AMSTERDAM - When Linda Eaton of West Galway had a flare-up of breast cancer recently, she went to where she was helped 14 years ago - New York Oncology Hematology.
Oncology Nurse Kelly Diamond has been with NYOH since it began 25 years ago. Laboratory Manager Karen Jurcsak joined the team shortly after and both have seen many changes in patient care since Eaton first came for diagnosis and treatment.
Eaton said her first bout with cancer was uncharacteristic and difficult to diagnose. And the chemotherapy treatments she received then made her even sicker - putting her in the hospital.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
At left, Karen Jurcsak, New York Oncology and Hemtology nurse and lab manager, left, and Kelly Diamond, registered nurse, look over medical records at the NYOH building in Amsterdam Wednesday.
She said at first she didn't know she had a lymphoma, since she was experiencing chest pain. When her electrocardiogram test came back negative, a CT scan was done to try to find the problem.
"They wanted me to see an oncologist," Eaton said. "I was in the next day."
Eaton said she was told her illness was serious, but it took a month to diagnose. She said the diagnosis was finally discovered at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany, but she didn't want to travel that far for treatments after she had an operation there. The chemotherapy used at the time was so strong it put her in St. Mary's Hospital for 33 days from the toxic reaction.
"But they pulled me through," Eaton said. "I was hardly alive. I couldn't walk or roll over. I could just feed myself."
Eaton said when she came home from the hospital, she had to use a walker and couldn't go up steps. She certainly didn't want to travel a long way for treatment, and so she was glad treatment was available in Amsterdam.
"They were very warm and friendly," she said. "They were always willing to talk."
Diamond said she was the only nurse with NYOH when they started. She remembers the days when chemotherapy made people as sick as Eaton described.
As a breast cancer survivor herself, she also identifies with patient issues.
"Chemotherapy today has new medications to counteract side effects," Diamond said. "It's rare to have patients vomit now with therapy."
She said many drugs that were in the research phase of development are now approved and in successful use with patients. There are always new drugs in the works.
Also, the whole person, including family support and attitudes are part of the process today.
"We set up a goody table for the holidays and have a 'Survivors Day' for the patients and their families," Diamond said.
She said when she started there was a small room in St. Mary's and Amsterdam Memorial hospitals where they saw patients.
"We grew quickly to a comprehensive care center now located in Riverfront Center," Diamond said.
Jurcsak started as a laboratory technician, got her bachelor's degree in laboratory science and now is laboratory manager.
"I've lived in Amsterdam all my life," she said. "I've been able to grow with the organization."
NYOH has nine sites in the state, with the administrative office in Albany.
"By having the local site, people don't have to travel for treatment," Jurcsak said.
Diamond said the organization has tried to make as many services as possible available close to home.
"I used to have to travel to Albany five times a week for treatment," Diamond said.
"Now it's all right here."
Diamond said she has so much faith in the quality of care offered at NYOH, she has her own parents come there for care.
"If I thought they'd get better care somewhere else, I'd send them there," she said.
Diamond said there is no need to go to Boston or New York City for quality cancer care.
"The research protocols are here," she said.
Jurcsak said as a breast cancer survivor also, she chose to come to NYOH for care.
"People ask how we can work every day with cancer patients," she said. "I just see all the good we've done."
"I certainly think what we do is important," she said. "I truly love my job."
Jurcsak said at holiday time they "adopt" families and surprise them with gifts in a survivors' celebration for patients and their significant others.
"It's a happy time," she said. "You have to think you can make good come out of the situation. And there are great people here. Everybody is on a first-name basis."
Eaton said she agreed with Diamond and Jurcsak.
"I would truly recommend people go there," Eaton said. "It's so much more comfortable with family around."
Eaton said when she went for her first treatments in 1994, she isn't sure the staff thought she would make it through treatment.
"But they didn't let me know that," Eaton said.
She said she feels very close to the people who work there.
"I consider them family," she said.
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.