Nurse navigator guides lymphoma patient’s journey

Cancer patient benefits from early detection and expert care at Sanford Health

Doctor consulting with patient presenting results on X-ray film about the problem of the patient.

It’s official: Chris Tyson is never shaving his beard again.

He lost the “glorious” one he used to have to the infamous combination of chemo and radiation therapy. He likes to say, half seriously, that losing his beard was the worst part of his cancer journey.

The 38-year-old Tyson was diagnosed with early-stage diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a common but serious non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects the white blood cells, on June 8, 2021.

He finished treatment on Oct. 15 — just over four months later — cancer-free and grateful.

Early detection, expert care

Early detection was the key to Tyson’s quick treatment. A dental exam uncovered the problem.

“I went to my dentist and had an X-ray. My dentist said, ‘Chris, I think we’ve got an issue here.’ Turns out it was a tumor in a lymph node under my chin.”

The tumor was removed and biopsied. It came back malignant. From there, Tyson was referred to Jonathan Bleeker, M.D., at the Sanford Cancer Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Dr. Bleeker specializes in cancers of the blood.

At his first appointment with Dr. Bleeker, Tyson also met his nurse navigator, Betsy Kiesow.

Find support: Cancer survivorship services at Sanford Health

As a hematology nurse navigator at Sanford Health, Kiesow facilitates excellent care for patients with cancers of the blood. She coordinates and attends appointments, provides mental and emotional support and translates any confusing medical language into digestible information.

Most importantly, she represents the best interests of her patients in ongoing communication with their care team. Nurses like Kiesow are an essential piece of Sanford Health’s team approach to cancer care. In Sioux Falls, eleven navigators covering eight tumor types spend their days guiding cancer patients through difficult journeys.

The first appointment is a big one, so navigators are always present. Tyson remembers feeling instant appreciation for Kiesow.

“Betsy took notes, wrote down everything the doctor said, and then put it in the simplest terms for me,” Tyson said. “It was refreshing. She basically told me in English that there’s a 95-97% chance they could cure my cancer. We walked out of there cracking jokes.”

Focused on healing

Tyson underwent chemo in June, July and August. He then received radiation treatment from late September to mid-October when a CT scan showed no signs of cancer. He’s scheduled to return for scans every three months for the next two years.

Kiesow has helped him through every part of the treatment process.

“She’s always there,” he said. “If I have an issue, even now, I call Betsy. She’s my go-to.”

All of Sanford Health’s oncology nurse navigators strive to be that point-of-contact for their patients. The ultimate goal is to ease the burden of cancer treatment so patients like Tyson can focus on healing.

Some days that job is highly technical, and other days it’s more personal. Sometimes patients need an expert; other times, they just need a friend. Kiesow has been both for Tyson.

“As a person, she’s just super cool. I like her a lot,” he said. “And I like messing with her because I’m kind of ornery.”

‘Just reach out’

Tyson is grateful for other blessings that have made his cancer journey a relatively smooth one.

He’s a family man — a husband and a dad of two. He credits his wife, a registered nurse, for encouraging him to get checked: “If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have never gone in.”

Tyson said talking openly with friends and family has been essential as he learns to cope with the uncertainties of cancer.

“Talking to people really helps,” he said. “I’ve talked to friends. I spend more time with my family now. I’m involved in a pool community here in Sioux Falls called Pink League Pool that raises money to fight cancer.”

It’s those connections that have made the cancer less daunting. With support from family, friends, his nurse navigator and the rest of his Sanford care team, Tyson is determined to keep moving forward.

To anyone newly diagnosed with cancer, he simply suggests as much human connection as possible.

“Just reach out,” he said. “I’ve found it’s a lot easier than holding it all in.”

Life as usual

Tyson sees some silver linings in his cancer journey. It helped him reconnect with his dad and other family members, made him more grateful in general and delivered a healthy dose of humility.

“I never thought I was gonna have to have my life affairs in order at 38 years old,” he said. “It really put things in perspective.”

He’s getting better at dealing with the uncertainties of cancer, which can linger long after treatment for some. He said he doesn’t think of it much anymore — except when he sees his face. There, a new beard grows, signaling a welcome return to life as usual.

“I told my wife I’m never shaving it again,” Tyson said. “She wants me to trim it up, but I said no — I’m gonna grow it out.”

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Posted In Cancer, Cancer Treatments, Here for all. Here for good., Sioux Falls