Celebrating the end of chemo

Claire Nguyen, a patient at Baylor’s Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, signed up for the 39-mile, two-day Houston Avon Walk because she wanted to help other breast cancer patients receive life-saving care and treatment. But the walk ended up being even more significant for Nguyen – it occurred the weekend before her last round of chemotherapy.

Claire Nguyen with Dr. Polly Niravath
Claire Nguyen with Dr. Polly Niravath

Nguyen celebrated the completion of her 12th and final round of chemotherapy in the Baylor Clinic Infusion Center April 18, right after the April 12 – 13 walk.

“This really hit home for me once I realized the significance of the time, and I thought this was just a great way to celebrate the upcoming end of my chemotherapy,” said Nguyen, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Texas Children’s Hospital. “I am so blessed to have medical insurance to receive this lifesaving treatment, but others are not as fortunate. I really wanted to make a difference.”

Despite actively receiving chemotherapy, Nguyen persevered through blisters and fatigue, walking an amazing 13 miles each day, and accomplishing her goal of helping other patients.

On the final day, Nguyen was able to triumph over not only completing her goal but celebrating her personal treatment success.

“During closing ceremonies it was very moving to see how all the money benefits the community,” said Nguyen. “It was nice to know that I was able to help out.”

With a minimum $1,800 fundraising requirement to participate, Nguyen helped fund Avon Foundation grants to Baylor and other organizations.

Nguyen was also able to celebrate with her physician, Dr. Polly Niravath, who served as medical director of the 2014 Houston Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. For the seventh year in a row, Baylor served as the official medical sponsor of the event and oversaw all care of the more than 1,000 walkers participating in the event.

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“Dr. Niravath has been such a caring and comforting partner in this journey. I was elated to learn that she was going to be the medical director this year. She made sure I was OK throughout the event. Her presence was invaluable and it was so special running into her right before the closing event,” said Nguyen. “From the very beginning, she took the time to answer my and my family’s questions about this unfamiliar journey we were about to embark on.”

“Claire is an amazingly resilient person, and her strength shows in everything she does, whether it’s walking in the Avon Walk, fighting her cancer, or working as a neonatal nurse,” said Niravath. “Even after finishing the walk, she wanted to jump in and help out in the medical tent. Patients like Nguyen are so inspirational to all of us who provide care for these men and women. Celebrating the upcoming end of her chemotherapy treatment with her was very special.”

Nguyen was diagnosed in November 2013 and will still require some additional targeted therapy but is doing very well, she said.

In her truly unstoppable spirit, Claire gushed, “There are eight U.S. cities that host the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. My goal is to participate in each of the designated host cities, and I’ve chosen San Francisco for next year!”

Niravath was inspired not just by Nguyen but others participating in the event as well.

”Each year, I am so inspired by the survivors, family members, and caretakers who walk and volunteer. Their stories of strength, courage, and resilience are truly humbling, and I cannot think of a more worthy cause to bring all these remarkable people together on one incredible weekend. The $2 million raised this weekend will go to support underserved breast cancer patients who may not have been able to access health care resources otherwise,” she said.

Baylor received one of 10 grants announced by The Avon Foundation for Women announced at the closing ceremonies of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Houston April 13. Niravath officially accepted on behalf of the Smith Breast Center

The $150,000 grant will provide breast cancer prevention and treatment and help patients better navigate their breast cancer care at Harris Health System’s Ben Taub Hospital and Smith Clinic.

This story originally appeared in the May issue of BCM Family.

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