Written by Dymond Redd, Marketing & Communication Associate at Cancer Wellness Center
For the 20th anniversary of his remission, Andrew Westfall plans a simple family dinner to celebrate with his wife, sister, and father. He says, “We went through it together. It’s bittersweet having lost my mom to cancer this year, but it’s one of those things we need to celebrate together.”
At 12 years old, Andrew was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells and ultimately the body’s immune system.
Andrew began treatment at National Institutes of Health in March 2002 and was officially declared cancer free on August 1st, 2002. Although the doctors at the NIH were world-class, it was the extra support provided by the social workers, counselors, and cancer navigators that really stood out to Andrew and his family. NIH is a research institution funded by the government and provides free care for patients. In addition to coordinating travel, housing, and food expenses, NIH also has robust fun, programming. While in Washington D.C. receiving treatment, Andrew and his family were able to visit many of the Smithsonian museums and attend a summer launch party for Lilo & Stitch. Andrew even had a wish granted from Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Like many cancer patients, Andrew’s journey to process and understand his cancer extended years beyond the initial diagnosis. He was fortunate to have his family’s support and many resources provided by the NIH, however, he was very aware that not everyone has that type of support system. During a volunteer experience during his undergrad, Andrew met a patient who was battling metastatic pancreatic cancer alone. He talked to the patient for hours and their complex feelings became clearer, when they said:
“I feel like my oncologist knows everything there is to know about my cancer, except what it’s like to have it.”
That moment was the key to finding purpose and acceptance for Andrew, in understanding his journey with cancer. He decided to become an oncologist and years later had the opportunity to return to the NIH and work with the team of oncologists that had treated him in 2002.
Currently, Andrew is in his third year of training in internal medicine in the Southern Illinois University residency program at Springfield Memorial Hospital. Throughout his time in training, he came to appreciate that delivering the care patients need requires more than just prescribing the right medications. For Andrew:
“It means making sure patients feel heard and cared for, can obtain and take medications that are prescribed, and have the emotional support they need to cope with and process their medical conditions. Whether due to barriers related to insurance, racial disparities in our society, or the exponentially growing cost of healthcare, the current system leaves many of these needs unmet.”
That’s why organizations like the Cancer Wellness Center (CWC) are vital in the patient’s journey. The Cancer Wellness Center seeks to improve the emotional and physical well-being of people affected by cancer.
As the first president of the Young Professionals Board (YPB) at CWC, Andrew is involved in supporting the Center’s free programming by raising monetary donations through fundraising activities, recruiting other young professionals to support the mission, and contributing to strategic planning. This past year, the YPB launched a Valentine’s Day Hot Chocolate Bomb fundraiser and a campaign to increase donations to the CWC from AmazonSmile. The YPB also supports larger CWC fundraising events, including the annual Stepping Up to Wellness 5K Run/Walk held every spring.
There is a larger vision that Andrew wants YPB to reach, including expanding the reach of the CWC to a younger demographic and building upon current CWC education programs that focus on more conversations between patients and physicians.
If you would like to get involved with the YPB, or learn more about CWC’s larger programming, you can contact Doris Downing for more information.