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  • Patient Letters—August 4, 2008

  • "I cannot stress enough how important this program was to my very survival."

    On September 4, 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My best friend died of breast cancer in 1982, and in 2004 I lost a very good friend to a bitter struggle with Parkinson's disease. Most recently, another good friend of mine, who had been "fighting the good fight" with cancer for more than five years lost her long battle. While watching the struggle for life that these brave and wonderful women fought, I felt that if I became ill with a horrible disease, I would not subject myself to this merry-go-round life and severe suffering. I watched my friends have no quality of life during treatment, only to lose the horrifying battle in the end.

    When my children were told of my diagnoses, and as I pondered the situation, I found that my wishes were just a small part of the long road ahead. At the time, I was newly married to an older man who wanted no part of this illness experience. Due to this and other issues, he filed for divorce, leaving me devastated, confused, frightened and sick. My history of depression surfaced, and it was not long before darkness and depression were my best friends. Suddenly, I just wanted to die. My family was persistent, and insisted that I pursue treatment.

    I had my first experience with the Comprehensive Cancer Center on September 20, 2007. I did not want to be there or start chemotherapy. I had no intention of being one of those people who just existed in a world of sickness and vomiting while burdening everyone around them. I just could not let anyone know how I felt. This was the first day that I met my nurse Beth Little, who seemed to know something was going on with me. When I told my daughter to leave and go back to work because I would be there for hours, Beth stayed with me and we talked. I told her that I would not be completing the treatments and had no intention of even fighting to stay alive any longer than necessary. This is when I met Margot Powell, Breast Health Navigator. I had no idea what her title meant, but Beth, my nurse, thought it would be a good thing for me to meet with Margot. Margot was there that very same day, within the hour, to introduce herself. We sat and talked, which made the chemo treatment seem much more bearable than it had just an hour ago. Margot talked to me about my depression and asked if she could suggest someone I could talk to for professional advice on coping and medication. As soon as I agreed, she was on the phone.

    Margot then introduced me to Dr. Jody Underwood, who has been a huge help to me during my treatment. I had chemo treatment every two weeks in the beginning, and my daughter would have to take time out of work to drop me off and pick me up. I decided I would bring myself, as I did not want to bring about this burden. On October 4, my second chemo treatment, Margot found out I was there alone (thanks to Beth, my nurse). Again, she came to sit with me. We chatted, and soon the treatment was over. Margot met me at every appointment that I had, not only chemo, but for several different tests over a three-month period. My frequent muga scans and MRIs were not as frightening with Margot by my side, and my loneliness was eased. I realized after a short while that I would always be looking for her friendly and smiling face even if I was terrified of the next procedure. Margot went further to meet with my surgeon and attended all ofmy pre-surgery procedures while explaining everything and comforting me through each experience.

    What is more important for you to know is that I would not have even gotten to that point if it had not been for her constant support. My children could not deal with the reality of the illness and simply unconnected emotionally with me. The only people I felt connected to were Margot and Beth. I actually looked forward to seeing them every other week, even though it meant having chemotherapy and being physically sick! Both women were there if I needed them and never made me feel judged, or as if I were letting them down in any way. At the end of my radiation, I had what Margot called a "meltdown" and just lost it crying, chanting, "No more treatment!!!" I was burned out, could not swallow, and had lost weight. I felt like I could not deal with life and radiation. Margot reassured me it was okay and I could take a break if I needed to. She made me feel understood and cared for, so I took some time off. To be completely honest, I did not plan on returning for the remaining seven radiation treatments that were breaking me down physically and emotionally. It was Margot who cared enough about me to stage a sort of "intervention," and along with other key people in my treatment, convinced me to finish the long battle. Beginning that very day, my radiation continued until I conquered the seven remaining treatments. Again, as always, Margot was by my side.

    I cannot stress to you enough how important Margot and this program were to my very survival and my cancer-free success story. I honestly do not know if I would still be alive if not for their support, as I was so depressed when they came into my life. I do know that I would not have completed my treatment, nor would I have the quality of life that I have today. I have never written a letter like this before, but I felt compelled to tell you how wonderful and important these two people and this entire program have been for me. I am sure that there are other patients like me, who simply need guidance and caring people to stand by them when they feel totally alone. I can only hope that they, too, will have this program and these wonderful people to turn to.