At the Nassif Community Cancer Center, the phrase “Fighting Cancer Together” is more than just words on billboard or a t-shirt. They’re words we live by. Our way of saying we take a collaborative approach to cancer by providing coordinated care from a multi-disciplinary team, all in one place, to help you fight cancer with confidence. However, when mother and daughter Kim Junge and Jill Nicholson were both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within weeks of each other, that phrase took on an even deeper meaning.
Routine Screening Catches Junge’s Cancer Early
Four years ago, Junge, a Cedar Rapids resident, went to her primary care provider, Dr. Matthew Gray with UnityPoint Clinic, with pneumonia-like symptoms. Dr. Gray requested a chest x-ray, which confirmed the pneumonia diagnosis, but also caught something suspicious on her pancreas.
“I asked him, ‘Is this something to be concerned about?’” recalled Junge. “He said, ‘No, not at this point, but we’re going to keep a close eye on it.’”
Junge began having annual MRI scans to monitor any changes. For the first three years, nothing changed, and she began to wonder if the scans were even necessary.
“Even with insurance, the MRIs are quite expensive, so I actually went to Dr. Gray and asked if it was necessary. He looked at me and said, ‘Absolutely this is necessary,’” said Junge. “So, I went in for another MRI in March of 2022. There was a mass on my pancreas they said looked very suspicious, and from there my world turned upside down.”
Junge was diagnosed with stage one pancreatic cancer, which was later bumped up to stage two, meaning it had spread to a few lymph nodes. Thanks to her annual screening, the cancer was found in an earlier, more treatable stage.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Not even three weeks after Junge’s diagnosis, as she and her husband were still wrapping their heads around the situation, they received surprising news: Nicholson, their daughter, who lives in Tennessee, received the exact same diagnosis of stage two pancreatic cancer.
“Jill has suffered a lot with pancreatitis,” shared Junge. “This time was a big flare up and she got very ill. She lost close to 50 lbs. The doctors didn’t even do a biopsy, they just went in and removed her pancreas. That’s how sick she was.”
Junge and Nicholson have had an almost identical path through treatment. Each having a surgery, 12 rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation – the difference being Nicholson had surgery before chemo, whereas Junge had surgery half-way through chemo. The similarities of this shared experience have brought them even closer.
Cancer Takes Mother-Daughter Relationship to a “Whole Different Level”
For patients, having someone walk through the cancer journey alongside you, whether it’s a loved one serving as a caregiver, a care coordinator who you can call any time, or someone else, that support is crucial. For Junge and Nicholson, having an already strong bond and going through the same journey together was invaluable.
“We’ve always been incredibly close,” said Junge. “But as close as you think you are, you oftentimes find you could have been closer. That’s how I would sum it up. When it’s two people with cancer, it’s a whole different level.”
Fighting Cancer Together: More Than Just Words
As a Community Cancer Center, we know the positive benefits a sense of community provides for patients. From medical providers to social workers to family and friends. Even though Nicholson was fighting cancer in a different state, we wanted her to know we were with her in this fight as well.
“We went to see Dr. Triantafyllos for the first time and he already had in my chart that my daughter was experiencing the same thing at 40 years old,” recalled Junge. “His nurse came in and said ‘We have a t-shirt we want to give you and we want your daughter to have one too. A few weeks later, we made a trip down to Tennessee and took a picture of the two of us wearing the shirts with the Great Smoky Mountains in the background.”
Junge is also grateful for the team members from the Community Cancer Center, St. Luke’s Radiation Center and Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Hematology and Oncology who have been put in her path throughout her journey.
“They are superheroes. I have nothing but praise for those folks,” she said. “It takes a special kind of person to do what they do, because what they’ve been called to do is not easy. They come every day with a smile on their face and compassionate hearts and there’s nothing but good stuff I can say about them.”
Both Junge and Nicholson are now doing well as Junge is nearing the end of her radiation treatment and Nicholson is at the beginning of hers. Looking back on the experience, Junge would say the support network she had made a difficult situation easier to handle.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat it. There are bad days and bad weeks,” she said. “I think about those who had cancer before me and those coming behind me. I’d encourage them to get a world of people around you and find purpose in what’s happening. For me personally, that purpose was to be an encouragement to my daughter, as well as all the people God put in my path during this journey.”
Face Cancer with Confidence
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, the Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help you face cancer with confidence. Learn more about treatment options and support services by calling us at (319) 558-4876 or visit communitycancercenter.org.