Cancer. The phone call, feared by every woman, happened to me. “The pathology report from your biopsy confirms you have invasive ductal carcinoma in your left breast.” Stunned, speechless and afraid, all I could think about was, “This isn’t supposed to happen when you are 42 and have no family history of breast cancer.” Readers, I will spare you the ensuing two weeks of tests, scans, confusion, disbelief, sleepless nights and countless discussions with my husband, family and doctors. Let’s fast forward.
While this article is about female super heroes at the Providence Regional Cancer System Clinic in Lacey, I must first introduce you to Dr. Xingwei Sui. As an oncologist, Dr. Sui’s knowledge of cancer treatments astounds me. I pepper Dr. Sui with questions at each appointment, and he patiently replies to each one with a deep understanding of my specific cancer pathology. (You see, even though I have a fairly textbook type, there are more than 15 different breast cancers. Now, when you consider how many different cancers people present with, along with other chronic diseases or physical ailments, a cancer diagnosis becomes individualized very quickly.) Dr. Sui has seen me at my worst, and he has sat with me for as long as it takes, never rushing to the next patient. Along with his staff Dr. Sui has accommodated me while I juggle cancer treatments, a full-time job and two busy children.
Chemotherapy treatment plans differ. An infusion clinic can be a busy place. Providence’s Lacey Cancer Clinic treats an average of 35-40 patients per day. Most patients bring along a friend or family member. With the exception of two isolation rooms, there are no doors or curtains separating patients, visitors, staff and volunteers. Divided into six pods with four chairs in each, patients and staff easily chat during multi-hour treatments, quickly forming relationships.
I spent five of my six chemotherapy infusion treatments with Christy Rohl, RN. I know about Christy’s love of horses, her passion for a good recipe, the nicknames she dearly gives her coworkers and her favorite coffee. I can count on a daily joke, a story about her grandchildren and a discussion about Wonder Woman’s special powers. In turn, Christy knows my daughters by name and has delved deep into discussions about managing side effects. I have observed her distract patients with a silly story as she accesses their port and quietly sit by the side of a patient struggling with chemo side effects.
A nurse for 25 years, Christy joined Providence’s Lacey Cancer Clinic about two years ago. “I came back to the area to be near my grandsons,” says Christy. “I knew as soon as I stepped foot inside that this was home.” Christy had previously worked at Providence St. Peter Hospital but prefers the outpatient cancer clinic.
“I admire cancer patients,” says Christy. “They are handed a dire sentence but are so courageous.”
“I love the patients, too,” adds Christy’s coworker, Sara Baker, RN. “They are undergoing strenuous treatments but are consistently respectful and thankful.”
While the interaction with patients is important, Christy stays because of her connection to Providence’s mission. “I connect with the mission, but Providence also lives the mission,” she says.
“Providence’s mission is to care for the poor and vulnerable,” says Ann Monaghan, RN, and operations director of medical oncology. “I connect with that mission, too, and appreciate Providence’s healing presence in the community. We have an opportunity to make a difference with each patient.”
Ann manages the administration associated with more than 70 people in Providence’s Lacey Cancer Clinic. “I loved the technical parts of critical care,” she says, reflecting on her 40 years of clinical experience and 19 years with Providence, “but in oncology we have a human connection that is beyond drugs and treatment protocol.”
“Here, we support caregivers in their challenging work,” says Ann.
“Providence encourages nurses to learn and try new areas,” agrees Angie Townsend, RN. Angie has worked for Providence for 32 years and has been with the outpatient oncology clinic for about one year.
“I appreciate working for a non-profit organization,” shares Sara. “Providence invests in the tools and education for nurses and supports nurses as a whole person.”
Angie, Sara, Christy and the other nurses on staff are congenial co-workers. While they each care for their own pod of patients, the nurses frequently interact because protocol requires two nurses to confirm the drug is headed to the correct patient before administrating the infusion. I have observed each nurse quickly jump to the aid of another nurse with a smile. “Everyone is so easy to work with, and we all help each other,” confirms Angie.
“Nurses bring their heart to their calling,” describes Christy. “We often deal with people at their ugliest, and our role is to allow people to have dignity. It’s a tough job but, for me, it’s a sense of service.”
“Christy is a wonderful teacher. She is just a natural when it comes to working with patients,” says Angie.
During my first infusion I looked up at the medicine bag and decided I would view this liquid as a life saver, rather than poison. I do not consider myself a warrior or necessarily stronger than any other cancer patient. I have absorbed information, collected data and made decisions to give myself the best outcome possible. To be honest, sometimes those days looked bleak and hot tears rolled down my cheeks. But as the tunnel started to open into a brighter light, I saw that I would reach the other side. I am thankful to have found these outstanding, knowledgeable caregivers during the scariest time of my life. Thank you, Dr. Sui, Christy Rohl and the entire Providence Regional Cancer System Lacey team.
Author’s Note – It is with deep appreciation that I thank my husband, daughters, parents and siblings for their unwavering support. My cancer diagnosis has a finite schedule, but it is a long road. Thank you!