Walking through cancer with Christ
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Journey of the Heart
This is a talk Dionette gave on March 14, 2013 at the McKee Medical Center Foundation donor appreciation lunch. Though relying on oxygen and facing the reality of metastasized cancer throughout her chest, including her heart and lungs, Dio shares her appreciation for the wonderful staff at McKee and her faith in Jesus Christ as her ultimate Savior and Healer. Her strength, peace and joy come from Him. On April 24, 2013 Dio took her last breath on earth and stepped into the heavenly reality she had only been able to dream about. For all of us who were part of this phase of her life journey, we are eternally thankful for Dio and the example she set and the hope we share.
February 2, 2011
Hello everyone, again my name is Dionette Kalkhofer. What an honor and privilege it is for me to be here speaking to you all today! As my Bio says, I am new to Colorado. 25 months and 12 days ago while still living in Florida I walked into this incredible place for the first time, and it happened to be for a joyful occasion. It was February 2, 2011. On that day I became the proud grandmother of Isaiah, who is sitting with his mommy right over there. Eva & Isaiah I love you so much. Eva, watching you go through so
much daily as a single parent of two children gives me the strength I need to fight my battle. I remember that day as if it was yesterday, watching the nurses hovering around my daughter and the impressions they made on me. I commented to my daughter how incredibly loving all of the nurses were that were attending her during her birth.
Little did I know that two years later I would be walking the halls of this hospital like an inside member greeting doctors, nurses, social workers and transport people by their first names, but this time it would be under not so joyful of circumstances.
December 20, 2011
The first time I walked in, as a patient was Dec 20th, 2011. I had a large lump in the left area of my throat that I had noticed a month earlier that was not going away. Prior to arriving at the ER, my friend Sarah took me to the clinic downtown, but the earliest I could be seen was January 4. She then drove me to my car that was parked in the parking lot of Sam’s Club. She turned and looked at me and said, “This cannot wait until January 4. We have to get to the bottom of this today.”
I had never been in the position where I needed medical attention and did not have health insurance, I had just moved to Colorado in September, and I was not employed. Earlier that day Sarah had taken me to apply for a food stamp card; I remember what a humbling experience it was for me to be standing in a line asking the government for help. I was 49 and had always been employed and had never been in the position to need help from any government institution.
So when Sarah suggested we go to the ER at McKee, I wavered because I did not have insurance and did not have the financial means to pay the medical bill. She assured me that it would be ok, since I trusted her -I allowed her to drive me to the ER that day.
We were seen right away and I told the ER physician about my history with breast cancer and that I was concerned with this possibly being a metastasis. She told us that she had no idea as to how to proceed since people normally don’t come in to the ER to be diagnosed with cancer. She came back minutes later after talking to an oncologist on staff who told her to proceed with a Fine Needle Biopsy.
Thirty minutes later I was wheeled into the Radiology Department for the first time. I had no idea that this part of the hospital would soon become my home away from home. Less than an hour after that I had my second encounter with how truly caring and loving the McKee staff really is when the ER physician came in to give me the results to my biopsy. She sat down and held my hand and said, “I’m sorry but I have never had to do this before.” With tears streaming down her face she proceeded to tell us that the biopsy had come back positive for cancer.
My friend and I looked at each other with smiles on our faces and said to her, “Don’t worry. We know that God has a plan and that it’s all going to be okay.”
That day I walked out of the hospital not only having been seen by an incredibly loving doctor, but also knowing what was going on and with an appointment to see an oncologist on the 28th of December. I was grateful to Sarah for insisting that I get seen right away, but I was also thankful to McKee for making it possible for someone without insurance to be seen so quickly, and to not have to wait until after Christmas to have some answers. That day was the start of my own relationship with Banner Health/ McKee Medical Center.
The rest of this story is too long to give you all the details of my first metastasis. Just know this: after two chemo treatments, one prophetic word from my mom, another from Sarah along with hundreds a people praying, God shined His light upon me and my cancer was gone within two months. This would be the second time the Lord working through my mother would heal me of cancer; but that is a very powerful testimony that deserves to be told another day. It was a short, relatively painless and amazing journey. This all happened in February 2012. I continued with treatments upon the request of my oncologist until May of 2012.
September 10, 2012
Fast forward to mid summer when I developed a nagging cough that would not go away. I was also experiencing shortness of breath. Again because of my history I went to the ER twice and to my family practitioner at the Loveland Clinic three times. The findings were bronchitis appearing to possibly be pneumonia with a left lung atelectisis. I was prescribed antibiotics and a steroid inhaler. By now two and a half months had lapsed and I was not getting better. With the cough and the shortness of breath more persistent than ever, my friend Nina flew in from Miami to help me get to the bottom of what was going on. She sat with me in the Loveland Clinic and insisted that the doctor perform a chest x-ray. The chest x- ray showed my heart to be enlarged to three times its normal size. This alarmed the practitioner and she subsequently ordered an echocardiogram. It was Wednesday and the Echo was scheduled for 8 a.m. on Monday morning, 9/10/12.
