At 72, Jim Hall thought he would be retired by now, tending his garden or fixing old tractors for fun. However, this is not usually the case for farmers. Hall rented his first piece of land when he was in high school, and nearly 55 years later, he is farming near Jackson, Minnesota.
He knows that life rarely goes as planned. That became clear last year when a series of health problems resulted in a frightening diagnosis: glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer that often forms in the frontal or temporal lobes.
When Hall, his children, and others started making small mistakes, they noticed.
“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what,” Hall said. “I could not control my combine as usual. I usually make my own breakfast in the morning and leave the stove on. Little things like that.”
But it wasn’t the slip-up that first sent him to the doctor; rather, the E. coli infection was giving him indigestion. After Hall cleared it up at the VA Clinic in Spirit Lake, Iowa, her daughter insisted something was still wrong. He felt that Hall was exhibiting similar symptoms to his father, who had suffered a mini-stroke. On November 17, 2021, Hall underwent a CT scan at the clinic, which revealed a brain tumor.
Find cancer care: Nurse navigators are part of your team at Sanford Health
He was sent to Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for surgery. They operated on Nov. 29, and Hall returned to his home in Minnesota on Dec. 2, walking normally and recovering.
Navigating the cancer journey
Hall met Kayla Ahrenstorff, a nurse navigator in Worthington in mid-December.
As an oncology nurse navigator at Sanford Health, Ahrenstorff’s job is to provide excellent care for cancer patients. She coordinates and attends appointments, translates confusing medical language into digestible information, provides mental and emotional support to patients and their families, and connects them to outside resources.
“My goal is to make sure a patient’s cancer journey is as seamless as possible,” Ahrenstorff said. “I act as their primary point of contact, overseeing their care from diagnosis to treatment.”
Most importantly, Ahrenstorff represents the best interests of his patients in ongoing communication with his care team. Oncology nurse navigators like Ahrenstorff are an essential part of Sanford Health’s team approach to cancer care.
As Worthington’s only nurse navigator, Ahrenstorff is especially important.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m on an island, but thankfully I know a lot of nurse navigators and practitioners in Sioux Falls,” she said. “Between Sioux Falls and Worthington, we have a great team approach where everyone works together for patients.”
Still, some responsibilities fall to Ahrenstorff in Worthington.
“Since our facility is smaller, I do all the chemistry training,” he said. “So when a patient starts treatment, I spend an hour or two of my day teaching them in person.”
At the first meeting with Ahrenstorff, Hall learned that he would need radiation and chemotherapy to ward off the cancer.
He received 30 rounds of radiation and 40 days of chemo pills to start, followed by his current regimen of five days of chemo, four weeks off and five days off again. He will stick to this schedule for just six months.
Ahrenstorff said Hall is responding well to treatment. Hall agrees.
“As for the surgery, chemo and radiation, everything went great. I have no complaints about it.”
Hall had a lot of respect for nurses through cancer, noting their resilience and helpfulness in particular.
“I really think highly of nurses. They are not afraid to do anything with you,” he said. “You lose all dignity with some things in the hospital. But you learn to respect the nurses who take care of you.”
Ahrenstorff said the feelings were mutual.
“The patients are the most rewarding part of this,” he said. “And Jim is just a great guy to be around.”
Hall is feeling good. He was back in time for spring planting.
“I’m driving, working and doing the things I love to do again. Before I went to Sanford, the VA doctors thought I might not be able to leave the hospital. Well, I’m out and I’m fine.”
Posted in Cancer, Cancer Treatments, Jackson, Nursing & Nursing Support, Worthington