Oncology Researcher – Her Fight With Breast Cancer

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed in April of 2012 at the age of 36 at IU West.  I detected a lump by self-exam and brought it to the attention of my OB/GYN during my annual appointment.  A biopsy confirmed ER/HER2+ breast cancer, even with no family history.”

What has been your treatment plan?

I had a double mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy, and Herceptin. I am on anti-estrogen for another five years.  Dr. (Bryan) Schneider at IU Health Simon Cancer Center is my oncologist.  I love that he does research, is in tune with new treatments and fighting for the patient everyday.”

What advice would you give to others who are newly diagnosed?

“A breast cancer diagnosis is scary.  I really tried to find hope during my treatment in the scientific innovations and the amazing survivors I met. I trusted my medical staff at IU Health to discuss all my options with me throughout my treatment.  My breast navigator, surgeons and oncologist were very passionate and I knew I was in good hands.”

What has been your inspiration, your driving force?

“My son, Jackson, 9 was always my inspiration.  He was three when I was diagnosed and doesn’t remember me having cancer, but really loves being an advocate and supporting me.  He has no problem telling people to get mammograms and colonoscopies to help them detect cancer early.  On the hardest days, I knew I needed to fight for him.  I knew he needed his mom back.  Cancer really brings urgency to what you do in life.  After regaining my strength, I started volunteering as much as I could to give back to others.  I’m an advocate and a fighter with my son beside me and we have met so many wonderful people along the way.”

 Do you have a favorite quote or motto that you’ve used throughout your journey?

“Hope – You are so much stronger than you think. Even though I am a 5-year survivor, seeing the people that were there from the beginning really brings me back to moments in my treatment.  It’s like snapshots of then and now.  Now I feel empowered and strong, able to help others in their fight.  I’m blessed to have great people to support me, and the ability to help people fight cancer as a volunteer and a researcher.”

– T.J. Banes

He’s A Phenomenal Force Inside Methodist’s Emergency Department

Scott Hilliard walks through the emergency department with a walk of efficiency. Quick, brisk and with a purpose.

In a way, it’s almost like a celebrity is making his way through the unit. A nurse jumps in the air with a smile and a wave to grab his attention. A paramedic slaps Hilliard on the back, trying his best to steal a few moments with him. A little quip from Hilliard sends a visitor into hysterical laughter.

Hilliard is, without a doubt, a force. He is a phenomenal force at IU Health Methodist Hospital. As manager of clinical operations for the department, he oversees about half of the 250 employees – including RNs, EMTs, paramedics, patient care associates and unit secretaries.

Those who work with him or for him call Hilliard a “ray of light,” a “compassionate leader” and “a perfect balance of no nonsense and nonsense.”

Merge all those descriptions together and that is, most certainly, Hilliard.

He started as a staff nurse at Methodist 12 years ago when he walked blindly into the recruiting office after landing in Indianapolis. He worked his way up to shift coordinator and then clinical manager. He will graduate in May with a doctor of nursing practice. 

And just last month, Hilliard was named the Betty Stillwell Nursing Scholarship Recipient through the Methodist Hospital Task Core.

He is devoted beyond measure to the patients, employees and families at Methodist. They are, in his mind, truly his family.

“I was destined,” Hilliard says with a smile, “to marry the hospital.”


The little Kentucky town Hilliard grew up in was called Beaver Dam. He was raised an only child on a farm – with chickens, cows, grain, tobacco, soybeans, hay and corn.

It was a working farm. And Hilliard worked it.

But that isn’t what lit the fire in his soul. Not farming. Even as a young teenager, it was the medical world that pulled at his heart.

Hilliard’s mom was an emergency department nurse and she would take Hilliard with her to the hospital for her 12-hour shifts.

He would shadow nurses and he fell in love with the fast-paced, organized chaos. 

“That’s where my passion for the ED came,” he says. “It was so crazy. I’d never heard of some of the things that I saw as a teenager.”

After graduating high school, he thought for a bit about going to medical school, but settled on nursing instead. He earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Louisville in 2002.

For the next three years, he moved around the country with his spouse, Eugene, who works in the hotel industry. They went from Louisville to Dallas to Detroit to Lake Tahoe and back to Dallas.

In 2005, the couple landed in Indianapolis for Eugene’s hotel job. And it was then Hilliard decided it was his turn. He wanted to go back to school for a master’s degree. He wanted to find a hospital he could call his home.

“I wanted some roots,” Hilliard says.


He was at the Indianapolis hotel with Eugene when Hilliard decided on a whim to try that hospital downtown called Methodist. Hilliard had interviewed at other hospitals, but “didn’t feel it.”

“I walked across the street to the recruitment office and said, ‘I’ve been an ED nurse for three years and I need a job,’” Hilliard says. “‘I’ll take anything. I just need a job.’” 

