Meet Our Program Manager - Eden Stotsky-Himelfarb
Planning your first visit to the colorectal cancer clinic at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center? Meet nurse Eden Stotsky-Himelfarb. Stotsky-Himelfarb, program manager for the clinic, works with all new colorectal cancer patients coming in for a medical oncology appointment --- reviewing patient charts, summarizing their histories for physicians and making sure everything is set before patients arrive on campus.
After patients meet with their physicians, Stotsky-Himelfarb is the one who makes sure patients understand their treatment options, and helps them navigate to other appointments with surgeons or radiation oncologists. She helps an average 30 patients at a time, in a clinic set to evaluate some 300 patients this year.
Stotsky-Himelfarb also juggles other duties, including coordinating a weekly multi-disciplinary tumor board to discuss patients as well as weekend couples retreats for patients with colorectal cancer and their partners. She hopes to start a survivorship clinic in the future.
When nurse clinician Eden Stotsky-Himelfarb tells colorectal cancer patients being evaluated for surgery she’s been there, she speaks the truth. Now 43, Stotsky-Himelfarb was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer at age 26 – about half the age of a typical patient.
Starting in college, Stotsky-Himelfarb had experienced stomach troubles including bloating and cramps, but had been told the discomfort resulted from a range of things, like lactose intolerance or sucking too much air from drinking straws. No one suspected such a young woman could be so critically ill. Her discomfort continued while working for Johns Hopkins’ Office of Faculty, Staff and Retiree Programs.
Finally, she begged her internist to send her for a colonoscopy, where her cancer was discovered. During surgery at Johns Hopkins, doctors removed an orange-sized tumor.
Then, in an ensuing schedule of preventive chemotherapy and radiation, Stotsky launched her attack plan. She asked different friends and family members to accompany her to each chemotherapy session, listened to a guided imagery audiotape telling her to picture little chemo warriors conquering her cancer cells, and participated in a support group for young cancer patients. She has been officially cancer-free since December 1997.
Her surgeon, Michael Choti, was so impressed by her activism that he asked her to consider becoming his patient educator. She initially turned him down, but gradually over followup checkups in the next two years she changed her mind.
Shortly after starting, Stotsky-Himelfarb realized that she needed a formal medical degree. She spent a year shadowing different health professionals at Johns Hopkins and determined that what she wanted to do was most aligned with nursing. She attended Johns Hopkins’ School of Nursing from 2005-2009 while working full time for Choti.
Stotsky-Himelfarb says she most enjoys her interactions with patients and the teaching and advocacy piece of her job. But even outside of work she has become an active advocate for cancer patients everywhere, including helping develop and implement the Baltimore City Colorectal Cancer Screening Demonstration Program, co-authoring a chapter in the American Cancer Society’s Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer about taking care of practical matters and writing a chapter on coping with colorectal cancer in the book Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Cancer: Colorectal Cancer. Stotsky-Himelfarb also is an active volunteer and past board member of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults and volunteers for a Johns Hopkins summer camp for children with cancer. During her health educator days, she would walk the hospital campus wearing a polyp costume for Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Q: How did you get interested in nursing?
A: I had rectal cancer when I was 26 years old and began working in the field of oncology several years later. During my treatment for cancer, I was inspired by each and every nurse I came in contact with so I decided to go to nursing school after working in oncology for a few years as a patient educator. It was the best decision I have ever made. I truly love being a nurse. When I graduated from nursing school, I worked in the Department of Surgery/Division of Surgical Oncology for Dr. Michael Choti, the surgeon who saved my life, for four years before switching to this position in 2013.
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: When patients come to us, they’re nervous, anxious and have many unanswered questions. I hope to make them feel more comfortable and to hold their hand on their cancer journey. My goal is to decrease patients’ anxieties before they come here. Also, I’m easier to track down than some of the doctors and nurses who are in clinic all day. I like being that middle person who can get answers quickly and get back to them.
Q: What makes the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center stand out?
A: Our oncology team is extremely intelligent and forward thinking. The nursing team is outstanding at handling patients’ needs. We also have access to treatments that other places don’t.
I don’t think you get that ‘big hospital’ feel when you walk into the Weinberg Building. Everyone from the valet to the security officers to the front desk is concerned with patient care. Patients are always amazed by how friendly people are. They feel their questions are answered and the followup care is good.
Q: What surprises patients about Johns Hopkins?
A: Many patients have a preconceived notion that Johns Hopkins is too big, and they’ll just be a number. They’re pleasantly surprised to find that’s not at all true.
Also, some patients fear that we’re only looking for participants in research or clinical trials. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Our doctors and nurses always have the best interests of patients at heart. Only if we think that a clinical trial can help them do we bring it up. Patients are always impressed with our multi-disciplinary approach to patient care.
What makes the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center stand out, she says, is “the multidisciplinary care, the general sense of compassion that everyone has for patients, and all the cutting-edge research and treatments. People are always thinking outside the box. It’s a great place to be a patient and a great place to work.”