Breast cancer runs in Della Smith’s family, so at age 35, she started going for an annual mammogram. In January 2012, 40 years old and just four months after having a mammogram, she found a lump in her left breast. Within a week, following a bevy of tests, it was confirmed as cancer.

“My brother was being treated at the time for cancer, at the local hospital,” remembers Della. “I was one of his caregivers, and I noted that while he had a very good doctor, personal and attentive, the hospital itself left a lot to be desired. It was big and very cold, and they would send him all over, with none of his service providers knowing what the others were doing.”

Now faced with choosing her own oncologist, Della did an online search, and found the Hematology Oncology Association (HOA). “Everything seemed so coordinated and user friendly, and I just felt pulled in that direction, like something was saying ‘go here’,” she says.

And when she walked through the front doors, the deal was sealed. “If you have to go through hell, which people with cancer go through here on Earth, this is where you want to be. On my very first visit, I was overwhelmed, but then the doctor started talking to me about what’s going on with my body and what will happen with treatment, and laying out all of my options. There was no rush – I knew they must have a thousand patients, but we spent an entire hour together, during which I felt their only concern was for me.”

“A place, run by doctors who have the freedom to be who they set out to be – to be your protector.”

By her next appointment, Della had decided to do the recommended five months of chemo followed by a lumpectomy and lymph node removal. A nurse practitioner walked her through the entire process, explaining every detail, including all possible side effects. “She reassured me that with every side effect, she would do her personal best to block or remove it. And she did,” says Della.

In the fourth month of treatment, Della developed neuropathy, a nerve disorder that sometimes results from chemotherapy. Treatments were stopped, and as the tumor had already shrunk significantly, she proceeded with surgery and radiation, finishing in November 2012.

Today, Della returns every six months for blood work, and sees her oncologist annually. She is also under care for the congestive heart failure she developed following chemo. With an incomparable spirit that always looks upwards and outwards, Della is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in social work, and plans to work with the terminally ill and with cancer patients.

Looking back, Della is extremely satisfied with her choice of community oncology care. “Getting treated for cancer has its technical side, including tests and bills and insurance; that’s life and there’s no getting around it. However, you want to be treated by doctors with integrity, who will put you first. The HOA is just such a place, run by doctors who have the freedom to be who they set out to be – to be your protector.”

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