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Cancer Center Staff Shows Compassion for Patients in their Fight

October 07, 2019

     The Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center will mark its 10-year anniversary at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 15., with comments by community members and tours of the facility. The staff who work in the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center strive to create a positive environment for healing as they build relationships with the patients they serve.

     It is important to note that the majority of staff have been with the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center since its opening 10 years ago, when Columbia-based Missouri Cancer Associates agreed to medically direct care for patients being treated in Marshall. Physicians who have been with the Cancer Center since the outset include medical oncologist Mark Tungesvik, M.D., and radiation oncologist William Decker, M.D. Radiation oncologist Stephen Westgate, M.D., began serving patients in Marshall five years ago when he replaced Harold Johnson, M.D., in April 2014.

     The nurses, radiation therapists and other staff are passionate about their patients and the opportunity they have to walk with them through the very challenging fight with cancer.  Their reassuring presence reminds patients that they are not in the fight alone. Here’s a chance to learn more about the compassionate staff at the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center.

Belinda Stephens, BSN, RN, OCN

     Belinda Stephens has been a certified oncology nurse for 20 years, and has been an R.N. for more than 25 years. She joined the staff at the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center in 2007, a full two years before the first patient was treated. Stephens received her B.S. degree in Nursing from Avila University.

     “I have always had a passion for oncology, but that was definitely amplified when my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer at a very young age. After her death, I felt like I wanted to do something positive in her memory and felt that having been on both sides of the bed was an asset. Since that time, I have also had a cancer diagnosis, and my father was a patient at our Cancer Center,” said Stephens.

     “I think providing oncology care to our community has been important to so many. Our hope is that our patients feel connected with their caregivers, and they are happy not to have to drive far to receive their care, especially if they are not feeling well, she said. “I believe it is a blessing and a privilege to work with some amazing women and brave patients. We have many patients that would choose not to get care if they had to drive to Kansas City or Columbia. And for those patients, I’m so glad they can get the care they need locally.”

Heather Bourbon, R.T. with a BA in Healthcare Management

     Heather Bourbon joined the staff at the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center a month before the grand opening, in September 2009.  Bourbon received her bachelor’s degree in healthcare management from Washburn University in Topeka and later pursued radiation therapy.

     “I didn’t choose Radiation Therapy as a career; I am pretty sure it chose me.  After high school I went to radiology technology school, and part of our education included clinical training in the different radiology modalities,” said Bourbon. “When it came time for my radiation therapy rotation, I tried to get out of it; I did not want to do radiation therapy. I thought it would be too sad/heartbreaking taking care of cancer patients. I knew nothing about it or cancer and didn’t want to.”

     “But after my first day of radiation clinicals, my perception and understanding changed. The staff was amazing - so caring, happy, and the people receiving treatment were normal people living life, going to work, raising their families, etc. It wasn’t this sad, dark, depressing place that I thought it was going to be.”

     “There was a gentleman finishing treatment at the end of my rotation, and he brought flowers with a card thanking everyone by name who helped treat him. He included my name - a student - on the card. That was the moment I knew radiation therapy was what I was supposed to do. That was 23 years ago. I want to be with people along their journey of battling cancer and make their treatment a little less difficult and a little less scary.”

Makenzie Thomason, Office Coordinator

     Makenzie Thomason has been the warm presence behind the glass at the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center since it opened. Thomason took the lead in creating many of the Pink Out T-shirts we have seen through the years, as well as coordinating many of the community events. She actually coordinated T-shirt sales for the very first Pink Week activities in 2008.

     “I didn’t exactly choose cancer care. I was working in Scheduling/Radiology at the hospital before the Cancer Center opened. I was offered the opportunity to work in the Cancer Center as the Office Coordinator, and I accepted the position,” said Thomason.

     “Providing cancer care in our community means that there is less travel burden on patients. They do not have to travel over an hour away to receive care, and that can make a huge difference for them. Also, providing cancer care to patients in our community means that there is a good possibility that they may see a familiar face when they walk in the door. Many of the staff are from right here and surrounding communities. Patients take comfort in having someone familiar helping care for them.”

Jennifer Elliott, RN

     Jennifer Elliott, one of the newest Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center staff, joined the organization in May of 2017. Elliott received her degree from the Moberly Area Community College.

     “I chose to transfer to the Cancer Center so that I could treat and care for a different community of patients. I had been in my previous position for approximately nine years and felt as though I needed a change in the type of patients I was caring for,” said Elliott.

     “I feel very fortunate being able to provide this type of care to people in the community. Not having to commute for their care makes it easier on the patient and their families. Many people in the community and surrounding areas choose to come to Fitzgibbon Hospital for their medical needs. We offer a continuation of care for those people. They can be diagnosed here and continue their care here with treatment.  Whether their care requires medical oncology or radiation oncology.”

Heidi Leimkuehler, BSN, RN, Chemotherapy Immunotherapy Certified

     Heidi Leimkuehler has worked for Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center twice, with her first stint being January 2010 to August 2015. Leimkuehler re-joined the staff in November 2017. She received her associate’s degree in nursing at Moberly Area Community College in 2008 and her B.S. in nursing from the University of Missouri in 2011.

     “I chose cancer care due to my passion for others and the continuation of care. Being able to be there for patients during a very challenging part of their lives can be very rewarding. The Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center is such an asset to our community. We have patients who travel over an hour to get here because of the quality of care we provide. We have great physicians who provide compassionate care to our patients,” said Leimkuehler.

Abbie Mahnken, BSRT (R)(T)

     Abbie Mahnken joined the staff at the Fitzgibbon Community Cancer Center in December 2017.  She received her BS in Health Science with an emphasis in Radiography in 2016 from the University of Missouri.  She received her certification in Radiation Therapy in 2017 after furthering her education at Washburn University.

     “In 2011, I was in a serious one-car accident that resulted in me being ejected 40 feet. I had to be life-flighted to Truman Medical Center,” said Mahnken. “The CT technologist made a lasting impact when he cared for me. I wanted to care for others as that technologist cared for me.

     “During the radiography program, I rotated through radiation therapy and decided I wanted to become a Radiation Therapist. In this field, I am more than just a therapist. I get to aid patients in their fight against cancer, build lifetime relationships, be a smiling face and, more importantly, provide a shoulder to lean on during this time. I strive to make a sure they know they are not alone during their battle,” said Mahnken.

     “I think it’s wonderful there is a cancer center in the Marshall community because we are able to provide quality care to patients without them having to travel such a far distance to receive care.  Patients are able to continue to work and spend more time home than having to travel a great distance every day to receive their radiation treatments,” said Mahnken.

     Community members will have a chance to personally meet the staff members at the anniversary event on Oct. 15.