Don and Catherine (Jeanne) Brownlee moved to the area from southern Maryland three years ago. When they decided to move here, having healthcare facilities nearby was not high on their must-have list, even though Jeanne had fought breast cancer 10 years earlier. After all, they never had the luxury of living close to a hospital or specialized cancer treatment facility before. Little did they know when they moved into their newly built house that they would so quickly need Beebe Healthcare’s services.
After Jeanne’s 2007 cancer diagnosis, radiation and chemotherapy, she was considered cancer-free until the summer of 2016, when symptoms of extreme tiredness prompted her to look for the cause. That’s when the Brownlees discovered Beebe’s Tunnell Cancer Center, which quickly diagnosed another form of cancer in her stomach.
“Imagine our initial dismay, followed by our surprise and good fortune to have a state-of-the-art cancer center only 15 minutes from home!” comments Don Brownlee.
When Jeanne was diagnosed with this new and incurable cancer, friends and family rightfully urged for second opinions from the larger cancer centers in Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania and New York. Don and Jeanne worked with Tunnell Cancer Center medical oncologist Dr. Nataliya Melnyk who volunteered to help them explore all options, but also noted that the treatment for this type of cancer was extremely limited and would be the same everywhere, with no known experimental clinical trials available.
Dr. Melnyk also assured them that the Tunnell Cancer Center was equipped with the most current medical procedures, equipment, and caregivers available to ensure the highest quality of life for as long as possible. Jeanne chose to remain close to home for treatment, and the Brownlees were both so glad she did. Throughout Jeanne’s rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, they were totally confident that they received the best care possible at Tunnell Cancer Center.
Jeanne’s last infusion took place on June 20, 2017, the Brownlee’s 52nd wedding anniversary. Soon after this, she was admitted to Beebe Hospital and then entered a hospice care program at home for 12 days before her passing on July 11, surrounded by her husband and two daughters.
For the Brownlees, the human connection at Tunnell Cancer Center was the primary reason they chose to stay. In addition to the treatment, the Brownlees had a higher quality of life during Jeanne’s final 10 months. Don remarked, “Each time we arrived at Tunnell, everyone there recognized us and knew what we were going through. It’s just not the same at the larger institutions.”
The Brownlees were particularly impressed with the quality, dedication, positive attitude, and compassion of the young people who devote their professional lives to working at the cancer center, especially when they are faced with potentially less-than-optimistic, positive patient outcomes. Across the board, Don and Jeanne felt that they received amazing care and compassion from the cancer center’s administration, nurses, doctors, and volunteers.
Don recently made a generous gift to Tunnell Cancer Center in memory of Jeanne. The family also requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Jeanne’s memory to the cancer center. Accompanying Don’s donation was his handwritten note to the Tunnell staff:
“To all the wonderful Tunnell Cancer Center caregivers – doctors, nurses, assistants, volunteers, and support and administrative staff – Thank you for your compassion, dedication, and care. You are a special group who helped me and my wife, Catherine, through the toughest times for over ten months.”
Don recently visited Tunnell Cancer Center to acknowledge and celebrate the excellent care he and Jeanne received. He had a special thank you for Dr. Melnyk, whose goal was to give his wife the best quality of life for as long as possible. He also thanked medical oncology nurse practitioner Elizabeth Wilson not only for her compassion but also for sharing her own personal family experience about Jeanne’s form of cancer, and he praised oncology nurse Erika Moon for “bringing a ray of sunshine and a positive, caring spirit into the room during each of our visits.”
Although it’s been difficult, Don says he has much to be grateful for at this time. “I experienced 52 wonderful years of marriage; Jeanne’s passing was as humane and as well-managed as one could expect; our legacy is two wonderful daughters and a granddaughter, and I am convinced that the medical care and personal dedication we received at Tunnell Cancer Center rivals any of the larger cancer institutions anywhere.”
Don paused for a moment and added, “I am a cancer survivor. And while I have never had cancer, I am surviving my wife’s cancer with the knowledge that she received the best treatment possible from a truly wonderful staff of young caregivers who are fiercely dedicated to helping others while working hard to find a cure for them. I am grateful to the Tunnell Cancer Center team for being my lifeline for the 10 months of treatment and care that they provided during a critical time when our lives intersected.”
As a community-based, not-for-profit healthcare system, Beebe Healthcare depends on the generous support of individuals, corporations, businesses, and private foundations. All gifts to Beebe Healthcare, large or small, are tax-deductible and are channeled through Beebe Medical Foundation. Gifts can be designated to specific areas such as the Tunnell Cancer Center. Please consider making a gift today and sharing your story with our community. To make your proud personal donation or to learn more about Celebrate Excellent Care, go online to www.beebemedicalfoundation.org or contact the Beebe Medical Foundation at 302-644-2900 or write to [email protected].
Photo Caption: Elizabeth Wilson, FNP, (l-r) Dr. Nataliya Melnyk, and nurse Erika Moon receive Celebrate Excellent Care awards from Don Brownlee for their quality and compassionate care for his late wife, Catherine “Jeanne” Brownlee, during her time of treatment at Beebe Healthcare’s Tunnell Cancer Center. They are pictured here in the cancer center’s Meditation Garden