Having faith in the midst of cancer

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When Gretchen Noon needs a peaceful place for rest and recovery, her quaint Wadena home serves as her sanctuary. Gentle music drifts across her covered porch strewn with several opened books and sentimental dragonfly decorations. The wind rustles the trees as she reads a hanging sign that says, “Having hope will give you courage. Having faith will give you strength.” Her soft hat wards off the chill, keeping her warm now that her hair is gone.

Breast cancer patient, Gretchen Noon sitting on her porch.Gretchen is currently battling a rare form of breast cancer and is braced for many months of aggressive treatment.

 

Discovering the disease

In July of 2017, Gretchen went in for her regular mammogram. It came back clear. But nine months later in April, she felt a lump on her breast. She made an appointment with Dawn Dahlgren-Roemmich, certified nurse midwife, and a mammogram and ultrasound identified not one but two large lumps.

Gretchen learned that her cancer is incredibly rare, a strain called medullary carcinoma, which occurs in only 3-5 percent of breast cancers, according to breastcancer.org.

“I felt very overwhelmed at first with the information, and because I had larger lumps, things progressed very fast,” she said. “I was well taken care of. It just goes so fast and you get such a load of information. You’re scared, of course. Yet, when you start reading and getting the information and getting a plan put into place, then you feel better. Then you just trust.”

Fortunately, she was told her cancer was stage one and that the prognosis was good with treatment. She consulted with Wade Swenson, M.D., who recommended that she start chemotherapy treatment before surgery.

The first four rounds contained two types of aggressive chemo, which were administered every 21 days.

“The ladies (in ambulatory care) are great. They let me bring music. They turn down the lights. I usually sleep because the last time it took over four hours. They knew this would be very harsh and hard,” she said. “It’s hard, very hard on your body. Then you lose your hair. By three weeks after my first chemo, I was losing my hair.”

After Gretchen finished four rounds of chemo, she had another ultrasound. It showed that her lumps had diminished in size.

“I’m thankful, so very thankful,” she said with a smile. “It’s good news.”

Gretchen then began the process of four more rounds of chemo, this time a weaker blend. After that, she will undergo a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. It’s almost a year-long process, which prompted her to take a leave of absence from her position as a preschool special education paraprofessional in the Freshwater Education District.

Gretchen found one of the hardest parts of treatment to be the side effects of chemo. They strain her body physically and make her more vulnerable to illness. As a result, contracting a mild virus like a cold could send her to the hospital.Encouraging sign hanging on a wall.

“You have to wear a mask, and of course people stare at you,” she said. “You can do things, but you feel like you have to be so cautious because I didn’t want to get sick.”

 

Receiving encouragement

Knowing her peaceful porch awaits her after treatment, she is thankful chemo is available right in Wadena so she doesn’t have to travel long distances.

“They’ve been just wonderful and supportive. You see people that know you when you walk in and greet you and ask how you’re doing,” she said.

To those in the community who might wonder about self-exams or who are experiencing their own medical challenge, Gretchen offered encouragement.

“It is very important to do self-exams and catch that early. Diagnosis is very important. Early diagnosis is key,” she said. “And just having the support of your family and friends and getting up every day and being thankful for something even though it’s tough. For me, getting fresh air and sunshine and exercise, even though it’s hard, is important.”

Both Gretchen’s husband, Ron, and daughter, Brittney, have been a source of support for her. Brittney calls frequently and visits on weekends, while Ron escorts her to chemo treatment and provides encouragement. It’s that support and more that keeps Gretchen motivated to beat her affliction.

“I have a strong Christian faith, and I have many friends who come visit me and pray for me. My own family is very supportive,” she said. “People have called and visited when they can. The letters, the cards, people coming and bringing things. It’s just seeing the people and the encouragement and letting me know they’re praying and thinking of me. That’s the most important thing.”


Conquering cancer

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By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist

 

In October of last year, at the age of 44, Stephanie Sellin saw and felt a lump in her breast. She went to Tri-County Health Care straight away for a mammogram. The findings prompted further testing.

In November, David Kloss, M.D., FACS, performed a minimally invasive breast biopsy. A couple days later, the hospital called and told Stephanie the news. It was positive for cancer.

“I kind of had a feeling,” Stephanie said. “There’s no history in my family, so it was kind of a shock. There were no symptoms. I didn’t feel sick.”Cancer patient, Stephanie, with her husband.

Stephanie’s husband, DJ, stepped confidently into the role of her support system, keeping her spirits up, providing refreshing laughter and giving her a familiar hand to hold. Stephanie noted that their three children, Madisyn, Rachel and Alex, were scared at first but that they handled the situation well.

As Stephanie faced her diagnosis, she tried to cope with the reality that she may have passed the breast cancer gene on to her girls.

