked as a registered nurse in the medical-surgical setting, taught nursing students in the clinical setting, and ultimately chose to work as a labor & delivery nurse at Canton-Potsdam Hospital. She thrived on giving physical and emotional support to women and their families during the birth process.

A group of six white women and 4 young children smiling in a suburban backyard with trees in the background

An inkling to a diagnosis

In 2013, Jolene gave birth to a son. She dealt with a number of breastfeeding complications in her right breast and sought out advice from a number of providers who were able to help in some ways. Still, as a mother, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not quite right.

Four years later, after stopping breastfeeding her son, Jolene’s health issues with her breast persisted.

In March 2018, she made the decision to go to a general surgery and breast care provider to get another opinion.

“I don’t think I was in her office for more than 5 minutes and she was on the phone with the radiology team at Canton-Potsdam Hospital,” Jolene said.

Moving quickly

From March 1, 2018, the day Jolene was seen at the general surgery and breast care provider’s office, things began to move quickly.

The radiology team at Canton-Potsdam had her undergo multiple mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies in the same day. This was all on a Thursday.

“I know they didn’t, but it felt like they cleared their schedule only to work with me,” Jolene said. “They were all very attentive and in tune to me – focused on my needs. They were professionally and emotionally present for me. I left basically knowing that it was very likely breast cancer and that it was likely very aggressive.”

On Monday – 4 days after her imaging appointments – Jolene got a call confirming what she essentially already knew: she had breast cancer. There were multiple tumors in her right breast, as well as cancer in several lymph nodes.

Within a week, Jolene had a port line placed for intravenous access. By March 15, she was at the Center for Cancer Care at Canton-Potsdam Hospital for her first neoadjuvant chemotherapy infusion – just two weeks after her initial visit. 

A woman bald from cancer treatment smiles for a family photo with her husband and young son with white bookshelves behind them
Jolene with her extended family on Lake Ontario in 2018

From there, Jolene had chemotherapy treatments every 3 weeks until she underwent a bilateral mastectomy on July 26. Jolene chose not to have reconstruction after surgery and instead chose flat closure – a decision she has never regretted. After recovering from the surgery, she had radiation treatments nearly every day for 7 weeks before resuming chemotherapy again.

Throughout her treatment, Jolene said her breast care team, led by Velmalia Matthews-Smith, MD, was outstanding.

“They treated me like I was a friend or sister,” Jolene said. “From the breast care navigator to the ultrasound technician, mammography technician, the radiology nurses and the radiologist to the oncology infusion nurses and the radiation therapy team, everyone was very attentive. They were kind and caring, but also deeply professional. Even on days when the infusion room was packed, I never felt rushed or in the way. They were mindful and present in their care.”

Three doctors and a patient smile outside a cancer treatment center

The road ahead

Since her final chemotherapy treatment in April 2019, life has been a steady uphill climb for Jolene – the kind of climb that comes with a great view.

As chemotherapy infusions began to wrap up, Jolene decided she would set her sights in a new direction. Her mission as a labor & delivery nurse transitioned to nursing education. She now serves as the Magnet Program Director at St. Lawrence Health and holds the responsibility of supporting and advancing excellence in nursing. She works to help nurses and nursing staff at St. Lawrence be proud of the work they do and supports them in building a place where they want to come to work every day – an undertaking that combines her professional and personal experiences.

“Having received and provided such an intimate level of care and support, I want to help other nurses by doing whatever I can to support them in their space and their needs,” Jolene said.

Every 3-6 months, Jolene still returns to the Center for Cancer Care to see a provider and go through screening to ensure she is still doing well. She takes a daily pill and receives a monthly shot, both to prevent the cancer from returning. She also receives an annual infusion to strengthen her bones, which deteriorated as a result of her chemotherapy treatment.

An elderly white woman and three middle-aged white women smile for a family picture

Throughout her treatment, Jolene made it a point to go out running whenever she had the chance. Whether it was 1 mile or 10 miles, she would run to keep her mind and body steady. Five and a half years after her diagnosis, Jolene continues to run long distances – and has added an ultramarathon on trails to her list of goals.

Jolene takes a selfie on a trail run in the woods with slush on the pathway
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