Helping others despite a shocking diagnosis

September 14, 2015

Terry Stevenson UNTHSC

Terry Stevenson almost couldn’t believe the words she was hearing about the results of a recent CT scan: “Metastatic cancer ….”

But a diagnosis of stage four metastatic lung cancer hasn’t kept her from the job she loves.

Stevenson, a Clinic Service Representative Lead at UNT Health Science Center, says she thrives on the work she does in helping ensure patients are treated with dignity and compassion.

“There’s no point in feeling sorry for ourselves,” she said. “What good does it do? If we are helping others, we are getting blessings in return.”

When Stevenson, 56, received her shocking diagnosis, she knew exactly how she wanted to proceed. She told her primary care physician she wanted Albert Yurvati, DO, Chair of Surgery, as her surgeon, and she wanted to receive treatment from the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, which is a UNTHSC research partner.

Both Dr. Yurvati and her oncologist, Bibas Reddy, DO, are graduates of Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, and that was important to her.
“I know the foundation laid for them to be a graduate of this school,” she said, “and I trust that foundation. I truly believe in what we do here for students and patients.”

Although she originally was given only three months to live, she took the grim news in stride.

“Three month’s is man’s time,” she said. “God’s statistics are totally different.”

Now, nine months after Dr. Yurvati’s surgery to biopsy lymph nodes and after six rounds of heavy chemotherapy, Stevenson is on maintenance chemo—and still working. The cancer is no longer spreading, and she’ll continue maintenance chemo “until my body says it can’t take any more or the cancer starts to spread again.”

Meanwhile, she continues to work at a job that she tackles daily with integrity and compassion. Among her many contributions is making sure people who travel from out of state for surgery with Dr. Yurvati have everything they need, prompting one patient to call her his “guardian angel.” Read the story.

“Terry definitely serves others first,” Dr. Yurvati said. “She is a very special lady with a big heart who is a great team member.”

DeeAnn McKinney, Assistant to the Chair of Surgery, agrees.

“Terry is such a caring person who works diligently to see that our patients are treated with dignity and compassion,” she said. “She takes the time to listen when assistance is needed or questions arise. She insists that things are done right.”

Stevenson says her values come in part from her husband, Tom. He had polio and continues to struggle with pain and mobility. Yet, when she asks how he is, he always responds, “I’m up—it’s a good day!”

“He never stops,” she said. “I’ve learned not to tell him he can’t do something—he’ll find a way.”

Her cancer battle has been humbling.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is humility,” she said. “I learned I’m not as strong as I thought I was, physically and mentally. The hardest part is to accept help from others. I’m used to giving. But if I don’t accept others’ help, I’m denying them the blessings that come from giving. What right do I have to deny those blessings to other people now?”

Joanne Mize, Director of Clinical Operations, said she’s grateful for Stephenson’s dedication.

“When Terry came to me with the news of her illness, my immediate response was ‘take as much time as you need,’” Mize said. “True to form, Terry said that she ‘needed and wanted’ to be here at work with her team. Knowing Terry’s commitment to the Surgery and Dermatology clinics and UNTHSC, I immediately understood why.

“The Surgery and Dermatology clinic faculty and staff function very effectively as a team. I knew Terry’s illness would require extensive time out of the office, but because of the great team we have in place, we were able to make the necessary accommodations. We will support Terry in her wish to keep working as long she is able to.”

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