VCU Massey nurse’s cancer battle gives her new meaning to help other patients

Posted at 12:29 PM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 12:39:26-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As a nurse at VCU Massey Cancer Center, Michelle Futrell has dedicated her career to helping cancer patients. But in January 2019, Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her colleagues suddenly became her caregivers.

Michelle says her own cancer journey has helped her better understand the toll that cancer takes on a patient and his/her family.

“It’s not always in front of you just how much a cancer diagnosis impacts a family because you’re kind of in it all day long, every day,” Michelle said. “For me and my family, this is the first time that I was diagnosed with cancer or anybody (in my family) for that matter, so it has a huge impact.”

Despite her fears, Michelle knew she had a collaborative team working with her, and not just her own oncologist, but a team of nurses, surgeons, radiologists, nutritionists, social workers, and psychologists.

Michelle Futrell

“It’s good to have a team,” said Dr. Helen Hackney.

Hackney is a medical oncologist and professor at VCU’s Massey Cancer Center.

“She was amazing,” Michelle stated. “She was at the end of every portal message I sent, every phone call. There were times she called me back on my cellphone to reassure me, give me a hug when I needed a hug.”

Massey’s unique approach to cancer treatment includes nurse navigators and a collaborative care clinic, where a team of providers help patients not only make important decisions regarding their treatment, but offer support during surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Hackney says this approach to medicine, has helped patients deal with the overwhelming stress associated with cancer treatment.

“When you know your team and you know you’ve got support, even when there are days you feel you’re falling fast, you know someone is there to catch you,” Hackney said.

Michelle Futrell

Thanks to medical research, that’s translated into treatment, Michelle is now a survivor.

There are 2.8 million other breast cancer survivors in the United States, but more is to be done to help prevent and treat the disease.

Massey’s clinical trials are helping save lives every day and creating alternative treatment options that give patients less severe side effects.

“When I started 25 years ago, we were doing bone marrow transplants for breast cancer and now we have many newer drugs and we know better ways of treating patients,” Hackney explained. “We’re not having to put them through that toxicity, so trials help us learn how to take what we know and make a difference in the future.”

Michelle is now back at work, helping screen patients for cancer. She’s also thriving and recently competed on the popular game show “Wheel of Fortune.”

“I always joke with everybody that I sent in my audition tape bald and I went to the audition bald. They figured they might as well put me on TV if I have the nerve to show up with no hair,” Michelle laughed.

Michelle Futrell

It’s the ability to laugh and smile again, that’s given Michelle new meaning and motivation to help other patients.

“For me, I feel like everybody that’s been a part of my treatment is now a part of my family now,” she said.

Michelle is also joining in the fight against cancer, by becoming a personal advocate for awareness.

Massey Cancer Center is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Women and Wellness. The breakfast and luncheon series will be held on Tuesday, February 4th at the Jefferson Hotel.

Deborah Norville is this year’s keynote speaker. The breakfast portion of the series will include a panel discussion with doctors, led by Dr. Mary Helen Hackney. The signature event raises awareness and funds for women’s cancer research conducted at Massey. More than $5 million has been raised over time. To register for the event, click here.