There just so happened to be an opening at noon with the head of the ED at the time, Deb Fabert. The woman in recruitment took Hilliard to the cafeteria for some lunch, which he couldn’t eat because he was a nervous wreck. Then at noon, she took him in for his interview with Fabert.

“Deb and I just hit it off right there and she offered me a spot that day,” Hilliard says. It was a day shift job in emergency at Methodist. His roots were beginning to take hold.

And Hilliard kept his promise to himself, to always strive for more. In 2008, when a new shift coordinator position opened up, he applied and got the job.

In 2009, he went back for his master’s degree in administration and graduated with that in 2012. And in 2011, he took the job as clinical manger, which he shares with Aaron Wilson, also a clinical manager overseeing the other half of those 250 employees.

Each day, Hilliard is thankful. And he’s humble. That’s what makes him such a force.

When he graduates with that doctorate, he will technically be Dr. Hilliard. But ask him what he will call himself?

“Scott,” he says with a little laugh. “I’ll just be Scott.”

More With Scott Hilliard  

How do you describe your job? “Having the daily oversight of operations of the ED, whether it’s personnel, finance, staffing or the day-to-day working management of it. Throughput is a huge component of the work, to make sure patients are moving through the ED in a timely manner because that’s what patients want. They want to come in, they want to see a doctor and they want to move on, whether that means going home or to admission upstairs.”

What it takes to work in the ED: “Our staff has to be ready for anything at any time. We can have chest pain or a heart attack or a stroke all right next to each other. You have to know a little bit about everything. We have high expectations of our staff. These folks take on the world and care for people at the most sensitive time of their lives.”

Outside of Methodist: Hilliard is active. He starts each day at 4 a.m., going to the gym to run and lift weights. He often walks to work from his downtown home. He and Eugene are the proud parents to two dogs, 7-year-old Oscar, a Westie, and 4-year-old Porter, an Airedale.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Spice Up Your Meal Plan

Trying to make healthy choices but getting tired of the same flavors? As a registered dietitian nutritionist at Indiana University Health, I work with bariatric patients to help them lose weight in preparation for surgery. In addition to being followed by a team, patients also receive individualized nutrition counseling post-operatively. We work together to identify barriers and solutions throughout their weight loss journey.

One simple way to slim down: Swap out heavy sauces and condiments for spices to cut fat, sugar, and calories – without sacrificing flavor. You’ll also sneak in some added health benefits from more nutrients. Studies show that spices and herbs that are rich in antioxidants can decrease risk for chronic disease. They can also act as a base flavor for soups or add extra complexity to a dish.

  • Turmeric – This spice comes from the root of the curcuma longa plant. It can be added to any mix of vegetables, rice, or beans for a curry-like taste. Research reveals the potent compounds in this bright yellow spice have also been shown to help control knee pain and reduce skin irritation.
  • Cinnamon – This fall favorite comes from the dried bark of evergreen trees. You’ll see it in the grocery store as coiled like pieces or in canisters ground up. Try adding cinnamon to oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, or even baked fruit for antioxidant benefits.
  • Garlic – Used in many Italian dished, this edible bulb can be used freshly minced, as a powder, or even oil on bread, popcorn, or roasted veggies.
  • Ginger – This soothing plant has been shown to relieve nausea. It is often found dried or as the fresh root, and some studies have indicated that it may protect the body from cancer development and growth. Ginger can be added to smoothies, yogurt, or even sprinkled in Asian dishes for an extra flare.
  • Italian Seasoning – If you’re torn which spices to try first, try using a premade mix where the combinations are already decided for you. Italian seasoning can be added to popcorn, potatoes, poultry or any pasta dish.

Similar to fruits and vegetables, strive to consume a variety of herbs and spices in order to reap their many health benefits.

— By Katie Hake, RD
   IU Health

Methodist ICU Nurse Launches Meditation For Nurses; Rocks Their Worlds

The master plan was to make a difference in the world, to do something bigger than himself.

So, John Shepard bolted the insurance industry he’d built a career in to become a bedside nurse 15 years ago, a critical care nurse.

“I thought that by becoming a nurse I would gain a deeper level of peace and contentment in my life because I was helping others,” says Shepard, who has been a critical care nurse at IU Health Methodist Hospital for 10 years. “Then I realized pretty quickly, there was something else in my way and that something was me.”

Shepard was getting in the way of himself — the distractions in his life outside of the hospital were trickling inside the hospital. The chaos of his duties as a nurse was causing stress.

He couldn’t concentrate on his patients because his mind was somewhere else. He wasn’t able to be in the moment with his patients, which to him was the most crucial part of his job.

So, Shepard did something many nurses won’t do. He admitted that to himself and went searching for a way to change it.

