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Chemotherapy and the kindness of strangers

UCI Health cancer center staff and volunteers ease breast cancer patient’s grueling trip for treatment

June 03, 2015

LeeAnn Brill, with Monster the therapy dog and Scraggles, in the chemotherapy infusion center at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Who would choose to drive 500 miles every week for their chemotherapy treatments?

When Henderson, Nevada resident LeeAnn Brill was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, she and her husband Mike were determined that she would be treated at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center in Orange, Calif., even if they had to drive 250 miles just to get there.

“There is no (National Cancer Institute-designated) comprehensive cancer center in Nevada, and I wanted the latest, most advanced treatments and the best care possible,” LeeAnn explained. “I also wanted the best doctors I could find.” After some online research and reference-checking, she said, “my surgeon, Dr. Karen Lane, and my oncologist, Dr. Rita Mehta, are two of the best in the country.”

The Brills soon discovered that at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, LeeAnn was being treated not only by some of the best doctors in the country, but by some of the best nurses, support staff and volunteers as well. 

“When we found out they were driving from Henderson, I got In touch with Angel Flight West,” said Bob Griffith, the cancer center’s volunteer extraordinaire. “By her third treatment, she and Mike were flying in, rather than driving in for her treatment.”

The weekly five-hour trek from Henderson to Orange had become grueling for LeeAnn. It also meant that Mike, after getting home from working a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. shift as a pharmacist, would be driving for five hours overnight and then they’d try to get a few hours of sleep before LeeAnn’s 8 a.m. chemotherapy appointment the next day. Her session lasts about six hours, so they spend another night, to rest up for the 250-mile drive back.

“Angel Flight has made all the difference in the world to me and my husband,” LeeAnn said. “We are both much more relaxed and rested and able to face the challenges ahead, instead of being exhausted from the 500 mile round trip each week.”

In addition to Angel Flight West, Go Rentals and the DoubleTree hotel in Orange stepped up to help. The Brills have the flexibility to arrange transport when they land and schedule hotel check-in and check-out times that fit LeeAnn's chemotherapy schedule. 

“I have just been amazed at the kindness of strangers,” LeeAnn said. “Everyone is sensitive to the distance we travel, the amount of time it takes, and the wear-and-tear on us physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Mike and I feel so blessed to have met so many nice people.”

— Pat Harriman, UCI Health Communications