I had other plans for Sept 10th, 2012 that I had been anxiously anticipating for months! On that very afternoon I was scheduled to start ministry school. But God, having the sense of Humor that He has, had other lessons for me to learn and as I would soon find out they were “Matters of the Heart” – ironically, the name of a book that Sarah and I had been reading over the summer.
The echo was at 8 a.m. By 10 a.m. I was being schedule to see a cardiologist and was told that he was waiting for me. ”Go straight there!” I was urged. Dr. Brian Lyle awaited me with both a sweet smile and a look of concern; unbeknownst to me this man would soon become my special angel that would save my life not just once, but twice within the next three months. In terms that I had never heard before, he called the results to my echo a pericardial effusion. He proceeded to explain to me that I had what looked like a very large pericardial effusion and that he had scheduled me for surgery that same afternoon at NCMR (Northern Colorado Medical Center), also just letters that meant nothing to me.
He asked if I needed a ride, and if I knew how to get there. I looked at him like he was an alien with three eyes.
“He does not get it! I will be in one place at 5 p.m. and that is raising my hand in roll call for my first day of ministry school.
He then so very sweetly looked at me again and said, “Yes, you could be in ministry school and fall down during prayers of a massive heart attack that you would not recover from.”
He went into his office and returned with a piece of paper with directions to NCMC and his cell phone number and said, “You call me for any reason, anytime.”
I was staring at the phone number of a doctor I just met that thought it important enough to give me his personal cell phone number. I was in shock, not over the fact that I was not starting ministry school nor that I had a large pericardial effusion that could cause me to fall dead any second, but due to this simple act of human concern and kindness. As I would soon learn he meant it too, because over the course of the next five months I would use that number on multiple occasions. Dr. Brian Lyle is in a league of his own, He puts the capital C in the word caring.
That day marked the beginning of my second metastasis, my third cancer journey. They took 1500cc of fluid out of my heart sac that day and it tested positive for the same breast cancer cells. I never knew you could get cancer in the heart, I guess the Lord was making a statement and He wanted my attention!
McKee is a hospital unlike any other. You sense the spirit of the Lord in the eyes and hearts of each and every person that has the privilege to work here. I say privilege not from my own words but from the words of the primarily nurses I have asked how they feel about their jobs. Not one has ever answered differently; they are happy and feel appreciated by both their patients and their bosses. Some have worked elsewhere and say there is really no place like McKee. I often ask what they attribute this to and they say: “It’s easy- it comes from the top down- management fosters this loving and compassionate environment- after all, you’re not a statistic- you’re part of our McKee family.”
I myself have not yet had the privilege of meeting the CEO but I can tell you that she is truly a hero, loved and commended by many. I have loved and appreciated each and every person that has been a part of my journey. Just to mention a few that can not go unnoticed:
· Gale Coddington the social worker with the biggest heart - I could not have done it without your loving support
· Julie and Kate in the cancer center
· Ashley part of Gale’s team
· Sharon in Radiology
· Marie the Chaplain
· Dr. Pearson
· Dr. Sam
· Doc Keeler
· Doc Blumquist
I could literally go on forever, but I have so exceeded my 7 minutes already. In return I have received an over abundance of love pouring down on me. This love has been the glue that has kept me together in the toughest of moments. And believe me, I know tough -- with nine lung taps, two pericardial window surgeries, one surgery to install a lung drain and one to remove it, more x-rays, CT-scans, PET-scans, ER visits, chemo treatments and Neulasta shots than I can count.
I have had the honor of being treated by hundreds of people in this hospital. I have been humbled time and time again by the loving and compassionate care that each individual has given to me. In those moments I was being treated by McKee staff it felt as if time was standing still and nothing existed except me and the angel nurse or doctor at my side.
So they call today the “Thank You” luncheon to honor those volunteers and donors who give of their time and open their wallets so generously. Those unsung heros give to complete strangers, asking for nothing in return and often not knowing the fruits of their labor. I am here today as a testament to being on the receiving end of that generosity and to say to each and every one of you who donate your time and money so selflessly, “I couldn’t have made it here today if it wasn’t for you, the donors.”
I don’t know what plans God has for me, but I do have faith that by this time next year I will be sitting at this luncheon as a volunteer.
A big thank you to my cancer support group (the B&B Club) and my family, especially my mom. She has worked tirelessly for me and I would not be here without this amazing woman of God!
May God richly bless each and every one of you.
Here's a link to Dio's Blog: Ondapath to Health and Healing.