The answer? Meditation. Shepard started meditating before each shift. Meditating during shifts, if needed. Meditating whenever he got the chance. 

And then he encouraged his coworkers to join him. He created a meditation schedule and led the sessions.

It rocked everyone’s world.

“When I did mindfulness practices on a daily basis and let go of my desires and my wants, I could be in the moment with my patients,” he said. “And I get more out of being in the moment with my patients than they do.”

Shepard says it’s all about creating space and, after that, everything else falls away temporarily.

“You can be with that patient and that’s what patients want more than anything,” he says.

Shepard’s tireless efforts to alleviate stress among his fellow ICU nurses at Methodist have made a national mark.

Recently, Shepard was awarded a National Magnet Nurse of the Year by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.  

Just a handful of nurses across the United States are given the honor –one in each of these five categories: transformational leadership; structural empowerment; exemplary professional practice; new knowledge, innovations and improvement; and empirical outcomes.

Shepard won his award in the structural empowerment category.  

The “relentless work John has done to assist his colleagues with stress reduction…has enabled staff to focus and intentionally provide safer care,” Linda Chase, then vice president and chief nursing officer at IU Health, wrote when she nominated Shepard.

Shepard is leading the way at Methodist in a national movement. Hospitals nationwide have become aware of the need for nurses to do more to take care of themselves. Big healthcare systems have implemented hospital-wide meditation classes.

Just four years ago, Nursing Times conducted a massive study of 10,000 nurses. That study found that 62 percent of nurses had considered quitting their jobs in the past 12 months due to stress. Another 61 percent said they were unable to give patients the care they wanted to because they were too busy.

For one nurse at Methodist to realize that and try to do something about it?

“His commitment to excellence is unmistakable,” wrote IU Health’s Belinda Wallbank in her Magnet nomination for Shepard.

Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. Meditation is new to the staff. Many nurses are hesitant. It can be uncomfortable. It takes a little courage.

But when they participate, Shepard says he hears time and time again about how much it has helped them in their jobs.

“Not just patient care, but it prevents turnover, burnout,” he says. “It just makes you a happier person.”

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow

Doctor Remembers His Roots; Embraces His Citizenship

On the day he became a US Citizen, Dr. Safi Shahda wore a red tie. Written on the tie – in white letters – were the words to the U.S. Constitution.

Doctor Shahda had been given a gift box weeks before he took the oath. The box was from a long-time patient who had instructed Shahda not to open the gift until the time he would become a U.S. Citizen. The patient didn’t live to see that day, but Shahda wore the tie with pride. The patient’s wife later sent Shahda a copy of the constitution dated 1967 that belonged to the patient when he was a student at DePauw University.

“We used to have some lively conversations about politics and the ‘American Dream.’ He would have loved to see me on that day,” said Shahda, of his patient. “It was very emotional in a good way – seeing people from all over the world taking the oath, and pledging their allegiance to the United States, and seeing their families celebrating.”

It was February 16, 2017 and Dr. Shahda had been living in the United States for 10 years. 

“I wanted to live here from the time I thought about coming here and doing my training. There are many opportunities in medicine and research and I wanted to follow my dreams and my passion.  I can still do that but I wanted to actually be involved with the democracy that this country offers,” said Dr. Shahda, 37.  “I wanted to raise my kids in a country where they have equal opportunities.”


Doctor Shahda grew up in Hama, the fourth largest city in Syria – with a population of nearly 900,000 – located on the banks of the Orontes River in west central Syria. He describes his family as “middle class.” His father was a jeweler and his mother worked at home raising five children. When Dr. Shahda was 10, his mother died of breast cancer and his father remarried.

He remembers his mother as being sick and traveling a lot – to Damascus, 150 miles from his home, to get medical treatment.

“There was no oncologist in our town so we would travel for chemotherapy or radiation. I remember toward the end she was so weak that we moved in with our grandparents,” said Dr. Shahda. He also remembers that his dad didn’t talk a lot about it – even after his mother died at the age of 33.

He had a lot of unanswered questions and a thirst to learn more. 

“Sometimes you see people live that experience and they say, ‘I’m going to become an oncologist because my mom had cancer.’ It wasn’t like that with me. I think it’s more something that grew inside me.”

Part of his curiosity was fueled by living in a culture where people talked about cancer as the “mysterious disease,” for fear if they actually said the six-letter word they might become a victim of its prey.


“I didn’t grow up having a stethoscope hanging around my neck and pretending I was a doctor. My dad was a businessman but we did have people in our family who worked in the medical field so I did have some exposure,” said Dr. Shahda. “When I considered my career options, I thought about the concept of the impact physicians have on patients.”

So at the age of 18, he left Hama to attend Damascus University and medical school.  Eight years later he came to the United States and completed his residency and fellowship at IU School of Medicine.

