Munson Cancer Physician Shares Her Chernobyl Experience

Hematologist/oncologist Yelena Kier, D.O., recalls the day the worst nuclear disaster ever in the world took place. She was 3 years old.

“I just remember all of my toys had to be destroyed when we came home and my clothes thrown away,” she said. “My mother told me they had checkpoints on the drive back to Russia and every so many kilometers they would stop and hose down the car with water.”

And after arriving home, her engineering parents’ Geiger counter went crazy as well.

While that visit to her grandparents in Belarus just north of Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, made her part of history, it really wasn’t the root cause of her desire to be an oncologist/hematologist. That desire was cemented in her heart-felt calling to help defeat cancer and be a compassionate provider. She never considered any other specialty.

“It was my only clinical choice,” she said. “I believe that we serve one of the best patient populations. Being an oncologist allows me to be an integral part of my patients’ lives. The fast-paced and rapid advancement of medical science and knowledge that is happening in this field is also staggering and exciting. Two examples are the advancements in immunotherapy and molecular profiling.”

Dr. Kier was born in Russia and lived in the city of Tula, south of Moscow until 11. Her Jewish heritage resulted in problems for her family and they immigrated to Richmond, Va., where they had other family members. She later moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she spent her high school years. While in Russia, no one talked about the side effects of her exposure to radiation.

“When I came here to America is when the thyroid screening and all the other screenings started,” she said. “It is something I have to continuously keep in the back of my head.”

She believes those experiences help her relate to her patients at Cowell Family Cancer Center in Traverse City, as well as at Otsego Memorial Hospital in Gaylord and Munson Healthcare Grayling Hospital in Grayling. She travels to both of those locations weekly.

“I really try to think about how I would want to be treated. How would I want someone to tell me news that is potentially devastating? How would I want someone to handle it? And you have to be cognizant that when someone has a cancer diagnosis, perhaps more than other diseases, it upsets not only your whole life, but also your family’s lives,” she said. “That fact, is very important to keep in mind. When people go through treatment, it really has a giant impact on all aspects of their life for a long period of time.”

A graduate of Lake Erie Medical College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Erie, Pa., Dr. Kier performed her residency in internal medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Mass., a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, in Cleveland, Ohio, and fellowship in hematology/oncology through Michigan State University at Genesys Regional Medical Center, in Flint.

She was drawn to Northern Michigan with her husband and young family by the beautiful outdoors and the opportunity to work in a regional network of cancer care with dedicated medical colleagues. Her drives from Traverse City to other Munson Healthcare hospitals are part of her commitment to patients.

“When you are having chemotherapy, especially the chemotherapy that is administered several days in a row, not having to drive multiple hours each day in the awful snow when you already don’t feel well makes a huge difference,” she said. And when patients need to travel to Cowell Family Cancer Center for care, they should know they are in good hands.

“Having had the privilege to train at academic medical centers as well as regional community-based hospitals I believe that the care we are able to provide here in Northern Michigan, at Cowell Family Cancer Center, equals that of larger institutions,” she said.

Once her patients complete their treatments, Dr. Kier wants to remain in touch.

“I try to provide patients with personal contact information. I like for them to stay in touch and let me know how they are doing,” she said. “I recently was seeing a breast cancer patient who finished her therapy. She has been able to complete school, return to her life and is well and happy. That’s truly the best.”

To learn more about cancer services at Munson Healthcare, go to munsonhealthcare.org/cancerservices.

–Press release by provided by Munson Healthcare


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