"It seems natural to connect with one person when receiving care from a team of people. For me, that person was LeSandra Bertch."
LeSandra “Sondy” Bertch, RN, OCN, has worked in radiation oncology for over 25 years, and I work with her in that field, but my personal experience in this area didn’t begin until the summer of 2018. That was when I was diagnosed with early breast cancer, which was treated with lumpectomy and radiation. I am a registered nurse and the CEO of the University of Rochester Noyes Memorial Hospital, but none of that mattered once I became a person with cancer.
I had first heard of Sondy near the end of 2016 as Noyes was preparing to open the Ann and Carl Myers Cancer Center, a satellite of the University of Rochester Wilmot Cancer Institute. Sondy was the RN who would oversee patient care in radiation oncology, and she came with much praise for her excellent clinical and interpersonal skills. And, indeed, when I met and interacted with her, it was easy to see her passion for helping patients navigate through radiation therapy. She was calm, confident and made each patient feel as though they were the only person she would see that day. Sondy didn’t see her job as working only in radiation oncology. She quickly became part of Noyes Hospital and the Dansville community through clinical, social, public relations and fundraising events.
The Ann and Carl Myers Cancer Center officially opened in January 2017, and for the first time, the residents of Livingston and surrounding counties had access to comprehensive cancer services, cutting travel time by a minimum of one hour each way for most patients. Between medical and radiation oncology, there were over 6,000 patient visits in 2017, and that number continued to grow throughout 2018.
As CEO of a community hospital, I was used to leading and making decisions but, when diagnosed, I felt that I lost control of my normal routines. I was quickly faced with options for treatment but didn’t really want to choose any of them … this would be the anger phase you hear about. Nonetheless, you make a choice about what type of surgery you want and then the follow-up treatment, if indicated. You question if you have made the right choices and then eventually move to accepting what you chose.
Sondy was the first person I encountered as I started the radiation process. All I could think when sitting with her on that initial visit was, “Sondy, walk me through this.” I needed to know the steps — knowledge was key for me. She sat with me for one hour explaining what would happen that day and on subsequent days. She told me what to expect during each week of treatment, and she was spot on. Her teaching during that first encounter calmed me and helped me believe any side effects would be manageable and temporary. Best of all, her approach made no assumption of my knowledge level as a nurse …. which I wasn’t at the time; I was a patient.
Sondy gives each patient a binder loaded with educational and resource materials which they may read right away or after some time. It eventually was meaningful to me, and I read it more than once. I carried notes, appointment schedules and test results in that binder. Sondy’s parting words were always, “Call me if you need anything or have a question.” And I did. Many times, Sondy gave me the affirmation that what was happening was a normal reaction to radiation, exactly what I needed to hear. After I had completed radiation and the fatigue had gone (or so I thought), I experienced another round of fatigue. Of course, I thought this meant that something was wrong. But, in a five-minute phone call, Sondy assured me that the fatigue could come and go over the course of months and reminded me to listen to my body and get some rest. She reminded me of the balance between rest and exercise.
I have seen and heard of Sondy interfacing with multiple sources to help patients with transportation, financial assistance, dietary supplements, referrals to home care and hospice. She is that connector patients need to gain access to multiple support services.
I was cared for by many wonderful physicians and clinicians over the summer from the medical, surgical and radiation oncology departments at Wilmot Cancer Institute. We are blessed to have access to this incredible team in the Rochester region. It seems natural to connect with one person when receiving care from a team of people. For me, that person was LeSandra Bertch. In the grand scheme of things, my treatment was pretty straightforward. Still, I know how much Sondy’s education, support, listening skills and responses to my questions meant to me. Imagine the impact she makes on patients with complex treatments, advanced diagnoses or no family support.
I greatly appreciate what Sondy did for me. Thank you for walking me through this, Sondy!