“I didn’t feel like I could achieve my goals in Syria. I was looking for better training and I knew the opportunities are limited.”

When Dr. Shahda came to the United States as a medical student he took an elective in oncology. “I was fascinated by seeing patients go through bone marrow transplants and seeing patients cured of cancer – a concept that was foreign to me based on the medical care in Syria. About 15 years ago, there were probably only about 20 oncologists in Syria. That number grew over time, but with the war, many physicians left the country.”

After completing the elective, Dr. Shahda returned to Damascus to finish medical school. He knew he wanted to return to the United States and he knew he wanted to work in oncology.


Back in the United States, Dr. Shahda was working at the Veteran’s Administration on an overnight shift when he met a nurse practitioner named Jessica. The couple dated for a couple of years and waited for things to calm down in Syria in hopes that Dr. Shahda’s family could join them for a stateside wedding.

When the unrest didn’t settle, the couple decided to go forward with the nuptials and was married on October 11 four years ago. They have a young son, Hadi, 23 months; and recently added a daughter to their family, Zoe.

“Even though we grew up in different places – different cultures – we have a lot in common. We like spending our time at home, reading, traveling and cooking and family is important to us,” said Dr. Shahda. “When I decided to come to the United States, it was a big decision to leave my family and risk not going back.” He hasn’t returned to Syria since 2008 and has missed many family events including the funeral of one of his brothers, and his sister’s marriage. He keeps in touch with his family via Skype and focuses on his purpose as a new US resident.


Much of that is patient-centered.

He remembers the highlights – like leaving the hospital after a long day and receiving a picture of a patient who was playing guitar with his band. The patient had been treated for cancer and recently discharged.  And then there was another patient with Stage 4 colon cancer, who responded well to a clinical trial.

And then there’s the patient who gifted Dr. Shahda with the tie that he wore to his oath of citizenship.

“There are things some people take for granted growing up here. They don’t understand how important and impressive the election process is – they don’t understand you can actually have candidates that grill each other and they both go home alive. I watch late night comedy and it’s impressive to see former diplomats – including former presidents – getting questions and even made fun of by comedians. This is a real freedom of speech and a real democracy.”

That’s why, he says, his oath of citizenship was so emotional.

“It’s a lengthy exhausting process going though paperwork and the vetting process to become a citizen. So for me thinking about what life would be like if I weren’t here, is something I can’t imagine,” said Shahda. “I can’t image being able to do this – to pursue my dreams anywhere else.”

What does he see as the future of oncology research and medicine?

“My hope is that we would have fewer patients getting cancer by implementing intervention, but realistically we will have more people living longer with cancer because of advanced medicine. My hope is that we can help people have the best meaningful life while they live with cancer.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at 
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

Methodist Trauma Surgeon Easing Agony Of Cracked Ribs

The torture of broken ribs, one of the most common injuries, is unlike any other. It’s one of the most painful and nagging of injuries.

And it’s an injury that surgeons and doctors used to do absolutely nothing about.

They’d make sure the patient could breathe and cough and walk around. They’d make sure the patient could get by without too much pain medicine.

“And then we’d say, ‘Go home tough guy,’” says Timothy Pohlman, M.D., a trauma surgeon at IU Health Methodist Hospital. “‘Go home tough guy and heal on your own.’”

But those patients went home and they were in for a long three months of healing, if not longer. They were in for pain. And at the end of it all, many of those patients were unable to lead active lives. Some were even on permanent disability from work.

That startled Dr. Pohlman.  

“How can we not be doing something to treat one of the most common injuries?” he asked. “One of the most painful injuries?”

So, he decided he would do something about it. Dr. Pohlman took a sabbatical to Portland in 2009 to learn a technique called rib plating.

Much like a broken arm or leg needs to be stabilized to heal, so do the ribs. Dr. Pohlman started performing the procedure at Methodist that fuses broken ribs back together with bendable titanium plates. 

He has seen remarkable recovery from patients. Healing is often shortened from months to weeks. Fewer long-term effects are arising. But the thing that most patients notice is how quickly the pain subsides.

“They literally are in agony,” Dr. Pohlman says. “And you take them to the operating room and they wake up the next morning and they are reading the newspaper.”

Methodist, a Level I trauma center, was the third busiest in the nation for rib plating in 2016 – performing the procedure on about 80 patients.  

That’s a good percentage of its population of patients with cracked ribs getting the surgery – 20 percent. The trauma center sees about 4,000 patients a year and about 400 of those have multiple rib fractures.

‘His Aha Moment’

It came several years ago for Dr. Pohlman when he was treating a patient, a mailman, with fractured ribs.

