Keeping control through cancer
Kelley Tuthill is used to getting the story as an investigative reporter for WCVB-TV in Boston, but after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36 just before Christmas 2006, she became the story herself: documenting her care at Dana-Farber for an award-winning series on WCVB titled “Kelley’s Story.”
One thing that Tuthill says has been most beneficial in helping her through her cancer experience are the acupuncture and Reiki treatments she’s received at Dana-Farber’s Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies. On May 8, she was the guest speaker at a donor reception prior to a major Zakim Center fundraiser. This event, which featured Boston-bred performer Tezz Yancey, was held at Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theatre and raised more than $100,000 for the Zakim Center.
Tuthill recently spoke with Dana-Farber Senior Publications Editor Saul Wisnia about the important part the center has played in her life this past year, when she juggled cancer with her roles as a journalist, wife, and mother of two children under age 5:
You get a lot of literature when you’re diagnosed with cancer, and I was happy to see in my new patient packet that there was a place like the Zakim Center at Dana-Farber. I had always done yoga, and felt like integrative therapies might be something that could help me with my stress and side effects.
I had read in Dr. Carolyn Kaelin’s book [Kaelin is a breast cancer physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a breast cancer survivor] that she did acupuncture a few days before her most toxic chemotherapy treatments to combat nausea, so I took her advice and did the same thing through the Zakim Center to fight my nausea and fatigue. I was nervous, because I had never done acupuncture before, but I felt a great degree of comfort because I knew the people were so highly trained and that my oncologist, Dr. Anne Partridge, could oversee what they were doing. I wanted to do something that would complement my standard treatment, not counter it — and this certainly did. It helped me maintain a sense of calm [not calmness] through the whole process, and the anxiety I felt going through such an extreme treatment.
The other thing I did that I had never tried before was Reiki, with Susan DeCristofaro, RN, MSN. Most of us can wrap our brains around the fact that if we go and get a massage, we’re going to feel better. But it’s harder to understand how Reiki could work; it’s basically described as a practitioner using her hands to give you peace, comfort, and energy. I was definitely skeptical, but Susan was amazing. I would go in there feeling nervous and anxious about things, and I would come out a transformed person. She had such a way about her, and helped me to feel more relaxed, more balanced, more positive. She would put her hands on my bald head and say, “I feel like you have good energy.” That meant a lot to me, because I felt very nervous about how I was doing physically, and it was reassuring to hear somebody say I had positive energy left in my battered body, even when I didn’t feel like I did. There was something about her touch that was very powerful.
I was having acupuncture on Fridays, so I started getting Reiki on Monday mornings before my toughest chemo treatment, Adriamycin and cytoxan. There were so many invasive things happening, but this was an hour where I could just go hide in there with Susan and have a little peace. It was the one part of my Dana-Farber treatment where I was choosing what to do. Usually you have to get a CAT scan, or you have to get a certain treatment, but this was something just for me. It empowered me to say, “I’m going to take this next hour and do this for myself.” It’s going to help me in ways that only I know about and only I can experience.
Integrative therapies helped me manage my side effects and stay emotionally balanced. I had a lot going on with treatment and a family and a job, and I was really struggling to keep everything together. It’s not easy to give yourself permission, to be able to just say, “It’s OK to take one hour and do something that I think will help me.” There was not a lot of wiggle room in the schedule, and I already felt tremendous guilt that my treatment was taking me away from my kids and to some degree my work. If I had to go somewhere else to get it, I’m not sure if I would have. But this was right there, in the same building, so I went for it.
My treatment is winding down now. I just have some lingering fatigue, but other than that I’m doing pretty well. I will be done two weeks from now, after my last herceptin treatment.
My experience at DFCI has been great from day one. Dr Ann Partridge made me immediately feel comfortable and secure. Her focus on young women made me feel she really understands my needs and concerns. Dr. Julia Wong in Radiation Oncology is an exceptional doctor, and has become a trusted friend as well. I love Fifi [Swerling Kellem] for her warm welcome at the front desk, and the nurses on Dana 10 for their dedication to patients enduring difficult treatments. I love the radiation therapists who helped me get through six trying weeks, and the unsung heroes who take care of me with a smile and a sense of hope and optimism. It has been an amazing experience to be around such wonderful caregivers, and the Zakim Center and its staff have been a part of that.
I interviewed Lenny Zakim just a few weeks before he died at one of his wonderful “Team Harmony” events at the Boston Garden [where Zakim, the former New England Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, would bring together school kids from throughout Massachusetts to help bridge cultures and break down racist stereotypes]. Later I covered the Mother’s Day event when everybody walked across the Zakim Bridge for the first time. I’m so happy that this was how his legacy was honored at Dana-Farber — giving people like me a chance to find some peace in the midst of this storm that cancer brings to your life.
— Saul Wisnia
Courtesy Dana-Farber Cancer Institute