We’ve all heard the mantra… early detection is the key to fighting cancer. But what if that early detection comes on the eve of a pandemic? Should you wait? Can you wait?
As a medical professional herself…
“Being a nurse, I was like ‘Oh no, am I going to be put on hold for 6 months?’,” recalled Breast Cancer Patient, Denise Hess.”
And the proud owner of a therapy dog, ….
“We would take him to the nursing home, we would take him to the hospitals…” Hess explained, referring to her late golden retriever, Justice.
…Denise Hess was used to caring for others. So when she got the news, after a routine mammogram, that she had breast cancer…
“I felt like I got punched in the gut, to be very honest with you,” Hess revealed.
And the timing couldn’t have been worse…
“On the 18th of march is when the governor shut the whole state down and I was told that I had invasive , ductal carcinoma,” explains Hess.
Despite all that, Hess says she now, actually feels thankful.
“It was so small,” Hess explains. “They were like, ‘We’re not sure if this is anything, but it wasn’t here a year ago, so we’re going to biopsy it.’ and I’m so grateful they did.”
Aurora BayCare Medical Center Breast Surgeon, Dr. Cynthia Chao, says Hess is a perfect example of why it’s so important for women to get yearly mammograms.
“The earlier you detect things, the more lives you’re going to save.” said Chao
She’s not just referring to women with a family history of breast cancer.
“Ninety percent of women that get breast cancer have no family history,” Chao explains.
Hess wasted no time in moving forward with treatment.
“I immediately hung up the phone and went to my boss and said, ‘I gotta go. I have breast cancer.’ and I just flew out of this place.”
And her own personal nurse, called a cancer navigator, wasn’t far behind.
“I wasn’t even to my car yet and Diane, the nurse navigator, was on the phone saying, ‘I know this is a really rough time. We’re going to get through this.’ It was fantastic,” said Hess.
A cancer nurse navigator is just one of a whole team at Aurora BayCare that comes together for cancer patients.
“If you’re worried about cancer, if you’re worried about anything right now, it’s okay,” Chao said. “We’ve got a whole team to help you.”
For Hess, that team made all the difference.
“From her (nurse navigator), to the genetic counselor, to my surgeon, radiation,” Hess explained. “I had the best experience.”
Dr. Chao says making patients feel that comfortable, even amid a health crisis, is a top priority.
“Everybody will come together to support you and help you and get you through this, ” Chao reassured. “Even during a pandemic, it’s possible.”
Now, as a cancer survivor, Hess says she’s looking forward to the pandemic being over, when she can be with family and friends again. In the meantime, she says she wants to get a message out about how important it is to be vigilant about your own healthcare.
“I already have my mammogram scheduled for next year,” chuckled Hess.
Another option Aurora BayCare offers right now, to help patients feel safe, is virtual check-in. You don’t even have to sit in a waiting room with other patients. They just give you a call when you’re room is ready and you go right in.