For weeks after his injury, the patient passed all the tests for breathing and coughing. But at a follow-up appointment, Dr. Pohlman told him to step up onto the table for an exam. The patient said he couldn’t get up on the table.

Dr. Pohlman asked him to lie down. The patient said he couldn’t lie down. He had been sleeping in a chair at night.

Then Dr. Pohlman asked him how his job delivering the mail was going.

“I can barley pick up a letter,” the patient said, “let alone a mailbag.”

Dr. Pohlman started thinking. What about all these young active people who suffer from broken ribs and are left with long-term effects.

A friend of Dr. Pohlman’s, a surgeon in Australia named Silvana Marasco, M.D., had done a study. For two years, she followed the 200 most severe cases of broken ribs that came into her trauma center.

At the end of her study, she found that 30 percent of those patients weren’t back to work. They were on permanent disability.

“I was at a meeting when she presented this paper. You could have heard a pin drop,” Dr. Pohlman says. “It’s a huge, huge number.”

And that doesn’t even take into account the people who are back to work, maybe at a desk job, but can never again have an active life.

“They’re not in the backyard throwing football with their kids. They’re not exercising,” Dr. Pohlman says. “You’re talking young people. Their lives are over. They are sitting in an easy chair watching reruns of the ‘I Love Lucy’ show.”   

It was astonishing to him that nothing was being done to take care of one of the most common and painful injuries.

After training in Portland to learn the procedure from Riyad Karmy-Jones, M.D., Dr. Pohlman returned to Methodist in 2010. He and Robert L. Reed, M.D., a trauma surgeon at Methodist, are the two main surgeons who perform rib plating.

Not every patient with cracked ribs gets the surgery. But the number is growing each year.

“It’s a new way of doing things. It’s an evolution,” says Dr. Pohlman. “Every day, we are learning new things.”

 Rib plating image provided by DePuy Synthes.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

She Traveled More Than 7,000 Miles For Breast Cancer Care

She knew something was wrong but when doctors back home checked Elizabeth Iglesias’ right breast, they initially thought she had an abscess. Eventually she had an MRI and heard the words she dreaded: “Breast Cancer.”

That was a year ago, and the disease was Stage 4.  One of eight children, Iglecias was encouraged by her sister, Pat Caudell, who lives in Brownsburg, to come to Indiana. Last February Iglecias, 52, and her husband Frank, left their home in Saipan, a US commonwealth Island, in the Western Pacific Ocean and traveled some 7,000 miles to Indiana.

“It’s at least a 32-hour journey, with all the stops,” said Caudell, who visited her sister last year to convince her to move to Indiana for treatment.  Two other siblings live in Virginia, one is in Hawaii and three remain in Saipan. Both of Iglesias’ parents are diseased. Their mom died of breast cancer at age 75.

Last October Iglecias began chemotherapy at IU Health. It seemed to be working at first, but then it got worse, said Caudell. Under the care of Hematology/Oncology specialist Doctor Kathy Miller at IU Simon Cancer Center, Iglecias began a trial study drug.

“This trial is a very early test of a new therapy,” said Dr. Miller. “Elizabeth had a very aggressive disease. She initially responded to standard therapy but her disease returned very quickly. The likelihood of benefit from other standard therapies was quite small.”

Since Iglecias started the treatment Dr. Miller said there has been “more than a 75% reduction in the amount of disease at the first evaluation.”

Iglecias, the mother of seven children, now comes for treatment every 21 days, with lab work once a week, said Caudell. As she talks, Caudell rubs her sister’s back. The sisters are just a year apart and part of a close-knit family.

A grandmother to nine grandchildren, Iglecias misses her home, where she was surrounded by water and grew mangos and coconuts in her backyard. Speaking through her sister, in her native language of Chamorro, Iglecias said, “I am very happy with the care I receive here. Since day one, everyone I have encountered has been very loving and caring and I love my doctors (Dr. Kathy Miller and Dr. Richard Zellars).”

Although she has days where she is tired and suffers with back pain, Iglecias says she likes to focus on the good days. She looks forward to Thursday night Bingo, Sunday Mass and any chance she can get a hot pretzel at the mall.

“I just want to focus on getting better and living to enjoy my grandkids.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

Diary Of Breast Cancer

On the first day of February, the temperatures were a little above normal in Central Indiana and Rhonda Jones, 50, was already planning a beach vacation. But life changed when she learned she had breast cancer.

She’d scheduled her annual mammogram faithfully for years – each time leaving the appointment with that peace of mind – the scans were clear. But in December, her mammogram was followed by an ultrasound – and then a second ultrasound – and then a biopsy.

On a date marked in the history books by the French Revolutionary War, Jones started her own war. She began her fight against breast cancer.

