I was referred to St. Mary Regional Cancer Center in 2010 for a potentially cancerous lymph node. James Cunningham, M.D., an oncologist with Providence St. Mary Medical Center, removed the growth, and I was to come back every few months to check if there was any further development. For several years, there was no sign of new growth. Then, last fall, my back and side began hurting to the point that I couldn’t sleep. Thinking I had kidney stones, I decided to go the emergency room. They took a scan and found a growth the size of a small loaf of bread.
Due to the kind of cancer I had, standard chemotherapy would not be successful in stopping the disease. I was devastated at the prospect of being treated with a stronger chemo that makes you extremely sick.
Dr. Cunningham asked if I would be interested in participating in a study that had shown good results in others with this kind of cancer. He warned of side effects. I would take the drug for 21 days, then have seven days off, for a period of one year. Within two months, it started to work. Unfortunately, due to the side effects, I broke out in a very painful rash. It went from one part of my body to another after each dose. Dr. Cunningham, sympathetic to my situation, asked if I wanted to stop taking the treatment. I decided to endure the rash and continue on, one cycle at a time, to see if the side effects would lessen. They slowly did. For the next 67 months, I stayed with the program and the study drug began to work.
As of March 28, I am in remission. My CT scan was clear, and the tumor had disappeared. I have been cancer free for the past five months and look forward to enjoying every moment, never taking life for granted. I am in the driver seat again.
I started my nursing career in 2004, when I was awarded a residency position at St. Mary Medical Center. It was during my residency that Becca Hawkins, a palliative care nurse practitioner, approached me and asked if I’d ever considered going into oncology. As a person who had lost loved ones to cancer (my Uncle Jim worked at St. Mary as a respiratory therapist), it was something that appealed to me. I worked as a float nurse and medical floor nurse for two years, then came down to the Cancer Center to receive training in order to be able to take care of cancer patients. I loved my time there and as soon as I got the chance to become part of the cancer center team, I took it. I’ve been a part of this team for 12 years.
My favorite thing about working with cancer patients is the relationships we build—and the chance to help them finish cancer. I enjoy being able to support them from their first day of treatment through their entire treatment journey.
“Leanne” started treatment with us as a young mother, scared but determined to do whatever was needed to be able to finish cancer and continue her life as a wife and mother. We shared pictures and stories of our children, and even after she finished her treatment, we’ve continued our connection.
“Roy,” his wife and I swap stories of our fishing, hunting and hiking experiences, and while on vacation recently, his wife shared pictures from their trip.
It’s the ability to connect, help patients live their lives while finishing cancer and encourage them when the struggles are overwhelming. My mission is to make my patients’ journeys a little easier, and I dream of the day we really do finish cancer.
I am a breast cancer survivor. Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center helped transform what could have been a horrible experience into something manageable. I was told my biopsy was positive for cancer on March 10, 2017. After picking up my jaw from the floor, I resolved to muscle through, but quickly realized that cancer doesn’t work that way. Thankfully, I had an amazing support team that included my primary care provider, family and friends, colleagues and the people at the cancer center. With their help, I was able to not only survive but thrive through my cancer treatment.
Every day, I made the choice to find something to be grateful for. Even on days when it wasn’t easy to be thankful, I learned that finding gratitude for whatever was happening changed my attitude and outlook for the better. Some things seemed impossible to be grateful for, but with the help of friends, I made it through those, too. When my hair fell out, I was ready to be finished with gratitude. Then a friend pointed out I wouldn’t need to shave my legs all summer. Awesome. Again, my attitude changed, and optimism returned.
I carried small reminders from family and friends while undergoing treatment. I took cards, pictures and other mementos to appointments, chemo treatments, work and home.
I’m grateful I had my treatment in Walla Walla. The cancer center is close to my home and office, which allowed me to go in for a quick appointment without having to take days off from work. If I needed to recover from treatment, I could do so in my own space. The team at the cancer center is great. I met many of them throughout my treatment, and each one conveyed the same type of caring. So much information came at me all at once, and my brain would shut down because it didn’t want to hear the word cancer. I know I asked the same questions over and over. However, the doctors and staff were not condescending. Instead, I was treated with kindness and respect – as someone capable of making her own decisions. It seems weird to say this, but I enjoyed going to the cancer center. The staff learned my name, knew what was going on with me and had a positive outlook on life. Could I have survived my cancer treatment without their caring attitudes? I’m sure I could have—I’m a resilient, get-it-done kind of person. But their cheerfulness and kindness made my treatment a much better experience.
For me, #FINISHCANCER is about moving on from the diagnosis and treatment. To look at each day not from the point of view of cancer but from the perspective of living fully. To #FINISHCANCER means to learn from this diagnosis and help others who are diagnosed with cancer. It means coming together to raise funds for research for more advanced treatments, and to support those currently undergoing cancer treatment. It would be amazing to truly #FINISHCANCER.