Package in the mail

On May 24, a package arrived in the mail Amy's Aunt Carol Tews Slater!

"I couldn't think of what might be coming in the mail. What a wonderful surprise this morning. Made my day! THANK YOU!!" said Amy.

As I was checking out information on St. John's Hospital in Maplewood, I ran across an informative page on cancer that I thought I would share.

What is cancer?

Cancer isn't just one disease. It is a large and complex family of malignancies that can affect virtually every organ in the body. Cancer can strike at any age, although it is most common in people over 50.
More than 1.2 million new cases are diagnosed every year, with half of them occurring in the:
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Breast
  • Colon
  • Rectum
The good news is that cancer death rates have been declining in recent years, especially among men. Men generally experience higher rates of cancer than women. Increasing public awareness has resulted in more people getting regular cancer screenings and practicing healthy lifestyles to reduce their risk.

How does cancer begin?

Cancer begins in the body's cells, which are constantly dividing and multiplying to replace old, damaged cells. Sometimes, cells divide and form excess tissue known as a tumor. In most cases, tumors are benign (non-cancerous). Benign tumors may cause health problems due to their size and location, but are not life-threatening.
However, if an abnormal cell begins to divide, it eventually forms a malignant (cancerous) tumor. Most malignant tumors grow quite rapidly and can take over nearby organs and tissues. Cancerous cells can also travel through the bloodstream to other regions of the body. When cancer spreads from its original site, the process is known as metastasis.

Types of cancer

There are many different types of cancer. Several factors, including the location and how cancerous cells appear under a microscope, determine how cancer is diagnosed. For example, there are several forms of breast cancer. They are classified according to where the tumors originate within the breast and their tendency to invade surrounding organs and tissue.
All cancers fall into one of four broad categories:
  • Carcinomas are tumors that arise in the tissues that line the body's organs. About 80% of all cancer cases are carcinomas.
  • Sarcomas are tumors that originate in bone, muscle, cartilage, fibrous tissue or fat.
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood or blood-forming organs.
  • Lymphomas affect the lymphatic system (a network of vessels and nodes that acts as the body's filter). The lymphatic system distributes nutrients to blood and tissue and prevents bacteria and other foreign "invaders" from entering the bloodstream. There are more than 20 types of lymphoma. 

Seven warning signs of cancer

  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Thickening or a lump in the breast or any other part of the body
  • Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  • An obvious change in a wart or mole
  • A nagging cough or hoarseness

We have now donated nearly 400 items. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Wow! Isn’t that amazing and wonderful?!

Our fourth donation of 67 hats, scarves, shawls and other items went to St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood. It is part of the HealthEast Cancer Care Center. Team Yarn member Kelli McCully put us in touch with this hospital, as her father-in-law works there.

“I can’t even tell you how much the ladies appreciate this,” said Nancy Welty, a patient navigator at St. John’s. “They get all emotional.”

She added, “You guys are angels. We really appreciate this.”

Even in the summer the heads of those fighting cancer get cold. Wigs often scratch the heads, Nancy pointed out, and so patients wear hats year-round. Some even sleep in them.

The items we donated will be placed in baskets in the two waiting rooms frequented by cancer patients at St. John’s. “They can take as many as they’d like,” noted Nancy.

One volunteer makes prayer shawls that are given both to cancer patients and to their family members. (Would Team Yarn members like to focus on prayer shawls at some point? Perhaps this fall?)

As the snow began to fall outside, Maria Wood stated, “You guys are bringing some sunshine to us today.”

Our donations will join those in this basket in the waiting room.
Amy carries in a box full of your handmade items.
St. John's is located in Maplewood.
Look at these gorgeous items that are sure to bring comfort.


One thing that sets St. John’s apart is its patient navigator system. Each new cancer patient is assigned to a patient navigator at the start to coordinate a path through treatment. The Patient Navigators are supportive guides for both patients and family members. Their role is similar to that of a case manager at other hospitals.

Navigators are oncology nurses with added training in patient/family education and services. “We’re a familiar face,” explained Nancy.

Patient Navigators assist by:
• Making appointments with your care team (specialists, oncologists, etc.); combining appointments into one visit when possible
• Scheduling tests and treatments
• Answering questions and explaining medical information in a way that's easy to understand
• Suggesting resources or services
• Helping patients find ways to take good care of themselves

“We are a resource,” said Maria. They might help with appointments,  food assistance, and transportation to the hospital.
Patient navigators Nancy Welty (left) and Maria Wood.

We met two of the Patient Navigators during our visit.

Nancy Welty, RN — Nancy Welty is a Patient Navigator for breast cancer patients. She completed a bachelor's of science degree in communications disorders and an associate's degree in nursing at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. As a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, Nancy is interested in women's health issues and clinical research in breast cancer. She also serves as a facilitator of a breast cancer support group and a kids' support group.

Maria Wood, RN, BSN, OCN — Maria Wood is a Patient Navigator for cancer patients. She received a bachelor's of science degree in nursing from Clarke College as well as a certification as an oncology nurse. Maria has worked in many academic inpatient and outpatient settings, with a focus on hematology/oncology/bone marrow transplant. Most recently, she worked in an outpatient treatment area focusing on solid tumors. Maria is an active member of the Oncology Nursing Society, and her interests include patient education, cancer survivorship and a focus on patients with head and neck cancers.

Cancer Care services are offered at St. John's Hospital in Maplewood, St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul and Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury. Health East Cancer Care offer both inpatient and outpatient services, including:
    • Leading-edge diagnostic equipment
   •  Radiation therapy
    • Chemotherapy/hormonal therapies
    • Surgery

Specialty centers and services at HealthEast include:
    • HealthEast CyberKnife Center
    • HealthEast Breast Care
    • HealthEast Prostate Care

St. John’s recognizes that cancer can have staggering effects on families. And so, at HealthEast, care doesn't stop with patients. It extends to their families and loved ones with classes and support groups, personal counseling, genetic counseling and nutritional advice.
The girls pose by Lucy at the front door to St. John's.
Kelli looks through a bag full of handmade items just before we donate them.
Amy chats with Nancy (left) and Maria during our visit on May 1.
As we leave, we shiver in the cold -- It started snowing! On the first day of May! What a spring we're having!!