“I can not describe the feelings you go through and I hope you never have to learn,” she wrote in her online journal. “I am sure I am still learning.” Ten more tests and numerous doctor appointments revealed three cancer spots, including one in her lymph nodes. Her enemy was considered Stage 3 by her oncologist Dr. Vijaya Kakani.

“I have a working brain and heart. Now I just need courage,” she wrote. She underwent four rounds of heavy chemo in eight weeks, followed by 12 rounds of chemo every week. A full mastectomy was scheduled for July (but was later delayed to August) followed by 30-35 days of radiation.

“The cancer is aggressive. It is a triple negative so the doctor’s are being aggressive. The good news is it is curable. After the 2-3 year mark, there is little to no chance it will reoccur. And we shall celebrate. I am in good hands with the great doctors at IU Health Arnett. I also work with a great bunch of ladies who will take good care of me. I may be getting a little VIP treatment,” she wrote in February.

At the start of her journey, Jones apologized to friends for updating them through social media, describing the posts as “impersonal.” But friends responded with encouragement. One friend, who had also battled breast cancer, wrote: “You are in for a journey and it is a roller coaster ride.” Pictures show the progression of Jones losing her hair, wearing a silly hat on St. Patrick’s Day and with friends all wearing headbands to show unity.

As she started chemo, Jones wrote: “When people ask what it feels like to get chemo I liken it to getting the flu or a sinus infection. On chemo day they pump all these fluids into you. Some to help; some to kill. You feel off because your body is trying to figure out how to react. You are tired. Things don’t taste great. Then on Friday you are superwoman – high on steroids. Saturday you just wish the flu would decide which way it is going. Sunday you feel the truck approaching. Monday through Wednesday you gradually feel better, then it starts all over again.”

By mid-March, Jones began to lose her hair. It was a time she knew would come but somehow wasn’t sure how to reconcile in her mind. So she began to think about hair as it relates to a woman’s persona.

“Lets talk about hair. Our society certainly places a lot of emphasis on hair, especially women,” she wrote. “Every other commercial is about hair products that will make yours so much better. I have always hated my hair. It is super fine and thin. . . My best friend had long hair and had beautiful ponytails and pigtails. I was so jealous. When I got the chance to grow it out, I did. And I spent my money from babysitting to go to a real hairdresser. . . My hair has been super short and it’s been long. It has been curly and flat. I have spent tons of money to make it cute. . .  It has been many colors – mostly to cover the gray. So when you hate your hair why is it so hard to loose it? I didn’t think it would be, but I am not going to lie – it is difficult. Every morning clumps in the shower, clumps in the comb, shedding on your towel, your pillow, your clothes.” In the end, Jones’ husband of 22 years, Chris Jones, helped her shave her head.

Afterward she wrote: “It was the best decision ever.”

At about the same time, she had her third round of chemo, couldn’t keep any food down, and lost about 10 pounds.

“My stomach sounds like a transformer movie. I am getting stronger everyday thankfully. Other than the stomach explosions,” she wrote. She completed her fourth and final round of chemo on April 6 and reported the tumor was down to 1.5 centimeters.

Throughout her treatment, Jones continued working – sometimes shortening her days – and even won the Presidential Cup at the American Advertising Awards ceremony in Tippecanoe County.

Cancer is unpredictable and sometimes the strategies to fight it are also unpredictable. In late April, Jones learned her treatment schedule would be lengthened and the fall break beach vacation she was planning would need to be postponed. Surgery was pushed back to August 10  – her birthday. Thirty-five days of radiation began this month  – nine months after her diagnosis. She hopes she will be finished by Thanksgiving.

“I was just really getting excited about that beach vacation. But I will be surrounded by my family during the holidays, which always brings joy to my heart. We will look at a beach vacation for spring break 2018,” she wrote when she learned the news.

On May 4 with the second round of chemo complete and 10 more to go, Jones wrote about side effects – dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, leg cramps, and lack of sleep.

“Let’s talk about sleep – I miss it. I am a great sleeper, just ask my family. I used to be average 6-7 hours during the week and 8 on weekends. Those days are gone. Yes, I am tired. My body is physically spent. But sleep? Maybe 2-3 hours at a time. I have become an old man. I go to bed exhausted. I sleep. Covers on, covers off, repeat.”

She also realized she was becoming forgetful: “Chemo brain is a real thing. It reminds me of being pregnant. I think of so many things I need to do then cannot remember. I make a lot of lists now. Concentrating is hard sometimes.”

As she faced the rainy days of spring, Jones wrote of blooming flowers, preparing her deck for warm weather and baseball. Her 12-year-old son plays on a traveling team.

For inspiration, she began wearing a keepsake diamond ring. The ring belonged to her grandmother and was handed down to her mother and then to Jones.

