When nurse clinician Eden Stotsky-Himelfarb tells colorectal cancer patients being evaluated for surgery she’s been there, she speaks the truth. Now 39, 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.
Today Stotsky is a nurse clinician for the gastrointestinal surgical oncology group at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, working with patients who have a variety of GI cancers, including colorectal cancer. She helps schedule the GI outpatient clinic, offers preoperative education for patients and helps answer questions about their visits, including any referrals to additional physicians on staff. She also assists with paperwork so patients can take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act or receive disability payments while undergoing treatment.
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.
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.”
Meet Our Program Manager
Planning your first visit to the colorectal cancer clinic at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center? Meet nurse Maura Kadan. Kadan, 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, Kadan 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 315 patients this year.
Kadan also juggles other duties, including maintaining a database of patient information, tracking patient satisfaction data and coordinating a monthly continuing education conference on colorectal cancer treatments and symptom management for clinic staff. She hopes to start a colon cancer survivors group this year.
Q: How did you get interested in nursing?
A: My mom’s a nurse, and I was a hospice volunteer in college. Most of the hospice patients I worked with had cancer, and I had a very positive experience. My undergraduate degree is in health and physical education, so I’ve always been interested in biology and anatomy, then I taught high school for a few years. Later, in nursing school, my internship was on Weinberg 5C --- an inpatient leukemia floor. When I graduated, I worked there for four years before switching to this position in 2009.
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: When patients come to us, they’re nervous. I have a role to make them feel more comfortable, to help hold their hand. I help decrease patients’ anxieties before they come here. 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 has excellent bedside manner. You don’t always find those traits together, but I feel very strongly that all of our gastrointestinal oncologists are fantastic with patients. 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, and they report in satisfaction surveys that they are very happy with the treatment they get. 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. We’re not trying to get patients in the doo