Avera Medical Minute: Sharing the journey with the help of The Cancer Institute Navigation Center

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 11:22 AM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Hard work on the farm is what Keith Van Kleek has enjoyed for years. It’s kept him fit and healthy. When new symptoms developed, he talked to his doctor.

“Acid reflux, heartburn, and then my back started hurting,” said Van Kleek.

After running scans tests and labwork, his doctor asked a perplexing question.

“He said ‘Your spine is fine. Are you sure you don’t have cancer,’ and I looked at him like what,” said Van Kleek. I, in fact, was positive for large B cell lymphoma cancer and it turned my world upside down, our world.

Keith and his wife Diane drove from their farm near Terril Iowa to Sioux Falls for chemotherapy.

“At the cancer center, treated very very well. They’re all like a bunch of big sisters to me. That’s what I call them they’re my Prairie sisters,” said Van Kleek.

His doctor gave him the number for the Avera Cancer Institute Navigation Center.

“I can still hear him say, ‘Mr. Van Kleek you call, you call any for any reason you call Mr. Van Kleek,’ So anyway, he made a very clear I was supposed to be calling so I called a lot,” said Van Kleek.

One of the nurses taking Keith’s calls was Avera Nurse Navigator Allison Mitchell.

“The Navigation Center is a 24/7 service. It’s staffed with social workers nurses and administrative assistants, so it’s mostly used by our cancer patients who call in and family members can call in too,” said Mitchell.

Anyone can call this community-funded center for free.

“We’re able to really help patients process that that word cancer when they when that’s involved in their life,” said Mitchell.

Allison remembers one of Keith’s calls.

“He was having a lot of symptoms that he did properly do the management that we would say, before going to the ER. And so he did end up having to go to the ER,” said Mitchell.

Keith was hospitalized for six days.

“But I appreciate Alison down to where I said, you talk to the doctor and you tell him what we need to do,” said Van Kleek.

“It’s really like being a source of guidance for patients and education which is another thing that I really inspire to do,” said Mitchell.

Keith and Diane have more time to spend in their hometown filled with people who supported them through the cancer journey. Trips for follow up tests happen every three months. The Van Kleeks have time for tinkering in the shed, and Diane sews quilts.

Whatever they choose to do in their day, Keith knows he’s just a phone call away from help.

“I just thank everybody at Avera. I’ve been, I’ve been blessed by other kindness and there just was so good to me,” said Van Kleek.

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