HUNTERSVILLE – When Linda Carter went to her primary care physician with stomach pain, there was no way she could know how her life was about to change.

Doctors determined that Carter’s pain was caused by stage-four colon cancer.

“I was frightened,” Carter said. “I had never been sick before.”

Carter was told that she needed surgery before she could receive typical cancer treatment like chemotherapy. The body needs chemotherapy to help fight and control the disease.

In this case, however, the cancer was causing a blockage that needed immediate surgery.

The great thing for Carter, and many other patients in the north Mecklenburg area, was that she was able to receive all her care, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation at Huntersville Medical Center.

Dr. Michael Dobson

“It’s very important that the patients and doctor be centralized to one local location and that is something you are seeing a push for around the country,” said Dr. Michael Dobson, Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center colonic surgeon. “It used to be that patients would go to whatever city they live near and that’s where they’d get there cancer care.”

But times are changing and so is the availability to technology.

Dobson said the majority, more than 80 percent, of a patient’s cancer care is done in an outpatient setting.

Out of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, the surgery is a very small part of the overall care.

“The majority you want to have done in the community where they are close to home and support,” Dobson said. “When they are in normal surroundings, when they don’t feel lost or overwhelmed, patients do better.”

The help received from a cancer navigator like Pat McKinney is another key part of many cancer patient’s care.

Cancer navigators help patients with their new diagnoses and explain options, coordinate care with patients, answer questions and provide support.

“(McKinney) really knows more about me than I do. She’s provided me with all the information I need,” Carter said. “She still comes to the clinic and checks on things. She’s there if I need her.”

Anyone in Carter’s situation had the right to be scared of the unknown. On top of her illness, she had no insurance and was going to have to find a way to pay for expensive, life-saving treatments.

“When I talked with her, the first thing I wanted to find out was what are your concerns,” McKinney said. “Hers were financial. She had no way to pay for bills.”

McKinney was able to bring in a social worker from the Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center to help Carter with Medicaid and disability.

McKinney has been there every step of Carter’s treatments, providing medical, educational and emotional support where needed.

Pat McKinney

Carter said her sister, who lives nearby, was also essential in getting all her doctor’s appointments, tests and chemotherapy.

For patients without family to provide that support, a cancer navigator can help with issues like getting a ride to appointments.

Carter feels much better now than when she first began treatment. She continues to go to Huntersville Medical Center every two weeks for chemotherapy.

“They are helpful and you can tell they care,” Carter said of the staff. “It’s been unreal, they have really treated me so well.”

Huntersville Medical Center will add a cancer rehabilitation center, similar to their Charlote facilities, in Sepember. Cancer patients will have access to individually tailored exercise programs and nutrition services.

Call 704-316-4000 or visit www.NovantHealth.org/cancer for details about the Huntersville Medical Center cancer services. Call 704-384-9870 for information about cancer navigators.

Check for warning signs

Dr. Michael Dobson, of Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center, urges everyone to receive regular colonoscopies.

“Just cause you feel fine doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on, which is why we still want to check,” Dobson said.

Colon and rectal cancers typically don’t cause symptoms until they are far advanced, because those parts of our bodies are made to stretch and allow passage. Therefore, cancer isn’t going to cause a noticeable blockage until it is far advanced.