Connie Schroeder’s office on the second floor of the Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders at Gundersen Health System is filled with uplifting messages, encouraging phrases and colorful pictures. She knows these visual reminders champion and empower those who sit across the table from her. A financial counselor, Schroeder reassures her patients that she’ll be there with them every step of the way – helping them navigate the twists and turns of their cancer journey.
“I not only need to be there and support my patients, but it’s also important for me to give back to Gundersen,” Schroeder said.
In 2015, at age 41 – without any family history – Schroeder was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment plan included eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by 33 radiation treatments. She didn’t work for 10 months.
“The financial counselor told me, ‘I am your contact. I am your person. I will be there to help you,’” Schroeder said. “It wasn’t even the fact that I was diagnosed with cancer that was so hard, it was everything else. How will we continue to feed our kids? Save for college? Prepare for high school graduation?
“The care and comradery I experienced at Gundersen catapulted my perspective of this health system to a whole new level. To be cared for instead of providing care is incredibly humbling.”
Since she launched her career at Gundersen in 1994, Schroeder had been the one delivering care as a medical assistant. But she said being diagnosed with cancer changed her.
“I encountered a whole new outlook. I wanted to push myself to achieve things I wouldn’t have even thought of before,” Schroeder said. “I was given a chance to work toward my hopes and dreams.”
When she returned to work in 2016, Schroeder decided to take an MA role in Radiation and Oncology.
“When I would see a patient who was mentally and physically exhausted, I would open up. I would say, ‘I, too, once sat in your chair. I’ve been through this. There is no better place for you to be than here at Gundersen.’”
In 2018, Schroeder transitioned to a prior authorization role. She verified insurance would cover treatment plans ordered by physicians.
“I fought like mad to make sure my patients received the coverage they needed,” Schroeder said.
And then in 2022, the same financial counselor who once comforted Schroeder at the start of her cancer journey reached out. She was retiring and asked if Schroeder would consider applying for the job.
“My heart told me this was my new adventure,” Schroeder said.
She points to a plaque behind her that says No one fights alone.
“When my patients sit down, I reassure them that I’m here. I often say, ‘I need you to take it one day at a time. Don’t waste your positive energy on tomorrow. Concentrate on today. Today is important. We need to live today.’”
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