You’d never know by looking at him – but Jim Wilimek has been fighting the deadliest form of cancer. Doctors discovered tumors in his lungs four years ago. “You think – this can’t be happening to me,” says Jim’s wife Kay, “it always happens to somebody else, but then you realize it does happen to you.”
And when it does – the medical jargon, tests and treatment can feel like too much to handle. Helping people through it are Cancer Care Coordinators like Carissa Thompson at the John Stoddard Cancer Center. “I tell people – it’s not like you’re getting your knee replaced or your gall bladder out. It’s like nothing you’ve ever been through before and it’s not just a physical piece…it’s emotional, financial, it’s all of those things.”
Carissa’s been there to help Jim and Kay handle those things – and to just be a friend. She was there all the time,” Jim explains, “a lot of the appointments for radiation and chemo; she’d stop by almost every week just to see how it was going.” Kay chuckles and adds, “It was kind of our code word – ‘Call Carissa!’ – anytime we needed anything or had a question.”
The Wilimeks and countless other patients are grateful for these specially trained nurses, and the people who fund the program. People like Kim Johnson. “It was like – what can we do to give back to the community, and to give back to families who have their own fight going on right now.”
Kim and her husband Coral started “The Rally Against Cancer” after the disease hit their family. “My mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer,” says Kim, “she was the picture of health, hadn’t ever been sick.” Helen Hampton owned her own business, loved skiing and scuba diving, and was always smiling. “She was a very social, positive person even to the end. She had a two year really hard fight with and gave it her all.”
The Care Coordinator program didn’t exist then … now there are six nurses like Carissa, dedicated to helping patients and their families. “No matter what the endpoint is, I hope I was able to bring them comfort in some way while they were going through this,” she says.
Coral Johnson says dealing with cancer really is a team effort, “The Care Coordinators – they’re like the quarterback in the process and it’s something we really appreciate. And our family has been involved in the Rally – our children, our cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles – they’re all part of this. It’s very rewarding.”
And it is truly a labor of love for this family, in honor of a woman who gave it her all. “Cancer was such a negative thing in our life and I would give anything to have my mother back, but to see so many positive things that can come from it – that’s what’s made it worthwhile and I know she’s watching and cheering us on.”
“The Rally Against Cancer” for the John Stoddard Cancer Center is this Saturday. The event is sold out, but you can still donate to the cause.
The Rally is in its 13th year and the Johnson’s and their teams are working toward raising their second million. The money not only funds the Care Coordinator program, it’s also helped buy equipment and makes renovations possible.