Don't Worry: Being Optimistic Through Breast Cancer

Extraordinary Healer®, Extraordinary Healers Vol. 9, Volume 9, Issue 1

An essay from our Extraordinary Healers book honoring Terry Hoelz, RN, OCN [Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, Minnesota]

Terry Hoelz, RN, OCN (left) with Cheryl McGreevy - PHOTO BY CHRISTA REED

THOSE WERE THE WORDS I told my husband when I was heading for a follow-up mammogram to check out an area of concern in my right breast. I’m an optimist, you see. Sometimes to a fault.

In what seemed like a whirlwind, that second look was then followed up with an ultrasound. Although anxious, I was still telling myself, “It’ll be nothing.” The ultrasound brought the recommendation for a biopsy. “Would you like to do the biopsy today, or would you like to come back?” I was asked. With tears in my eyes and a quiver in my voice, I replied, “Let’s just do it today,” followed by my thinking, “Why didn’t I bring my husband with me?!”

That was when Terry Hoelz entered my world. Although our relationship was just minutes old, her calm and soothing manner were the next best thing to having my best friend/husband’s hand to squeeze. And yes, during the most painful parts of the biopsy, her hand was always there to squeeze…while I was lying there and continuing to tell myself, “Don’t worry…It’ll be nothing.”

Since my appointment had gone much longer than I had ever thought it would, Terry asked if I wanted to call my husband. I told her “No, I wouldn’t be able to talk to him without crying, and that would just make him worry.” “Would you like me to call him?” Terry asked. Though perhaps not much less worrisome for him to receive such a call…yes, I wanted that very much. It just wasn’t fair for him not to know. But I just couldn’t say any of it out loud yet. AND…it’s going to be nothing, after all.

The next day came the phone call from the radiologist. My biopsy showed “abnormal cells.” Abnormal cells?? What are abnormal cells? Oh…cancer. Abnormal cells = cancer. I have cancer.

That was Tuesday, February 14, 2012. On Wednesday, March 7, I had a double mastectomy and began the long process of reconstruction. If, on February 14, you had told me that in just three weeks I would be having a double mastectomy, I just might have clawed your eyes out. In fact, those are the words I use to describe my inner reaction when, on February 15, a surgeon listed double mastectomy as one of many options before me. Once again, there was the “No!!” in my head. Lumpectomy. It’s going to be a lumpectomy. Since I was young and had dense breast tissue, the surgeon recommended an MRI just to make sure there was nothing else that they were missing. By now, one might think that I would’ve stopped thinking there would be nothing…that hadn’t been true even once. But I’m an optimist, you see. However, there was something. Two somethings. Two somethings that now also need to be biopsied. Knowing the double discomfort that was going to be coming with bilateral biopsies, I was anxious but forged ahead. This time with my husband right by my side and four friends in the waiting room. And Terry.

My friendship with Terry was now days old — days that seemed like weeks or months when considering the amount of information and the range of emotions that were thrust upon us. But, my amazing medical team, with Terry as my closest point of contact, is what helped me survive. Not only survive, but thrive. Very early in the process, she gave me what I call my “Cancer Binder.” It was a “1-stop shop” for any and all information I might need in the coming weeks. Complete with information on local support programs, both emotional and financial. It was like receiving a big hug to see that such help exists when one is navigating the scary world of cancer.

Speaking of the scary world of cancer. On February 14, when that cancer diagnosis came, I didn’t have health insurance. At my appointments in the coming days, doctors and surgeons were telling me to not make my decisions based on money. “Easy for you to say!” was my thought. Terry steered us in the right direction, even making phone calls on our behalf. I would have never known about a program that exists that provides coverage for uninsured women who have breast or cervical cancer. My husband and I are still eternally grateful to have learned of that program, thanks to Terry.

In the weeks and months that followed my surgery, Terry regularly phoned or emailed to check in on my progress, answer questions or just say hi. Her care, concern and accessibility are a large part of why I, after I had made my decisions and was waiting for surgery, was able to write this in my CaringBridge blog:

“So, that’s where we sit for now. It is incredible to go from the blindsided, numb feeling of receiving the news to a calm readiness to face what lies ahead.”

I’m an optimist, you see. Sometimes to a fault.