Surviving Breast Cancer: Linda’s Story

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Linda

I’m Linda and I’m 68 years old. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I had my regular mammogram, something didn’t look right. They wanted me to come back for another mammogram and ultrasound. That showed a possible tumor and a biopsy revealed I had cancer. I also had an MRI that gave them a better picture of what was there.

Luckily, it was Stage 1A HER2 positive and I wasn’t in immediate danger. But I felt like everyone at Virginia Mason took it just as seriously as if it had been Stage 4. A meeting was quickly set up for me to talk to an oncologist, radiologist and surgeon. I felt that each one focused on me as a person, on my particular cancer and how it might be treated. They answered all my questions.

I decided to have a lumpectomy and that went well. I had a one-time intraoperative radiation treatment and was only in the hospital overnight. I did have some problems with the follow-up treatment because my wound was proving difficult to heal. It was a couple of months before I was able to receive chemotherapy once a week and had some difficulties with that, but a nurse was always available for me to talk to.

One of the oddest things was that I didn’t like the taste of silverware during my treatment. So I had to eat every meal with plastic utensils. But the good thing was that I didn’t eat as much and lost 55 pounds. I love to cook and bake and I knew I was too heavy.

Today, I am eating much better and I feel better because of it. I have rheumatoid arthritis and I need to stay active, so I exercise by doing water aerobics. My family has been terrific through all of this. When I was in treatment, my sister-in-law would visit every Tuesday. She knew I wouldn’t be feeling well that day because of the chemotherapy and she would bring me things I could eat.

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Linda’s daughter Traci

Just recently, my daughter, Traci, was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she found out about it, she knew immediately she wanted to be treated by the same doctors at Virginia Mason who treated me. It was also recommended that she visit Virginia Mason’s genetic counselor — and we went together.

I learned a lot from that visit. When you look at the big picture, you can see how cancer has affected my family through generations. I suppose that’s true for a lot of families, but it was surprising to realize how many of my relatives have had cancer.

I’m so glad that Virginia Mason was there for me and Traci. And in 2005, it was there for my husband, Otis, as well. He had prostate cancer and is doing well today — and so am I. Otis, Traci and I have all had the best care possible. I can’t say enough good things about the people at Virginia Mason who took such good care of us.


 

This story originally appeared on VirginiaMason.org. Meet other patients who bravely shared their stories of fighting cancer, and get the latest information on cancer treatment outcomes and wellness and support at Virginia Mason.

A Labor of Love: Creating Hats for Hope

Kailey and John Ryan, MD, a retired Virginia Mason surgeon and longtime family friend.

Kailey and John Ryan, MD, a retired Virginia Mason surgeon and longtime family friend.

Kailey Druffel has visited Virginia Mason a number of times, but not as a patient. Her mother, Shelly, was a surgical technician at Virginia Mason when Kailey was young, before a long battle with breast cancer took Shelly’s life. Now her mom’s former colleagues are like extended family for Kailey, staying in touch with the high school graduate as she plans her own career in medicine.

Last summer, Kailey spent a week learning about orthopedic surgery at Virginia Mason, rounding with a surgeon who had worked with her mom, looking at X-rays and scrubbing in to observe procedures. The experience cemented her desire to become an orthopedic surgeon.

“I’d never been surrounded by so many people who absolutely love what they do,” says Kailey, who plans to study biochemistry at Washington State University this year. “The team at Virginia Mason loves teaching and sharing their passion for what they’re doing. It makes me excited about becoming a doctor.”

Kailey has always looked ahead with optimism despite also losing her father, who died in a boating accident just months before her mother died. Raised by her grandparents in Clarkston, Wash., Kailey grew into a community volunteer, working through her church to serve homeless families and administer other programs, and in her local Salvation Army soup kitchen.

In her junior year of high school, Kailey started the volunteer project that felt closest to her heart: Hats for Hope.

“As a kid I watched my mom go through cancer treatment and her head was always cold,” remembers Kailey. “I wanted to do something in her memory, something she would be proud of.”

