Barbara and CW Claytor have been together since childhood. Both are retired educators who live in Beckley, West Virginia. During the summer of 2020, Barbara began experiencing occasional bouts of indigestion. When she sought care on November 9, 2020, the local physicians told Barbara the true cause of her symptoms. She had cancer. The small hospital in Beckley did not have the level of care that Barbara needed, and her doctors encouraged her to look out of town for a specialized oncologist.
The Claytors drove to Charlotte to stay with their daughter while they determined next steps. The next day, Barbara checked in to the Emergency Department at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Fluid was building up in her abdomen and was affecting her ability to breathe and speak. Scans were taken to diagnose the issues, and the Claytors were shocked to hear the results.
According to Barbara, “We could in no way foresee anything close to what the ER doctor told us.”
In addition to confirming her rare form of cancer, the doctor said that her immediate condition was life-threatening, and she would need emergency surgery. Barbara underwent two surgeries within 24 hours to repair her intestines and save her life.
It would take at least a month of recovering from surgery before Barbara could begin treatment on her rare cancer, appendiceal endocarcinoma. But there was an additional problem—the doctors in Charlotte had almost no experience treating this form of cancer. They recommended that Barbara seek further treatment with Dr. Edward Levine at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist (AHWFB) in Winston-Salem. Dr. Levine is widely known for his expertise in treating this rare form of cancer and is acclaimed for performing a specialized surgery called HIPEC.
On December 9, 2020, Barbara and CW met with Dr. Levine in Winston-Salem. Barbara said that “Dr. Levine provided a sense of calm. He was knowledgeable, professional, and optimistic. He was ‘the man with the plan.’ We were so impressed with the entire medical team.” After laying out his proposed treatment plan of chemotherapy followed by surgery, Dr. Levine referred the Claytors to the SECU Family House.
Barbara remembered, “The first person we met at the Family House was Ms. Pamela Ford. She greeted us with her smile, welcoming voice, and her caring, loving spirit. Ms. Pam was thoughtful, calm, dedicated, and interested in what patients and caregivers were going through. The Family House was our home away from home.”
For the next few months, Barbara underwent daily chemotherapy in hopes of shrinking her cancer cells. In the evenings, the Claytors rested in their private room or spent time in the Family House chapel. They also made good use of the kitchen, which they found fully stocked with breakfast items, snacks, and dinners that volunteers delivered. The Claytors felt encouraged by other Family House guests as they shared stories with one another about their health journeys. They described how the guests, the staff, and their doctors “became like family to us.”
By May of 2021, Dr. Levine said the months of chemotherapy had worked, and Barbara had the HIPEC surgery. A few days later, things took an unexpected turn. A tear had developed in her intestines and her life was once again in jeopardy. Barbara was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery. The surgery was a success, but Barbara’s body did not bounce back like before. Barbara spent five long weeks of slow, agonizing recovery in the hospital.
Barbara said, “We’ll forever be grateful. My husband, CW, was able to stay nearby and care for me daily ONLY because we were blessed to stay at the SECU Family House. Nowhere else would it have been possible due to costs. Without the Family House, I don’t know what we would have done.”
As months of medical expenses began to mount, the Claytors received some unexpected, good news. Part of their lodging at the SECU Family House was covered thanks to a partnership grant from the American Cancer Society and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. Amid medical and financial crisis, they had one less thing to worry about. Barbara said, “That financial relief made such a huge positive impact, and we are so appreciative.”
After months of physical therapy, Barbara and CW are back at home in Beckley. Barbara comes to Winston-Salem every two weeks for checkups at AHWFB and continues her chemotherapy regimen to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
Barbara says, “I feel good most every day, and I have become more active while still receiving treatments and medical care at AHWFB. Of course, I look forward to a miracle and hearing that I am ‘cancer free,’ but until then, I must keep the faith, stay positive, and be grateful for all the good things in my life while trying to bring joy and be a witness to those I meet each day.”