Sheila Nelson was living the good life.
She and her husband, Steve, were retired, traveling and enjoying time with
their children and grandchildren.
Life had gotten so leisurely, in fact, that Sheila never got around to
getting a new gynecologist when hers retired not long after she ended
a 38-year career with United Parcel Service in 2012.
Then, toward the end of a week-long camping trip to Carpinteria in January
2016, Sheila sat down one morning to have a cup of coffee. As she leaned
back into her chair and crossed her arms, Sheila felt a lump in her left breast.
"I was like 'Wow, what is that?,'" said Sheila, who hadn't
had a mammogram in more than four years.
She showed her husband and they agreed the lump needed to be checked out
by a doctor. They decided to follow through with plans to travel south
from Carpinteria to meet daughter Rachelle Chapman and her family at Disneyland,
and then continue to San Diego to visit their daughter Shannon Nelson.
Once the Nelson's returned to their Tulare home, Sheila got in to see
Nurse Practitioner Maya Ricci at Visalia OB-GYN Medical Associates. That
set off a chain of appointments that week that went from a mammogram to
an ultra sound to a couple of biopsies to her diagnosis of breast cancer.
Dr. Russell Dounies said the breast cancer had spread into Sheila's
"It was wham-bam," Sheila said.
Sheila then met with Dr. Robert Havard, an oncologist at Sequoia Regional
Cancer Center. Dr. Havard went over her diagnosis and laid out her treatment options.
Wanting a second opinion, however, Sheila elected to get checked out at
City of Hope in Southern California. When the diagnosis and treatment
plans at City of Hope matched those of Dr. Havard, Sheila decided to stay
in her community first for access to care close to home at Sequoia Regional
Sheila was pleased with the way Dr. Havard, radiation oncologist Dr. Youssef
Hanalla and the entire staff at Sequoia Regional Cancer Center were focused
on providing her quality care.
"I can't say enough about Sequoia Regional Cancer Center,"
said Sheila, 61. "They are amazing all across the board, from the
front desk to the nurses and doctors. Simply amazing people. Kind, compassionate,
you name it. They have the cream of the crop in there because they know
how to treat people. They are just what you need in a situation like that."
Sheila said a special relationship developed between her and the woman
who administered her chemotherapy treatments, nurse Senovia Banuelos,
and that nurses Diana Perez and Angel Villafana made the 6 1/2 weeks she
spent receiving daily radiation treatments as pleasant as possible. Sheila
commended the care she received from all the staff at Sequoia Regional
"You can't teach someone to be compassionate and caring. Either
you have it or you don't,” said Sheila of Senovia, Diane and
Angel. “It takes special people to even want to work in a cancer
center. It's not a fun place to be. But you feel they want to be there.
You definitely feel that. When the treatment was over, I missed all of
Once she was done with her treatments, Sheila and her husband returned
Sheila's daughter, Shannon, threw her a big celebration in Culver City.
Sheila, Steve and Shannon went to the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. And,
they took a cross country trip in their trailer to visit daughter Rachelle
and her family, who had relocated from Hanford to Jamestown, RI, as part
of a military transfer for son-in-law Russ.
"We didn't plan anything and just went for it," Sheila said.
"We had a wonderful time."