She put the ring on the day of her first treatment and has worn it every day since. “I get strength from the two women before me – who both survived cancer. I know they are helping me through this journey. Every day I see my angels and know I’ve got this,” she wrote. Her mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 35 and her grandmother battled ovarian cancer.

It was the strength she needed as she faced surgery on August 14 – a radical mastectomy, removing lymph nodes that later tested cancer free. On her last doctor visit, her oncologist prescribed oral chemo.

“I am disappointed. I am tired of being exhausted. I am tired of being the weakest link. I hate feeling like I am 100 years old. I am not good at letting others help me,” said Jones. But then she added: “Never fear. Tomorrow is a new day. I will get up put a smile on my face and have a great day. I am expecting one hell of a party in 2018.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

He Was Born A 3-Pound Preemie; Now He’s A Star Runner

There are two acres surrounding Austin Fiesel’s house. They are two acres of promise. Two acres to build dreams on.

Most days, 13-year-old Austin puts in his ear buds, cranks up the volume and ventures out onto those two acres.

And he runs.

The neighbors will look out their windows in amazement. Lap after lap after lap, that boy is running. They will tell Austin’s mom, Shelley, that her son is something else.

The truth is, Shelley already knows that. She knew it the day her tiny son burst into the world two months early, born at IU Health University Hospital weighing barely 3 pounds. Doctors were sure little Austin would have lingering issues.

But Austin didn’t.  

No vision problems. No glasses. No hearing problems. Austin does well in school. Shelley marvels at the miracle preemie she was blessed with. And so do those around her.

“Everybody says, ‘I can’t believe he was that little and hasn’t had any problems,’” Shelley says.

But Austin does have something. He has that gift. That incredible gift of running.


It was first grade when people started noticing that gift. Austin went to Lowell Elementary and joined a running club for fun. He stayed after school to run once a week.

“His gym teacher was like, ‘You’re really, really good. You need to stick with running,’” Shelley says.

Austin did stick with running. At 8 years old, he competed in his first 5K and ran it in 24 minutes. 

“We just kept working with him and keeping him running,” says Shelley, who is married to Ryan Sheets. “And he just kept getting lower and lower (times).”

The medals and trophies started piling up. Austin has 43 medals and 33 trophies and a book filled with ribbons. His 5K time is now about 19 minutes.

He’s the No. 1 runner on his Little Flower Catholic School cross country team. This past summer, he was invited by the Scecina Memorial High School team to work out.

He got up every morning at 6 a.m. all summer. No one had to prod him. He set his own alarm.

“He’s really driven. He has a passion,” says Kevin Egan, Austin’s cross country and track coach at Little Flower. “It’s like a coach’s dream.” 

Coach Egan says the only issue he has with Austin is trying to get him to not run too much. Austin loves the sport that much.

“He just loves to race and run and compete,” Egan says. “He really does.”

Austin, an older brother to Raiden, 8, and Ryatt, 3, says he does love to run. He admits the sport can be grueling. He admits, sometimes, it’s tough to make his burning legs keep going.  

“But, I just have to think about the people that can’t do it,” says Austin, whose dream is to run at the University of Oregon. “And you have to do it for them.”

Austin is talking about his grandpa, who recently died. He runs for him. 

“When the hard work pays off, it’s good,” says Austin. And it has paid off.


At the Hound Hustle at University of Indianapolis last month, Austin got first place in the 13- to 16-year-old division. At the Colts 5K run in August, he took first place in the 13- to 14-year-old category.  

He’s in USATF Junior Olympics. Last year, he finished seventh overall for his age group out of 120 boys. Ask Austin what he wants to do when he grows up, he says, “Go to the Olympics.”

It’s not such a far-reaching dream considering the odds Austin has overcome.

It was April of 2004 when Shelley went to the doctor for a routine checkup. As she was about to leave, she decided to tell her doctor something that had been bothering her. Shelley didn’t feel the baby moving.

The doctor performed an ultrasound, then the whispers started. They told Shelley to go to another room and they would be back to talk to her. 

“I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t good,’” Shelley says.

It wasn’t good. The water around Austin was leaking. Doctors wanted her close to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. They sent her by ambulance to University Hospital.

It was a whirlwind. Before Shelley knew it, she was in surgery having an emergency C-section. Austin was born April 8, 2004, at 32 weeks, weighing 3.1 pounds and 17 inches long.  

Austin burst into the world crying and breathing on his own. He never needed oxygen. He never needed a ventilator. He stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for 28 days – and then he went home.  

He went home with that gift. In Shelley’s mind, Austin is a miracle.  

“I told him, ‘You have this gift and whatever you want to do with it is up to you,’” Shelley says. “‘I can’t go out there and run for you. I can cheer you on. I can tell you good job. But this is your gift.’”

