Photos Cameron Flaisch

Lacee Landrum never imagined she’d be spending her 30-birthday going through cancer treatment, let alone going through cancer while also experiencing a pandemic. For Lacee and other patients like her, access to healthcare providers throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond is vital to their healing and overall well-being.  

Harbin Clinic is dedicated to providing uninterrupted service during the COVID-19 crisis, and in doing so has uncovered new opportunities for the future wellness of their patients. For some, telehealth may be an easier way to connect with doctors for test results and check-ups, due to mobility challenges and immune-depressed conditions. Patients can appreciate the steps that Harbin Clinic has taken to proactively limit exposure and calm any fears during treatments. 

Access to reliable internet access and technology infrastructure can be a challenge in this part of the country, “whether it is sketchy internet or not enough bandwidth, some of our patients experience audio and video difficulty during virtual health visits,” explains Jody Temple, Department Manager for Medical Oncology. “We have quickly answered the call to address these needs for our patients, and have a dedicated staff member to educate and support those that find technology more cumbersome. She walks our patients through the process, step-by-step. If they need help downloading an app or education on the settings, our clinic has met the challenge of gaps in technology.” 

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Dr. Melissa Dillmon

It is clear the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center team are true champions for their patients, especially in times of crisis. In the conference with American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Dr. Melissa Dillmon, Doctor of Hematology and Oncology at Harbin Clinic, details other efforts taken to protect our immune-suppressed community. “During this pandemic we have been able to rapidly adapt and deploy HarbinCONNECT, a comprehensive telehealth option for our communities and the region. We are also continuing to further innovate by using electronic charts and virtual consults, allowing our physicians to seamlessly care for their patients who are already in the hospital while protecting those patients from further exposure.” 

Dr. Dillmon goes further to explain that Harbin Clinic is not only finding new ways to accommodate patient’s needs immediately, but that they are looking to the future for ways to serve our community post COVID-19. “Our clinic has seen a dramatic decline in screening tests as many have be sheltering-in-place. We are worried about other screenings being missed this year, and how this may impact the stage of cancers when they present. We are worried about the ability of our screening centers to catch up with the back log of cases when patients begin to come back.” The dedicated doctors and medical staff are wisely looking ahead to prepare for the continued seamless care of our community. 

On April 23, 2020, Dr. Dillmon was selected to speak at the nationally cast ASCO press conference, COVID-19 and Cancer, Addressing a Healthcare System in Crisis detailing best practices in the field of oncology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Dillmon highlighted the many protocols that Harbin Clinic has put into practice to ensure the safety of patients and medical staff. She specifically addressed the unique factors of rural America that can pose a challenge in remote telehealth, and the measures that her team has taken at Harbin Clinic to ensure all patients receive the necessary support during their treatment and recovery during this crisis. “Rural challenges primarily encompass limited resources, such as no ICUs and no ventilators, as well as limited access to WiFi. It is our mission in the field to ensure they have the resources,” she explains. 

Dr. Dillmon is undoubtedly an expert in her field, and was named a Fellow by the ASCO. The title of Fellow is dedicated to ASCO members who have made incredible advancements and commitments which benefit the ASCO society, the specialty of oncology, and primarily, the patients whom they serve. “It is a huge honor to receive the Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology designation. I am extremely dedicated to my field and it’s been very fulfilling to provide complete care to my patients at the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center,” she says. 

This is exactly the level of intuitive care that Lacee Landrum details in her fight with breast cancer. Last year, another medical practice in Georgia thought that at age 29, she was too young to consider a lump in her breast as anything more serious than a fibrous cyst. In April 2019, she was dismissed only to discover a second lump a mere three months later. In July 2019, Landrum sought a second opinion, and took her concerns to the Breast Center within the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center. Within 24 hours of that appointment she received a mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and the devastating news that she had triple-negative, stage 3 breast cancer.  

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“I called my cousin Kelly, who had battled breast cancer at 34. She told me about the amazing team at Harbin Clinic, and specifically Dr. Dillmon and Dr. Mayfield. She told me that ‘now was the time to put [my] big girl pants on and deal with it head on.’ So I called Harbin Clinic and they scheduled me immediately for cat scans and bone scans to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread. My heart sank when I received a call 45 minutes later. It was 6:30 at night, and I dreaded the worst. It was Dr. Mayfield. He didn’t want me to worry all night, and just called to say it was clear. I knew then I was going to be in good hands,” recalls Landrum. 

“From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted to be cared for by the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center. The office got me in the next day. I walked in for that first appointment; feeling completely overwhelmed, and my doctor Dr. Dillmon said to me ‘this is what we are going to do,’ and we made a plan for treatment. I had my heart set on the clinical trial for the Carboplatin, but last minute I found that I was ineligible.” Upset and frustrated, Landrum describes how Dr. Dillmon took charge. “She called the insurance company and negotiated for me to have the Carboplatin treatment covered anyway. In November, after a conference on immunotherapy Dr. Dillmon came back with a plan to introduce Keytruda every three weeks for maintenance, and once again Dr. Dillmon approached my insurance company and got me coverage for the treatment.” Landrum details the many times that Dr. Dillmon and her team advocated for her placement in clinical trials to receive the most cutting-edge treatments available, saying, “I would not be where I am today without the expertise of Dr. Dillmon and Dr. Mayfield and their teams.” 

Amid this pandemic Landrum rang the bell at the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center on April 29th, signaling her triumph in beating cancer. Her story is just beginning as her legacy Lacee’s Law hits the Senate floor in the near future; a bill designed to advocate for screening coverage for individuals at high risk for breast cancer who may otherwise be overlooked due to age and other factors. Landrum describes her experience saying “This has been the best worst time of my life. It has opened my eyes to how good people really are. It’s made me see how truly kind and caring people can be.”