June 17, 2024

A culture of caring eases a cancer journey

Exceptional, personalized radiation oncology care helped Maura Craig treat breast cancer on her own terms.

Maura Craig, from Portland, Oregon, cuddles with a favorite friend, Louie.

As Maura Craig sat in the waiting room of the Kaiser Permanente Interstate Radiation Oncology Center on an autumn day, she was struck by how serene it felt. Then she heard a big brass bell clang, followed by people singing.

She was witnessing a tradition held by staff at the Portland, Oregon, clinic to mark the point when a patient has completed the last course of radiation treatment. That day, Craig began radiation to treat breast cancer. Just 3 weeks later, it was her turn to ring the bell and be serenaded as staff members wished her well.

The previous summer, Craig, who is now 70, had gone in for a mammogram. It showed an abnormality in her right breast. Follow-up testing showed she had stage 2 breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tumor from her breast as well as a cancerous lymph node near her armpit.

“Everyone — from the medical to administrative staff — was positive and kind. I felt that they were committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for every single person who came there.”

Craig discussed treatment options with her oncologist. She decided to do radiation therapy but not chemotherapy. At the Interstate Radiation Oncology Center, she found a team that worked collaboratively. She says they went above and beyond to provide personal, compassionate care to everyone who walked through the door.

“Everyone — from the medical to administrative staff — was positive and kind,” said Craig. “I felt that they were committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for every single person who came there.”

A focus on patient-centered care

That focus on patient-centered care is very intentional, according to Eric Chang, MD, the radiation oncologist who treated Craig.

“The way we approach patients is something we take really seriously,” said Dr. Chang. “We remind ourselves every day that the patient in front of us is perhaps going through the hardest thing that’s ever happened to them.”

For Craig, that personalized approach was apparent in every interaction she had, from the welcoming receptionists to the technicians who worked with exacting precision during each treatment as well as her conversations with Dr. Chang as they decided on the best course of treatment for her.

“He spent a lot of time explaining to me what my cancer meant and reviewing test results so that, as a layperson, I understood what was going on biologically in my body,” said Craig. “He was also supportive of my decision not to do chemo.”

Empowering patients to guide their treatment

It’s important for people to be able to make their own informed decisions about their treatment, according to Dr. Chang. “Cancer care has improved so much and has become very personalized,” he said. “It’s my job to get to know someone, learn what their support system is like, what matters to them, and help them decide what’s right for themselves.”

Today Craig is feeling better. She spends time with her 2 sons and 4 grandchildren, and is keeping physically active, as Chang recommended.

“I’m doing a lot of self-care,” she said. “I get out, I walk, and I’m gardening.” And, she’s making plans for a healthy future.

She had intended to walk part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain in early 2024, but her diagnosis put plans on hold. Now, after completing her first mammogram since her lumpectomy and receiving a clean bill of health, she’s rescheduled the trip and is ready to continue her journey.

Learn more about cancer care at Kaiser Permanente.