Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center | Healing for Body, Mind and Spirit

On a sunny morning in August 2012, Catherine and Rick Bernt stepped onto the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and into the rest of their lives. Their small, picturesque wedding at the Missouri River’s edge was the perfect way to start a lifetime together. But within an hour of saying “I do,” a single phone call cast a shadow over their day of celebration. It was Catherine’s doctor confirming her diagnosis. Cervical cancer.

One thought raced through Catherine’s mind: “I’m going to die.”

More Than Just One Opinion

Catherine’s gynecologist referred her to Niyati Nadkarni, MD, a gynecologic oncologist with Midwest GYN Oncology at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. Minutes after walking into Dr. Nadkarni’s office, Catherine felt a sense of relief knowing that the female oncologist — one of only two female gynecologic oncologists in the state — would handle her care.

“I really felt she possessed the latest knowledge that would give her the upper hand in my treatment,” said Catherine, “and it wasn’t just her making the decisions. She always talked to other doctors about my case, and I really felt like there was a team of people rather than just one opinion.”

Catherine is among the nearly 2,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients each year who turn to the multidisciplinary care, state-of-the-art technology, cutting-edge clinical trials and comprehensive support services offered by Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. Here, a holistic approach to healing body, mind and spirit is coupled with the best treatments medicine has to offer.

“I think patients really appreciate the fact that we all sit and talk about pathology and come up with a game plan for their treatment,” said Dr. Nadkarni. “It’s a well-oiled machine. Everyone’s right here.”

A patient-centered team approach is at the heart of care provided at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. Each week, teams of specialists in their respective tumor-site-specific fields spend hours analyzing patient care from their unique perspectives. There are nearly 20 different meetings every month, and everyone has a seat at the table: radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, nurses and more.

“We all have our own biases,” said George Dittrick, MD, surgical oncologist at the Surgical Oncology Clinic at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. “As a surgeon, I may see things from a more surgical microscope. Sometimes a different tool or approach to treatment may be the best option.”

"She always talked to other doctors about my case, and I really felt like there was a team of people rather than just one opinion."

Catherine Bernt

Better Treatment for the Future

The best option in some cases may be for a patient to participate in one of many clinical trials. Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center offers more cancer-related clinical trials than any other regional cancer center*, and is one of the country’s leaders in offering new options for patient care.

Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center currently offers nearly 80 clinical trials, and 17 percent of eligible patients are trial participants*— the national average is two to three percent.

“Clinical trials are very important for future care,” emphasized James Reilly, MD, surgical oncologist at the Breast Care Center at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. “The information we learn from clinical trials today may change what we’re doing to provide better care to patients tomorrow.”

“Having access to more clinical trials than anyone in the region is what allows us to offer the most up-to-date and hopefully best cancer treatment options available,” said Dr. Dittrick. “A patient deserves to have all that information because ultimately it’s his or her decision.”

Patients say they appreciate having all that information and a team of doctors working for their overall health.

“If any doctor questioned what they were doing in my case, there were other specialists involved to give input,” said Kim Dobson, a breast cancer survivor who underwent a mastectomy in March 2013. “I just always felt so confident in what I was doing. When people would ask me if I was scared I would say, ‘no, I’m not,’ because I know I’m getting the best care.”

The Power of Pink

Kim Dobson always figured she’d get cancer one day.

“My mother had a double mastectomy. My grandmother, great-grandmother, great-aunt — they’re all survivors,” said Kim, who discovered through genetic testing that she does not carry the breast cancer gene. “From the beginning I knew I was going to beat this. I was going to fight it, and all was going to be well.”

She was at work as an administrative assistant at Arlington Public Schools in Arlington, Neb., when she learned about her diagnosis.

“In a small town you just kind of know everybody, and all of a sudden everybody knew,” said Kim, Booster of the Year and former coach of the school dance team. “At the Pink Out football game the dance team dedicated their song to me, and they wore pink and had pink pompoms and formed a pink ribbon at the end. It was so amazing… really, really cool.”

After learning about her diagnosis, a friend referred Kim to Dr. Reilly and physicians at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center — a referral she said made all the difference.

“My compassionate doctors… I just love them all,” said Kim. “Even though it hasn’t been an easy road, I’ve been incredibly blessed by the support of my family, friends and my doctors. This has just been a powerful experience.”

Healing the Person, Not Just the Cancer

That powerful experience begins the moment a patient enters Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. A welcoming hug, friendly smile and knowledgeable staff bring caring to a personal level.

“From the minute you walk in, everyone is so kind,” Kim glowed. “They know what you are going through. It’s just an amazing place; I can’t say enough.”

It’s a place of holistic healing that takes into consideration every aspect of care — from physical wellness and behavioral health to financial assistance and cosmetology. The support resources provided through Harper’s Hope, a comprehensive cancer survivorship program, take care and healing to the next level.

“Survivorship care is a crucial part of the healing process for patients and families,” said Patty Bauer, MHSA, RN, RRT, service executive at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. “What Methodist offers through Harper’s Hope is unique and an integral part of patient care.”

Thanks to a generous contribution to the Methodist Hospital Foundation, Harper’s Hope services are available to all cancer survivors, regardless of where they seek treatment or their ability to pay.

One of those services, Inner Beauty: A Specialty Salon for Cancer Survivors, allows patients to consult with a specially trained clinical cosmetologist and certified mastectomy fitter to find the breast care, skin care, makeup and wigs that will work best for them as they go through the physical changes treatment brings.

“Being bald was terrible for me,” said Catherine, who underwent a consultation at Inner Beauty. “I looked and looked and looked to try and find something I could be comfortable in.”

“Inner Beauty is very important because not only are you changing an important part of a patient’s body with surgery and radiation, but you really change their body image with chemotherapy,” said Dr. Reilly. “For some women, losing their hair is more devastating to them than what happened to their bodies.”

Harper’s Hope physical wellness programs offer massage and exercise classes such as aerobics, Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi and strength training. Social service professionals are also on staff to help with caregiver concerns, transportation, financial assistance and referrals to other services that make life easier during and after treatment. And a registered dietitian, board-certified as a specialist in oncology nutrition, can also provide eating tips and recipes and help with supplements.

“As a physician, sometimes you find you become too focused on treating a disease,” said Dr. Dittrick. “We try to remember that it’s not just about a treatment, but how the treatment affects our patients’ lives.”

Help, Healing and Hope

During their most difficult times, survivors and families rely on the people and many programs offered at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center to find help, healing and hope.

Today, Kim and Catherine are both in good health. Their cancers are in remission and their ongoing care at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center has them confident about the future.

“I still call whenever I have questions, and the doctors never act like they’re in a hurry or too busy to help,” said Catherine. “They make me feel like I’m the only person they take care of, and that’s a relief.”

After a year in and out of the hospital with surgeries and struggles with related health issues, Catherine and her new husband are taking their new life together one day at a time.

“I’m so thankful that I went to Methodist,” said Catherine.  “I am really lucky.”

Story by Katina Gordon