After 25 years of faithfully submitting to her annual mammogram, Jean Aikens had never gotten the dreaded call, although her sister’s breast cancer diagnosis 20 years before had definitely put the possibility on her radar.
But between one breast cancer screening and the next, a 3 cm tumor had formed, and all of a sudden Aikens found herself facing a biopsy, then surgery and radiation treatment.
Upon first hearing the news, “I had a real meltdown,” she says. “But after I got through that first day, I turned it over to God, and I think I’ve done pretty good at leaving it with Him.”
The 79-year-old survivor was referred to Provision Center for Proton Therapy in lieu of conventional radiation by her surgeon, Dr. George Webber, at the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center. As an asthma sufferer, she says, the treatment will help spare her lungs from damage caused by conventional radiation, which is much less precise than proton therapy.
She and her husband, Thomas, left their home in Pikeville, Tenn., and rented a small house in Knoxville, where Aikens received four weeks of proton therapy treatment. Her daughter has joined them for much of that time, and the couple’s two grandsons spent fall break seeking the sights of Knoxville.
“I told my mom, this is not her journey alone,” says Tina Nail.
Faith and family—Tina plus her church family as well as her adopted Provision family—have supported Aikens through her cancer journey, she says. She especially appreciates the care of patient services director Elizabeth Vanzo, social worker Miranda Cantwell and hospitality coordinators Sharon Hall and Amber Elkins.
“I’m very fortunate to get treatment here,” she says. “I feel God’s blessed me and I give Him all the praise for all the blessings He’s given me.”
The Aikens made Knoxville a home away from home during their month-long stay. They got acquainted with a neighbor, who brought food over, took them on a tour of downtown and gave Thomas the job of trimming his hedge when he complained of missing the daily work on his small farm back home—“I can’t stand sitting around,” he says.
They also managed to have some fun along the way. The two women drug Thomas to the outlet malls in Pigeon Forge. And, during a trip to the Knoxville Zoo, Jean rode camel with her grandson.
“The only thing,” she says, “it was too short of a ride.”
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