Life after cancer means helping others through it
Patients often ask medical assistant Connie Hoscheit about the word "hope" that is tattooed on her right forearm. And, she never hesitates to share she is a recent breast cancer survivor.
The tattoo signifies the road she's traveled and, coincidentally, provides an immediate connection with patients she cares for in Radiation Oncology at Gundersen Health System.
"I've seen patients, on perhaps, a very bad day who are so full of anger, anxiety and fear of the unknown. When I tell patients that I, too, am a cancer survivor, I see their bodies go from tense to relaxed," she says.
Connie never imagined she'd be working in Radiation Oncology, much less, be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41.
"During the first part of June 2015, I noticed a lump in my left breast. I really wasn’t bothered by it too much. I had already been through this before," says Connie, who at age 25, had a Phyllodes tumor removed from her left breast.
Although the Phyllodes tumor was benign, she was advised to continue with annual mammograms. She took that recommendation very seriously, and scheduled a checkup and mammogram every year around her birthday in January.
Connie decided to watch the lump for any changes since her most recent mammogram was negative. Two weeks later, she noticed that her left breast looked deformed. She went straight to her doctor at Gundersen.
"I knew it was serious when the breast radiologist found the lump 'very concerning' and performed a needle biopsy that same day. Things moved very quickly," says Connie.
On July 8, 2015, biopsy results confirmed stage 3 breast cancer. An MRI revealed a suspicious lump in her right breast, as well. Connie had no history of breast cancer—or any cancers—in her family. She was stunned.
Connie and her husband, Joe, felt her best chance of survival would be a bi-lateral mastectomy. That was followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and 33 treatments of radiation.
The road was far from easy. "Chemotherapy was very difficult for me. I would receive my infusion on Wednesday and was in bed due to severe nausea and dizziness until Monday. I was so weak by that five-day mark, but had to try to regain my strength for my next infusion," she says.
When Connie questioned how much more she could take, it was the staff at Gundersen who kept her going. "I had such a sense of security and relief going to Gundersen every day—that someone was going to be with me, who knows me, who understands me, who is going to support me.
"They would tell me, 'Connie, you can do this. You are strong. Let us please help you. We understand you've had a rough road. We know how difficult it is. Please keep going. We'll see you tomorrow.'"
Those words, along with the endless support of her husband, children, family, friends and colleagues, helped her win the hardest battle of her life.
"Feb. 24, 2016 is a day I’ll never forget," says Connie. She rang the bell in Gundersen's Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders, signifying the end of her treatment, and was surrounded by her family, friends and coworkers.
For Connie, life after cancer didn't mean walking away from it but helping others through it.
"I decided to apply for a position in Radiation Oncology because I've been there. I know how meaningful it is to hear the words, 'I understand what you're going through.' If I can offer a smile to someone who is having a tough day, who doesn't think they're going to get to tomorrow, or take someone by the arm and walk them down the hall and tell them, 'I know this is a struggle. You'll get through this,' then that is rewarding for me," she says.