DeKalb Medical Cancer Survivor Stories – Cheryl Charles
In March 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer - invasive stage 2 lobular cancer in my left breast and ductal carcinoma in situ in my right breast. Sadly, I broke the news to my then 9-year-old daughter and then to the rest of my family. I had my mammogram at DeKalb Medical, and I was referred by my primary physician to a surgeon at the hospital who did my biopsy. And there began my relationship with the services offered by the Cancer Center.
First I met my wonderful nurse navigator who guided us through the process of selecting doctors and relieved me of some of my initial fear. I started chemotherapy in April and joined the breast cancer support group at DeKalb Medical, where everyone had their own story but each person in their own gentle and generous way offered advice and told me everything would be okay. So as I suffered through nausea and hair loss and faced the prospect of bilateral modified mastectomies, I knew in the aftermath things would be okay.
As I recovered from surgery, my concerns for my daughter grew because she never expressed a lot of her feelings. When she met my doctors at the meeting where we established my treatment plan, her only question was whether I would lose my hair. She took great delight in helping me choose a wig when the time came, but she was seeing her mom who had been healthy and active feel sick most days and I knew it must be having an effect on her. She assured me that she felt confident in my treatment because she had in her words “met my doctors and knew she could trust them.”
I had family members and our priest talk with her but I still felt that she needed more. I was getting so much out of my group and I knew that’s what was missing for her. Enter the Tree House Gang. I had been waiting all summer for the call to say the group was starting up, and we were eager to get involved. The Tree House Gang proved to be a wonderful outlet where she was able to express herself and share her feelings with other kids who were going through what she was experiencing. One of the highlights was a tour of the Radiation Oncology Department. My daughter accompanied the group on a tour there and told me she had met a very nice lady. Well the very next day I started radiation and my radiation therapist was none other than “the nice lady” my daughter had met the day before. Needless to say, I formed a good relationship with her during my treatment.
There were other fun activities as well. The children drew three designs for Christmas cards and one was selected. It was great to see the finished product. The DeKalb Medical Cancer Center printed cards from the selected designs and they were packaged and made available for sale during the holiday season. My daughter was very proud of her cards, and her friend from Radiation Oncology bought a packet and had my daughter autograph a card for her. I don’t know if she was more excited by this or by going on a hayride sponsored by a Girl Scout troop two weeks before Christmas just for the Tree House Gang.
I continue to attend the breast cancer support group and even though my daughter no longer attends the regular sessions of the Tree House Gang, we stay connected and never miss the special occasions that come up. The good thing about it all is that she can come back whenever she wants to. As a cancer survivor I feel lucky to be part of such a wonderful network at the DeKalb Medical Cancer Center, and the healing and hope I receive at the pastoral service every 2nd Tuesday of the month goes far beyond the hospital walls.