His Light Shines For Survivorship


Tim McKenna, 34, had just recently moved to Durham, North Carolina, when he scheduled an appointment for a routine physical. It was at that appointment that he mentioned to his primary care doctor that he “was lactating.”

“My doctor ordered a mammogram,” remembered McKenna. “Although the results returned negative, further testing found a tumor in the left frontal lobe of my brain. As it grew it was putting pressure on my pituitary gland — causing lactation.”

McKenna was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a type of cancer of the brain. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, astrocytomas develop from astrocytes — star-shaped cells that make up the supportive tissue of the brain.

McKenna’s tumor, diffused astrocytoma, was grade 2 and growing at a relatively slow pace, but had it gone undetected it would have evolved into a faster growing grad 3 tumor. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor. A success, since that time he undergoes regular checkups.

Thankful for another chance at life, McKenna sought to give back. He trained to become a volunteer at Duke Cancer Center. McKenna is also a member of the Oncology Patient Advisory Council (OPAC), a group comprised of survivors, family members and Duke Cancer Institute staff who, together, partner to improve the patient experience.

"As a survivor, Tim uniquely understands the impact a volunteer can have in easing the anxiety that can be overwhelming for patients," said Kristy Everette, director, external relations for the DCI's Supportive Care and Survivorship Center. "Tim joined our team, first as a greeter and then quickly teamed up to serve on our Oncology Patient Advisory Council. He also volunteers on the inpatient units at patients’ bedside chronicling their life story with the Living History Program. Tim offers compassionate caring that can’t be matched, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have him on our team."

McKenna, an avid supporter of Duke Cancer Patient Support Program (DCPSP) events, will be tree-side for this year’s Tree of Hope Lighting Ceremony — an event honoring and remembering cancer patients.

“I’ll be there to honor my own survivorship,” said McKenna, who credits positivity and fitness for keeping him healthy since his surgery. “Every day is a gift — a gift worth celebrating.”

The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program will host the 27th Annual Nancy Weaver Emerson Tree of Hope Lighting Ceremony at Duke Cancer Center on Friday, Dec. 1. The event features a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by a candlelight procession to the Seese-Thornton Garden of Tranquility.

Patients, their loved ones and Duke faculty and staff are invited to honor and remember family and friends by sponsoring a light on the Tree of Hope. Corresponding tribute cards will be provided. Lights are $10 each. Donations will be accepted at the cancer center’s Belk Boutique through January 2017. Previous Tree of Hope Lighting Ceremonies have raised up to $80,000. Proceeds benefit the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. For more information or to RSVP, please email cancersupport@duke.edu or call 919.684.4497.

For more information about the Oncology Patient Advocacy Council, including membership, please call 919.668.6679 or email Kristy Everette, Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.