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Richland employee shares breast cancer journey, advocates for additional services and equipment

Richland employee shares breast cancer journey, advocates for additional services and equipment
Having worked in healthcare for many years, Heather Knox, RPh, is no stranger to the intricacies of the medical field. She has been a pharmacist with Carle Richland Memorial Hospital (CRMH) for over 14 years, and while contributing to patient care is a normal interaction for her, it became more personal when providers diagnosed first her father, and then herself, with cancer.

“When my dad was first diagnosed, I felt like he didn’t really have someone to walk him through next steps. It’s very stressful when a family member gets a cancer diagnosis and while we were helping him navigate appointments and doctor visits, that’s when I found a lump in my breast,” Knox said.

After a clean mammogram in May and it only being September, she thought it was odd, but due to her dad’s situation, made an appointment for another mammogram. Sure enough, imaging showed an area of concern and doctors recommended Knox get more testing.

“It was a little overwhelming. I was going through my dad’s cancer diagnosis and then I find out I have a cancer diagnosis myself,” she said.

After further MRI imaging, the results came back with not just one but a second cancerous spot. A mere week after her official breast cancer diagnosis, her father lost his battle with cancer.

“It was a very emotional time. It gets you thinking, even if your prognosis is good, what will happen next? How will the treatments affect me long term? What do I need to plan ahead for? How do I talk to my kids and reassure them? So many things run through your mind at this time.”

Knox went through surgery and radiation and after that was complete, she got a call from a nurse care coordinator with her insurance company, Health Alliance. She was very appreciative of the call and the individual was very informative and answered several questions for her. The experience made her think about the need for an oncology navigator position for the Olney service area.

“It was great to have someone call me, but I kept thinking to myself that it would have been nice to have a professional to talk to and answer questions regarding my diagnosis before I finished with my treatments,” she said.

“In all the research after I was first diagnosed, that was something that stood out to me. I kept noticing that larger hospitals had oncology nurse navigators available to help newly diagnosed patients through all aspects of their care.”

Knox was a part of a team instrumental in bringing the right people together to form an Oncology group at CRMH and advocating for an oncology nurse navigator who would start with following breast cancer patients and hopefully into the future follow other cancer types. She had several conversations with the oncology nurse navigators for Carle Foundation Hospital to align their approach. She also got involved with local not-for-profit, Richland County HOPE, Inc., and is part of the group who organizes cancer comfort bags for newly diagnosed community members in Richland County.

To fully bring her vision for Richland to fruition, she hopes other members of the community will get involved and support the program.

Carle Health Center for Philanthropy has a specific breast fund, which supports patients in need of breast health services. Donors can also direct their funds by community. During this year’s organization iGive campaign, the annual opportunity for employees to donate to their regional philanthropy efforts, Heather was sure to earmark her donation for the breast fund.

“An example of some items we purchased using philanthropy dollars from this fund include post-op compression bras that each patient gets after having surgery, Bella® blankets for the mammography machine, and recently breast ultrasound probes for the radiology department,” said Chelsea Kermicle, Development manager at CRMH.

Knox is proud they were able to make all this happen, but she has her sights set a little bit higher.
“I really want to be able to raise enough money for a breast coil for our MRI machine here at Richland,” she says.

A breast coil is about $90,000 plus the training expense for employees. Having access to this technology at another hospital was what caught her second cancerous spot that didn’t show up on a mammogram or ultrasound and Knox’s ultimate goal is to help bring this testing option to patients in Olney.

“Traveling for tests can be hard for some patients. You have already gotten upsetting news, now you have to travel hours away to possibly get more upsetting news. I would love to one day fund this equipment so that our patients can be right here at their local hospital near their support system when they need further testing,” she said.

If you would like more information on how you can help to bring this life-saving equipment to the CRMH area, contact Chelsea Kermicle at (618) 395-6057 or visit to learn more about Carle Health Center for Philanthropy.

Categories: Community

Tags: Breast cancer, Carle Richland Memorial Hospital, giving, Olney, philanthropy