December 07, 2021

Through Two Separate Cancer Diagnoses, Gratitude Prevails for Topeka Couple

Rich and Norma Vink have been dealt a tough hand, but you wouldn’t know it just talking to them. Through two separate cancer diagnoses – Norma learned she had breast cancer in 2016, Rich was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in January 2021 – gratitude still radiates from the couple who’ve been married for 14 years.

The Vinks have been going to The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus forever. Norma was born there in 1954, and the couple has been loyal to the hospital whenever they sought care.

In November 2020, Rich began experiencing back problems. The Vinks didn’t think too much of it, but on January 2, 2021, Rich was in such excruciating pain Norma knew exactly where she needed to take him. She promptly brought Rich to the Emergency Department at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis where he saw Marcus McKenna, PA.

“We’re so thankful that Marcus McKenna, PA, took the initiative to check everything out, if he hadn’t, we would have never known about the cancer,” Norma said. “He identified something wasn’t right about the pain and ordered a CT scan, blood work and some other preliminary tests.”

Once he was transferred and admitted to The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus, doctors ordered several more scans and tests to learn more about the cancer.

On January 6, 2021, they learned it was Stage 4 pancreatic cancer which had already metastasized to other organs. The oncology team at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus told Rich and Norma, this is incurable, and they were devastated beyond words. That day their world turned upside down.

Rich was released the following day, and the Vinks were put in touch with Amy Greenfield, APRN, at The University of Kansas Cancer Center at St. Francis Campus to discuss treatment options. On January 21, they saw Dr. Adrian Caracioni.

“We can’t say enough about Dr. Caracioni, he has always been honest and upfront with us,” Norma shared. “His professional ways are a blessing to us. He is always upbeat. Rich started seeing Dr. Nelson, with Midland Care Connection, for pain management and palliative care later in January. Everyone works hard at getting any questions answered and all are a godsend to us.”

While their world was turning upside down, their support system, including family and friends, was mobilizing.

“After the diagnosis, we were out on a drive and we came home to find an 8x10 wooden greeting card in our yard as a surprise by Norma’s family, for anyone to come by and sign,” Rich said. “This signed card brought out the tears for sure and it now hangs on our garage wall as a keepsake.”

Rich’s sisters and a local restaurant organized a steak dinner complete with dessert, flowers and a card with messages from staff showing support which was delivered to the couple’s home.

“A fundraiser, which included a raffle, silent auction and pancake feed was organized by Rich’s good friend Monte,” Norma said. “Family members, friends and Rich’s past co-workers helped put on the event. Friends and family brought food to the house, a good neighbor mowed our lawn for us, friends and family would do our shopping for us, all the text, calls, visits and prayers from everyone has definitely kept us going. Both our families have been through this journey with us, with their love and support.”

The support doesn’t stop at friends and family. Norma and Rich believe the doctors, nurses and staff at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus have played an integral and vital role in both of their diagnoses.

“Everyone at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus is a Godsend to us,” Norma shared. “As hard and effective as every one of them works, every doctor, nurse, social worker and the cancer staff always greet us with a smile. They’re always upbeat, and that is hard to do in a cancer ward. We can’t say enough great things about every one of them.”

Valerie Jackson, Director of Cancer Services at St. Francis Campus shares, “Our goal in cancer care is about quality of life.  We want people to have the best quality of life for as long as possible; whether that is 6 weeks, 6 months, 6 years, or 60 years.”

Norma was no stranger to the cancer services at St. Francis Campus. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, she had a lot of the same doctors and nurses Rich is working with now.

Despite the tough road ahead, Norma and Rich are very happy with the care they’re receiving at the hospital, as well as the unbelievable support from their family. Maybe the most encouraging sentiment came from the couple’s niece, Katina, when she said, “In this family, no one fights alone.”

To learn more about The University of Kansas Cancer Center at St. Francis Campus, visit or call us at 785-295-7800.

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