On any given Saturday from May to October you will find Joe Brittain welcoming people to the source for fresh, mountain grown produce at the Mills River Farm Market.
A life-long farmer, Joe brings his own harvest to the market every Saturday from spring to fall. He is also an advocate for fellow farmers in his role as the Executive Director of the market. Joe and his wife, Linda, have been focused on expanding the impact of the market for more than 10 years. “We have worked to make the market more than just a group of folks in a parking lot selling food,” says Joe. Linda adds, “The market is a destination, a place where folks have the best fresh food available, kids learn how much fun food can be, and adults learn how to prepare and enjoy new foods.”
But this past season at the Mills River Farm Market hit a roadblock for Joe when he found out he had esophageal cancer. “I had not been experiencing any symptoms. My regular appointment is what led to the early detection.”
That regular appointment was with Joe’s primary care physician, Robert Smith, MD at AdventHealth Medical Group Family Medicine at Forge Mountain. Joe isn’t one to see the doctor for every ache or sniffle. “So when he does arrive in my office for consultation, I pay particular attention to his concerns. The secret in his case is quite simple. Being available when he needs me and then simply listening.”
Dr. Smith listened to Joe when he said he had been more tired lately and didn’t have energy. When Joe shared that he had been having problems swallowing, Dr. Smith knew Joe needed additional care.
Joe and Linda agree that if Dr. Smith had not known Joe’s previous history and his lifestyle; he may not have sent Joe to the gastroenterologist. Linda explains, “Because of their good relationship, Dr. Smith paid attention to the fact that Joe was having occasional issues with swallowing.” Dr. Smith sent Joe for an endoscopy to have his esophagus stretched. During the procedure the team noticed a suspicious area and took a biopsy. “If Dr. Smith had not understood what issues I was having and my previous medical history, the cancer would have gone undetected.”
Still reeling from the news of a stage 2 esophageal cancer diagnosis, Joe and Linda reached out to Dr. Smith for guidance. He helped them connect with radiological and medical oncologists through the team at AdventHealth Cancer Services. He made time to see Joe and Linda to answer any of the questions or concerns they had. “Dr. Smith has been a real blessing, being available whenever we needed him, always making time to offer moral support, counseling, and exhibiting a genuine concern and desire to help in any way possible,” shares Linda.
Joe also shares that his AdventHealth Cancer Services care team have been a great source of support through his treatments. “I can’t say enough good about them. They bend over backwards to help you. Very informative, I can ask them anything and they will answer my questions or get the answers for me.”
Joe says the cancer and treatments have impacted about 99% of his ability to fulfill his role in the Mills River Farm Market. However, Joe is finding a source of healing in the market he loves so much. “The vendors have all pitched in to do most of the manual labor on market day. I welcome the shoppers as they arrive.” Linda adds, “He has developed a rapport with many of the customers through the years and they are concerned with his recovery. Knowing Joe has the backing of the community has made a huge difference. This infusion of love and support carries him through to the next week.”
Joe is waiting to find out if the treatments have worked to shrink or possibly destroy the tumor. In the meantime, he continues to work toward goals for the Mills River Farm Market to find a permanent location, bring on a market manager and expand popular programs.
Those programs include Double SNAP, which doubles the dollars for people receiving food assistance. This allows them to purchase more local and healthy food options when shopping at the market.
Joe and Linda can continue to work on these dreams for the market, thanks to the benefit of the early diagnosis of his cancer. A diagnosis that came about thanks to having a primary care physician. “We cannot stress enough the importance of having a doctor with whom you have an established relationship.”
Dr. Smith shares this advice if you are ready to build that health relationship, “In the current environment, finding the right primary care provider can be challenging but should not be mysterious. Find a provider who is available, offers an authentic relationship and one who makes more eye contact with you than the computer screen!”