Surgical Team Defines Compassionate Care for One Grateful Patient
In May of 2017, Candace Blankenship, RN, was delighted to win a fitness-themed gift basket during National Nurses Week. “It was a gym bag with everything you could possibly need for a workout. It was great,” she says. “As a 58-year-old nurse, I knew I was in desperate need of some exercise.”
Blankenship decided to join the employee gym at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, where she works in the clinical documentation department. But she needed the permission of her primary care provider. “I moved up my yearly physical and went to see my provider. She completed the exam and gave me a slip for blood work. After the results came in, she called to tell me I was anemic. And she said no gym until after I got a colonoscopy.”
Blankenship had never had a colonoscopy before, though she knew she was long overdue. “While I wasn’t looking forward to the procedure, I wanted to get started at the gym and scheduled the colonoscopy.”
The news she received after the procedure was totally unexpected. “I was told there was a mass in my colon and that a tissue sample had been sent to the lab for a biopsy.”
The next day, she learned she had colon cancer. “Since I have no family history for cancer, it was a complete surprise,” she notes. A CT scan showed it had not spread, so surgery was the next step.
She made an appointment with Gregory Burgoyne, MD, a general surgeon at MedStar Union Memorial and MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, who specializes in laparoscopic procedures on the abdomen. Blankenship knew Dr. Burgoyne from her work at MedStar Union Memorial.
“He sat across from me and listened. He did not ask me a standard set of assessment questions while clicking boxes on a computer screen. He listened. He heard me when I said that it was important to me that this surgery be done laparoscopically so I could return to work as soon as possible.”
“When someone has been told they have cancer, it’s frightening,” says Dr. Burgoyne. “They need all the support they can get. Listening to patients is so important. I want them to feel as comfortable as possible.”
Blankenship was scheduled for a laparoscopic colectomy to remove the cancer on Sept. 11, at MedStar Good Samaritan. A minimally invasive procedure, the surgery is performed through several small incisions in the abdomen using special surgical tools. In contrast, an open colectomy involves one long incision in the abdomen. The method used depends on each patient’s specific situation and the surgeon’s expertise. Laparoscopic surgery may reduce the pain and recovery time, but not everyone is a candidate.
The day of her surgery, she arrived at MedStar Good Samaritan and was quickly admitted since she had preregistered. She was taken to pre-op, where she had her own private room. “Pre-op was great,” she says. “Before I left the room, I knew my entire surgical team. It made me feel so safe and well cared for.”
When she woke up in recovery, Dr. Burgoyne came in to check on her. “He had previously told me that sometimes the surgical team has to convert a laparoscopic colectomy to an open colectomy,” says Blankenship. “When he said he had been able to do everything laparoscopically, despite the fact that the tumor was fairly large, I was ecstatic.”
Blankenship was determined to make the most of her recovery time so she could return to work. “I had set goals for every day of my stay. And I was able to make these goals because I had the support of wonderful nurses and techs,” she notes. “They gave me the con dence I needed to believe that I was heading back to wellness. For this, I say thank you.”
Then there was the surgical team. “Every morning they went over what I was to expect for the day. In the afternoon, Dr. Burgoyne would sit with me to talk about how I was doing. And at night, the surgical resident on call would check on me,” Blankenship explains. “I found this level of care quite comforting and it also made me feel that the team saw me as a person—an individual with specific needs and goals.”
Blankenship was back to work exactly two weeks from the day of her surgery. “On the last day of my recovery at MedStar Good Samaritan, Dr. Burgoyne told me that all the biopsies were negative, and I no longer had colon cancer.” She is now following a five-year plan that includes regular lab work every three months, CT scans every six months, and a colonoscopy in a year.
“Candace’s surgery went very well and her determination to recover quickly played a big part in her being able to return to work in just a couple of weeks,” Dr. Burgoyne says. “We are pleased that she found it to be a positive experience, despite the stress I knew she was feeling.”