Augusta Health Cancer Center is fortunate to have a cohesive, well-trained team working together for patient care, and some bring an extra level of knowledge to the task: knowing what it’s like to be a patient themselves. Here’s a glimpse at how that’s deepened the commitment for two longtime Cancer Center team members.
Robert Kyler, MD
Part of the Cancer Center since it opened 15 years ago—and with Augusta 30 years in all—radiation oncologist Robert Kyler, MD, feels fortunate to be practicing in the area where he grew up.
“I feel very connected to this community and to our patients,” he says. “The most significant part of my work is feeling like I’m making a difference—that we’re having an impact on people’s lives in a meaningful way.”
Dr. Kyler sees patients in different stages of cancer and evaluates whether radiation is an appropriate treatment and how it might help improve outcomes and quality of life. He gained even more perspective on that mission when he suffered a serious bicycling injury nearly two years ago while on vacation. Severing his spinal cord in a bad fall, he was unable to walk and spent three months in recovery and rehab. It was a difficult, painful road back, but Dr. Kyler is grateful now that it happened.
“The whole experience gave me a unique appreciation of being on the other side of the white coat,” he says. “It enhanced my empathy to a profound degree, and I was most surprised by how many patients reached out to me during my recovery. They related to me in a new way, with a sense of camaraderie. That gave me a feeling of renewal and hope, and in turn, I try to share that with my patients.”
Celebrating her 25th year with Augusta, breast cancer navigator Donna Berdeaux, RN, BSN, has embraced the opportunity to care for cancer patients—and then she became one herself.
In 2006, she was diagnosed with lymphoma and underwent treatment at Augusta. The experience deepened her understanding of the patient experience and allowed her to offer support on a whole different level.
“When I meet patients, I know what it’s like sitting in that seat, hearing, ‘You have cancer,’ and not knowing what comes next,” she says. “I understand the difference it makes to feel supported. My goal is to make sure every patient feels that, no matter what their treatment brings.”
Like other cancer navigators, Berdeaux meets patients at different points in their cancer journeys. She acts as a resource, educator and source of support from screening through treatment.
Each day is a new experience, she says. She might be taking notes during a doctor’s appointment, explaining a biopsy or treatment option, helping family members cope with a diagnosis, arranging surgeries or literally cheering when a patient finishes treatment.
“When patients first see me, they’re often distraught and everything seems like a blur,” Berdeaux says. “Sometimes you just need somebody to hold your hand and say, ‘It’s OK, I’ve been through this, and I’m here every step of the way.’”