The Best Care, Fast
Sarah and Doug enjoy being involved in their Florida Keys community, including this graduation ceremony for a leadership program where Sarah served on the board.
What is a woman like that doing in a town like this? The more Doug Mayer looked at Sarah Cizmas’s profile on match.com, the more curious he became. He remembers thinking, “Here’s this woman—she’s traveled a lot, she’s well-read, she’s gorgeous, she’s a financial advisor at a respected firm—and she was living in this tiny stop-over island in the middle of the ocean in the Florida Keys.” He had to meet her.
On their first date, Doug got his answer (she came for a job). Shortly afterwards, he shut down his match.com account for good. Sarah and Doug met in August of 2009, and 14 months later they were married. For the next 12 years, Doug and Sarah enjoyed a lovely and fun life together, working hard, traveling, and spending a lot of time on the water that surrounds their home in the Florida Keys.
Then in November 2022, Sarah got some news every woman dreads: her mammogram showed “activity,” which was concerning since it was a change from previous years. Sarah and Doug traveled to Miami for state-of-the-art breast imaging, which revealed three spots that would need to be biopsied.
At that point, Sarah and Doug, who are both forward-thinking, proactive people, had a conversation about how they would approach Sarah’s care if she did end up having breast cancer.
“Where do you want to go?” Doug asked. “I have my own opinion, but this is you and your life, your health.”
Sarah answered how Doug thought and hoped she would: “I want to go to the best.”
“Sarah is a person of action,” says Doug. “If there’s something that can be done, she wants to do it and do it right away. When it’s her life she wanted to get to the best.”
So by the time biopsy results came back at the end of January, confirming Sarah had breast cancer, the couple had already identified Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York as their number one choice.
The Highest Stakes
Doug is better situated than most people to navigate today’s complex healthcare system. He has worked for 20-plus years as a clinical pharmacist, including 15 years in an outpatient chemotherapy center. He knows people, he knows medicine, and he knows the system. Still, the prospect of arranging the best care for Sarah was daunting.
“In general I know how healthcare works—who to call, who to call first. I am the medical concierge for the family because of my experience,” says Doug. “I knew this was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t know how challenging it would be. Cancer care today in the U.S. is busy. They are seeing as many patients as they possibly can in a day. You call and you can be on the phone for an hour. You have to keep pushing.”
Besides the hours of research and phone calls and waiting, something else was at play. For the first time, Doug was not the objective doctor trying to help a patient. This time his wife’s life was at stake. “Your mind is clouded by anxiety. The stakes are much higher.”
As a member of Baptist Health’s Giving Society, Sarah knew her member benefits included access to Healthnetwork Foundation. Doug remembers looking at the brochure with his wife years ago and thinking, ‘Wow, there are some really good hospitals here. It looks like through Healthnetwork you can get patched in to some of the best.’ He says, “I think we both tucked that away in our mind. It’s something you like to know about but hope you never have to use.”
Faster Than Ever
Doug called the special phone line for giving society members and explained that his wife had breast cancer and they wanted to utilize Healthnetwork Foundation to seek care outside the state of Florida, preferably at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Doug did not know how the process worked and never expected things to move as fast as they did.
“Within a couple hours Hillary, our Healthnetwork medical coordinator, called me directly, and we went right to work getting together all of the necessary documents. The next day Sarah, Hillary, and I had a quick Zoom meeting, and at the end of the call Hillary instructed us that we should hear from a Memorial Sloan Kettering coordinator within 48 hours. They called us the very next morning,” says Doug, still in awe of how fast everything happened. “At that stage, every little bit of time you don’t have to wait and you’re moving forward is valuable.”
Over the next few months, things continued move at a pace Doug never imagined possible. Sarah needed two surgeries, which were scheduled back-to-back on the same day. “Just coordinating that is a miracle!” says Doug. “These are superb surgeons and busy doctors. They only have so many clinic days, whole days set aside for research, and limited time for surgery. Every time we’ve had to go up to New York, they’ve been able to make everything happen within a 48-hour period.”
An Ally Through the Storm
Sarah and Doug knew that seeking care outside Florida would add significant expense to Sarah’s care, but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make. The way in which appointments were expedited and scheduled efficiently saved them from having to make extra trips or stay in New York longer than absolutely necessary. “Sarah is a financial advisor. If she’s not in office she’s not making money,” says Doug. “That time away also added to her anxiety.”
Beyond easing the financial burden, having an ally to keep things moving was an enormous emotional relief for Doug and Sarah. “You just always want to be moving forward—that’s the most important part,” says Doug. “You have the surgery, recovery, then you make a radiation plan. You’re pinging off the walls. What’s next, what’s next, what’s next. Having Healthnetwork as an ally at a really crucial time… it’s immeasurable. It enabled me to not just be there as the family medical concierge, but to be there emotionally. It allowed me to breathe easier. I honestly don’t know how people who don’t have someone helping manage to navigate it.”
Sarah recently finished her radiation treatment, and they are hopeful she is on the other side of this nightmare. No matter what the future holds, “We are so fortunate to have an incredible team of world-class surgeons, physicians, nurses, radiologists, and care coordinators and are completely secure and confident in our decision to seek care at Memorial Sloan Kettering through Healthnetwork Foundation,” says Doug. “One of the most unexpected things through all this was how our medical coordinator, Hillary, has become a constant in this journey so far. Her professionalism, care, and compassion have shown through again and again. I don’t even want to know what her calendar looks like! She remembered milestones and followed up after each appointment and every major hurdle or test. Prior to surgery she sent Sarah a soft blanket and a heartfelt card out of the blue. It’s little things in life at just the right time that can have the most significant impact.”