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Colts Cheerleader, Fashionista, LifeLine Nurse: Meet Jill Of All Trades

Jill Eicher had only recently completed her fashion merchandising degree at Ball State University when she felt the pull. She wanted to do something more. She wanted to help others. So she enrolled in beauty school and got her esthetics license. She felt that providing facials and other skin treatments were ways to make her clients feel good about themselves.

But the pull continued – like the G force of a helicopter taking flight.  She didn’t realize it at the time, but Eicher was destined to become a nurse – a nurse who would care for the sickest of children transported by LifeLine.

A graduate of Brownsburg High School, Eicher remembers her dad, an English teacher and football coach at Emmerich Manual High School picking up a night gig delivering pizzas to help fund Eicher’s dance lessons.

“When I was a teen I was a little embarrassed that my friends would see my dad delivering pizza to their doorstep, but as an adult I couldn’t be more proud of his hard work and dedication to his family.”

One of his favorite quotes was, ‘some one may be better at something than you are, but you never let anyone out work you.’ He was such a hard worker,” said Eicher, 38. The years of cheering for the home football team and performing in dance recitals didn’t go to waste either. An avid football fan, Eicher was on the Code Red pom squad at Ball State and landed a spot as a Colts cheerleader her sophomore year. She was on the Colts squad for four seasons.


As an esthetician, Eicher was invited to join Dr. Peter Kunz, a plastic surgeon, at IU Health North, for a procedure on a young child who had been bitten by a dog. That surgery changed her career course.

“I had just gotten pregnant with my first child, and I knew it would be tough, but I knew what I had to do,” said Eicher. “I had to go back to school and I had to become a nurse. With my other degrees, I just didn’t feel like I was doing what I really needed and wanted to do.”

Her daughter was two when Eicher completed her degree. She met her husband, Eric, a video producer/director while she was a student at Ball State. They have two children, Addison, 10, and Camden, 7, and recently celebrated 15 years of marriage.

“Having a toddler and going to nursing school wasn’t easy but I had a great support system in my parents and my husband,” said Eicher. “I swore I’d never work with children, it’s too hard. My clinicals were in NICU and I cried almost the entire time. And when I was a Colts cheerleader we went to Riley to visit patients in the cancer unit and I was so emotional I had to sit in the hallway. Once I had my own kids, I just knew I couldn’t work with other kids. It was too close.”


But the pull took over. Right after she received her nursing degree in 2009, Eicher interviewed and was hired at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

“To go from a nurse with no experience to being with the sickest kids was a big leap. I had a hard time at first and got nervous going into work, but it was where God wanted me. Being a parent helped me empathize with the families.”

Her dad, Dennis Jackson was so proud of Eicher’s accomplishments that his phone was programmed to show “Nurse Jill” when she called. She too, is glad her dad saw her achieve her dreams. He died of heart failure the day before he celebrated the 35th anniversary of marriage to his bride Kari Jackson.

Four years ago, Eicher joined LifeLine transporting pediatric patients to and from hospitals throughout the state and even out-of-state.

So many faces come to her when Eicher thinks about her role working with sick children. She remains in contact with some families even after her work is done.

‘Yes, I still cry. Almost every day I think of the first funeral I went to of a patient. I think of that mom and wonder how she is coping and how different her life is,” said Eicher. “I also think about the amazing recoveries. People ask a lot about the flight part of my job but so much of what I do is going into small hospitals that aren’t equipped to handle the needs of these kids. We go in, stabilize them and then take them away from their parents – to Riley where they can get the best care. I always try to put myself in the parents’ shoes – how would I feel if this was my kid?”


Last year, Eicher started another new venture – a sort of stress reliever and a way to give back to others.

She opened an online boutique, “ShopGoldylox.com” a nickname she hears often from friends and family members. To date, she has more than 3,000 followers – many of them nursing friends and mothers looking for what Eicher calls “trendy, comfortable, and affordable clothing.”

She works 24-hour and 12-hour weekly shifts as a LifeLine nurse and unwinds by adding new apparel to her website.

“I tell my mom my first degree was not a complete waste, said Eicher, who started her clothing line by printing unique t-shirts. She recently raised funds for Texas residents – victims of Hurricane Harvey – through the sale of one of her t-shirts. She also helped a young woman who lost her home to a fire.

“I really feel like I’ve had a lot of good fortune and luck in life.  I came from great parents, grew up in a great town, got a great education, married a great guy and have awesome kids. This is a way to help others.”

Does she have any plans to design a stylish LifeLine flight suit?

“No way. There are a lot of regulations. They are made of fire-resistant material and it’s all about safety and function,” said Eicher. But there is one thing she still has her eye on:

“It’s out of habit – all those years cheering from the sidelines and sitting behind the Colts bench watching the action from the 40-yard-line with my dad. I still buy a lot of royal blue and white.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.