Just before the end of last school year, Olathe South High School history teacher Carol Nycklemoe received the news every woman dreads. She had breast cancer.
Nycklemoe found out on a Thursday and by the following Tuesday was in surgery to remove the six-millimeter tumor.
“If there’s one thing that I literally tell every woman I know is, not only get your mammogram, but get the 3D,” Nycklemoe said. “The doctor told me it could have been potentially another two years before they found it (with the regular imaging).”
Nycklemoe’s treatment at Olathe Medical Center was meted out over the course of more than 50 appointments during a three-month period. She went in and out of a couple buildings, and up and down flights of stairs.
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If her diagnosis had come a year later, every step of recovery would have taken place at the new Olathe Health Cancer Center, which celebrated its opening Feb. 27 with a ribbon-cutting.
The $25 million, 25,000-square-foot facility is all on one floor and includes everything from exam rooms for initial consultations to physical therapy. They even have a volunteer-run “appearance center” that sells wigs and scarves, but that also will eventually stock prosthetics.
All the same, Nycklemoe thinks she had it easy.
“If you’re somebody who has to have chemotherapy and a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, those are the people who are going to benefit even more from the one place, the Cancer Center,” she said.
The Cancer Center is similar to the Shawnee Mission Cancer Center and the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Although, as Olathe Health Director of Oncology Services Kelly McDonald pointed out, every piece of equipment at Olathe Health Cancer Center is the latest model and just out of the box.
Additionally, one piece of equipment that’s unique to their center — unique to the entire region, in fact — is a tissue-analysis tool for early diagnosis of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a swelling that often results from the removal of lymph nodes.
Janis Miller, occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist, says that when lymph nodes are removed, sometimes the fluid they normally carry doesn’t move through the body as it should.
“If you have 30 lymph nodes and they take three, hopefully the other 27 take over,” Miller said. “Sometimes, they take more than that, then that becomes a greater concern for developing lymphedema.”
The condition is primarily uncomfortable and a cosmetic concern, because the affected area can grow quite large, but it also puts a person at greater risk for infection. This new equipment detects swelling four to 10 months earlier than any other method — before it’s visually noticeable.
Another new piece of equipment is a $4.5-million linear accelerator, which delivers radiation accurate to the millimeter.
The two medical oncologists, two radiation oncologists, and large complement of nurses, surgeons, technicians, and other support staff are the same ones who treated Nycklemoe in the old building.
She raved about the people she met — her nurse navigator, in particular. The nurse was assigned to her and walked her through the entire experience, right down to waiting in hallways for test results and calling her immediately upon receiving them.
The center diagnoses 800 cases of cancer a year, a figure Nycklemoe didn’t know, but which doesn’t surprise her.
“I think about how many they deal with and they treat you like you’re the only one,” she said.