So Kailey recruited an eager group of high school students – interestingly all boys – to learn how to crochet beautiful, toasty warm hats intended to comfort cancer patients undergoing treatment. Working during their free “flex time” earned by students doing well in their classes, Kailey and the Hats for Hope team created an impressive collection.

When it was time to find people who needed the hats, Kailey knew where she would go. She recently met with some of her mom’s friends and former colleagues at the Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute at Virginia Mason, bringing along the donations from Hats for Hope.

“I want people to know they don’t have to be cold during treatment,” says Kailey. “There are people thinking about them, like secret angels, who want to help.”

Surviving Lymphoma: Matthew’s Story

Matthew-webMy name is Matthew. I’m a city manager and I live in Ellensburg, Wash., with my wife and two children. We love doing outdoor things like camping and bike riding and treasure our annual trip to Disneyland. We are all proper Disney nerds!

Two years ago, I found out I had cancer the day before leaving on our annual Disney trip. While lathering my neck for an old-fashioned razor shave, my barber noticed a big rock-hard lump. While she froze in terror, I immediately realized it was probably cancer and would explain the mysterious symptoms I’d been experiencing.

On Valentine’s Day, 2013, a diagnosis of Hodgkins lymphoma was confirmed. I was confused, but not scared at first. I remember thinking that getting treatment as soon as possible would be beneficial.

The first oncologist we visited was not at Virginia Mason and it was an awful experience. His office was dark and bleak. He sat me down and, without talking to me at all, began detailing a litany of procedures, exams and the like that I would need. When my wife and I left, we were scared and felt very alone.

I went to work the next day in a daze. A friend came by who had heard about my diagnosis and recommended I go to Virginia Mason for treatment. I called right away and found out I could be seen that weekend. It was an answer to my prayers.

From the start, I knew I was in the right place. I had done research before my appointment and found out how good the program was and that I would be seeing one of the top oncologists in the Pacific Northwest. He walked in and his first words were that while I had cancer, and we would treat that, he wanted to know about me as a person and human being. He asked about my hopes, my fears, whether I planned to have more kids and how chemotherapy might impact that.

He also went over a much smaller list of tests, letting me know that in his opinion the tests the other oncologist wanted (such as a bone marrow biopsy) were most likely not needed. He explained the benefits of a ‘port’ over other infusion methods and I left hopeful and confident we would beat Hodgkin’s!

My cancer treatment was “surreal” in a good way. Virginia Mason has gone to great lengths to make the experience as comfortable and stress-free as possible. I had several chemotherapy regimens and a stem cell transplant. It was a huge and unique benefit that all my care was provided in the same facility and test results were always returned the same day. I never had to ‘go home and wait.’ As anyone who has faced cancer knows, a long wait for test results is just dreadful!

Everyone we met — from the janitors, to the volunteer concierge cart folks, to people in radiology, general surgery and all throughout the organization — they all had passionately embraced a culture of service, positivity, safety and professionalism. We had a seemingly tireless team of health care professionals who fought the good fight with us, comforted us and helped us heal both emotionally and physically.

My daughter has severe anxiety disorder, so you might imagine what my diagnosis and treatment did to her. Virginia Mason staff went out of their way to include her where appropriate, empower her to help, and to understand the process. I could go on for quite some time bragging about so many amazing people at Virginia Mason!

All that said, it wasn’t an easy road. I remember just after one of my chemotherapy treatments that my kids woke me up one day and said, “Dad, we are so sorry to bother you, we know you’re sick, but can you please make us some breakfast? We don’t know how.” That broke my heart. My sweet kids, so compassionate and needing something so simple that was almost impossible for me to do.

This experience has taught me so much about the journey of life we are all on. I find myself wanting to give back, to comfort and help others as they face a cancer diagnosis. People tell me I am way more relaxed and ‘laid back.’ Having faced the shadow of death helps you figure out what’s truly important.

I think I am in a “new normal.” I am considered cancer free but I don’t want to forget the experience that has gotten me to this point. Today, I am grateful for everything and take nothing for granted, not one single moment…

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This story originally appeared on VirginiaMason.org. Meet other patients who bravely shared their stories of fighting cancer, and get the latest information on cancer treatment outcomes and wellness and support at Virginia Mason.