Sometimes our journeys take a different direction than we anticipate and there are a few bumps along the road that we don’t expect. Sometimes these challenges can be the greatest gifts and unexpected blessings can develop from the most unlikely places. This was clear to me this last year.
I’ve always gotten my yearly mammogram, and 2009 was no exception. This time I was asked to come in for a repeat mammogram. One test led to another and in early July I received the news- the small 11 mm spot the doctors saw on my mammogram was cancer.
From that point on I had a lot of choices to make... something that’s not easy for a person who has a difficult time deciding what to order at a restaurant! Should I have a lumpectomy or mastectomy? If I chose mastectomy, did I want reconstruction? What about the rest of my treatment? Was chemo and radiation the best choice or just radiation? My faith, friends, family and the wonderful staff in the Gundersen Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care guided me through this difficult time.
In the past I worked as a nurse on Pediatrics 4 West for many years, which at the time also took care of all the breast surgery patients. Now, years later I was facing breast cancer from a different perspective – that of the patient. My belief in Gundersen’s professionalism and the caring treatment of the whole patient was confirmed when I experienced this first hand as a patient. I was faced with many difficult decisions and roller coaster emotions and it was so reassuring to have the genuine caring support from every member of the health care team - secretaries, technicians, medical assistants, nurses and physicians alike. I was never just a number or a diagnosis. Sometimes the greatest needs are those “little” special things that take time – the hugs, the prayers, the listening ears, presenting treatment options clearly. Staff anticipated my needs and were there to meet them – sometimes even before I recognized the need. This speaks to the quality care delivered at Gundersen. Armed with information and wonderful support, I chose to have a lumpectomy. Trusting in God's plan for my future and desiring to help future generations of women with breast cancer; I decided to participate in a clinical trial that ended up including chemotherapy and radiation.
Although Cancer is not a diagnosis I would have chosen, it is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I believe there is a purpose behind all things and that we are allowed to go through trials for a reason and grow and come out stronger as a result. Cancer helped me put my priorities in perspective. Problems that seemed so “big” became less significant and the blessings we often take for granted became more valuable. I also think that anytime a nurse can experience life as a patient it serves as a learning opportunity and helps develop empathy and compassion as a healthcare giver.
During my journey, I found that concentrating on the positive helps in getting through the tough times. When my hair was falling out in clumps, my collegues and 9-year-old daughter had a shaving party complete with balloons and pink appetizers. Concentrating on the pros of not having hair – like quick showers and no need for hair products – turned a difficult time into a positive experience.
Each of us has obstacles on our journey that we don’t expect or cannot control. It is important to remember that when we meet a person we are only glimpsing a fraction of what is going on in that person’s life. Cancer may be beyond my control, but it has reminded me to focus on areas where I can make positive changes – in wellness, in choices, in priorities and in decisions such as scheduling preventive health care screenings. You don't have to wait until faced with trials to make these discoveries or life changing decisions. Scheduling your mammogram, colonoscopy, routine physical, etc. may be the best gift you can give yourself. Make your appointment today and be confident that you will be supported by Gundersen professionals each step of the way. Each of us has our own journey - make the most of each moment you have been given!