In 2013, on her 61st birthday, Emma Sinkfield became the fourth sister in her family to be diagnosed with cancer. Over the next year of her treatment, a fifth sister was also diagnosed.
Emma’s was HER2-Positive breast cancer; a relatively rare condition that indicates the presence of certain proteins that stimulate cancer cell growth. She chose to undergo a lumpectomy and the removal of 15 lymph nodes, followed by chemo and radiation. Emma, as did her sisters, chose the setting of community oncology care; Emma herself was treated by Dr. Miriam Atkins and the staff at Augusta Oncology.
“You can meet someone, and right away feel like you’ve known him all your life,” says Emma. “This is the feeling I got from my doctors at Augusta Oncology. They treated me like I was special to them, and they were going to do everything they could to make sure I got well. You know, being told you have cancer is very devastating, but everyone at Augusta Oncology and COA made me feel safe and among friends. They explained all the things they were going to do and what would happen, and answered whatever questions I had.”
One great advantage to community oncology is access to special resources. Emma had a 132-mile round trip car ride to the clinic each visit – sometimes day after day. So COA introduced Emma to one of its partners, the Lydia Project, which provides assistance and free accommodations for women undergoing cancer treatment. For Emma, this was a godsend, especially helpful when it came time for daily radiation treatments. As the Lydia House was only a quarter of a mile from the clinic, Emma was able to independently drive down, stay the week, and then drive herself home.
“They treated me like I was special to them, and they were going to do everything they could to make sure I got well.”
Whether at Augusta Oncology or the Lydia House, Emma was surrounded by all the support she could ask for. “Treatment at the community level is so important,” explains Emma. “Your life is on the line here, and seeing other people going through the same thing, knowing you are not alone, gives incredible strength.”
Following treatment, Emma developed Lymphedema, a debilitating condition that can result from lymph removal. She engaged in a four-month battle with the insurance company, representing several other patients facing a similar wall. By the time she achieved victory she had become a true advocate, and COA sent her twice over the next years to a national community oncology conference in Florida. Returning full of knowledge and inspiration, Emma went on to establish a local community movement, “Circle of Care,” which raises awareness about cancer.
Today Emma goes for regular checkups and tests, and continues with the oral medication she will be on for a total of five years. A social worker by training, Emma is also ordained as a church minister; another avenue in which she is able to help others. She maintains the greatest appreciation for community oncology, and recommends it to anyone wishing the highest standard of care.
“You know, at Augusta Oncology, they helped me lose my fear of cancer. I felt like I was drowning in the cancer diagnosis, and they showed me how to stay afloat.”