“Right away, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve cursed them,’” Stephanie said. “That was probably one of the hardest parts. I didn’t really think about me. It was more, what about my girls?”

Stephanie went in for genetic testing with her oncologist at TCHC, Wade Swenson, M.D., and much to her relief, she found that it wasn’t hereditary.

Cancer patient, Stephanie Sellin,, receiving chemo treatment.With that question cleared, Stephanie underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and then had one more test to determine if she needed chemotherapy. The results indicated her recurrence rate might be higher, so under Dr. Swenson’s care, Stephanie began chemotherapy. She needed four treatments, each spaced three weeks apart.

Displaying an unwavering positive attitude, Stephanie faced the treatment head-on, reveling in the family-like atmosphere at TCHC and the compassionate nurses who gave her heartfelt care.

“Everybody’s awesome, fun, and makes jokes, and it’s not serious,” she said. “We’re laughing and joking and having fun. It feels like everybody’s family. I love it.”

During chemo, however, one of Stephanie’s struggles was saying goodbye to her long hair.

“That was one of the hard parts,” she said. “My hair was down to my butt, and it was really curly. I cried once and then said, ‘Let’s just cut it.’”

Stephanie eased into the transition with a few haircuts. To start, she styled her hair into three braids and let each of her kids cut one off to keep. Then she went to a hairdresser to get it cut further. Once she started chemo, she decided to buzz it all off at home. Her husband also shaved his head.Cancer patient, Stephanie, holds hands with husband, DJ.

“We couldn’t talk any of the kids into it,” she said with a laugh.

Patients of TCHC cancer care receive free wig fittings and wigs in Fergus Falls. Stephanie selected a wig and purchased an assortment of cute hats, but she soon grew accustomed to going without.

Stephanie completed chemotherapy on March 20, the day before her wedding anniversary, so she and DJ celebrated with a special day out.

Following chemo, she began radiation treatment with Dr. Swenson in Fergus Falls every day for four weeks. She completed radiation on May 22.

The experience opened Stephanie’s eyes to the importance of family, finding laughter in the face of adversity, and being proactive with health screenings.

“(Women should) make sure they get their mammograms and find cancer early,” Stephanie urged. “It is very important. It is treatable.”

 

For more information about TCHC’s cancer care program, call 218-631-7461 or visit TCHC.org/cancercare.


Mammogram Parties – A party with the potential to save a life

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By: Shannon Brauch, RN, Tri-County Health Care Women’s Health Coordinator

Every year, cancer claims the lives of more than a quarter of a million women in America. Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in American women.

As the leaves turn color and we approach fall, I like to take this opportunity to remind women that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to highlight the warning signs of breast cancer. The warning signs that should alert a woman to visit with their primary care provider include:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area;
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast;
  • Change in size or shape of breast;
  • Dimpling or puckering of skin;
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple;
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of breast;
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly;
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away;

About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, with 85 percent of breast cancer occurring in women with no family history of breast cancer. Because family history is not a reliable indicator, the American Cancer Society recommends that annual mammograms should begin at the age of 40 and continue for as long as a woman is in good health. Mammograms are the best way to find cancer early, even before it can be felt and when it is easier to treat. Some women, because of their family history, genetic tendency or other factors, should talk to their provider about the need for additional tests at an earlier age.

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Cancer is a scary word and sadly the fear surrounding cancer can keep people from scheduling a life-saving appointment. Research shows that by visiting your medical provider and scheduling a cancer screening test you could greatly improve your odds of survival. Screening tests can detect certain cancers early, when they are the most likely to be curable. Knowing the benefits, it’s alarming that less than 51% of women ages 40 and older reported having a mammogram in the last year. And, recent studies suggest that women are getting their first mammogram later than recommended, not having them at recommended intervals or not receiving appropriate and timely follow-up of positive screening results.

At Tri-County Health Care, we value mammograms and want to make them a little less intimidating for women. In October, we are hosting six Mammogram Parties, each designed to help minimize fear and anxiety for women.

Mammo Party 2015 FB Ad

Women age 40 and older are invited to a Mammogram Party and are welcome to bring their friends, co-workers, family and of course “the girls” for a festive and party-life environment. While at the party women will enjoy massages, margaritas, munchies, and of course, receive their mammogram. There will also be neck and shoulder massages; bra fittings; hand massages/reflexology and representatives from Mary Kay and Healthy Living Oils. Each party can accommodate up to 12 people and the Tri-County Caring Heart Boutique Gift Shop will stay open later to allow the women some time to shop if they choose.

The parties will be held Thursday evenings in October (1, 8, 22) from 5-8 p.m. and Saturday morning, October 10, from 9 a.m. – noon.

Registering for a Mammogram Party is as simple as calling 218-631-7466. Call soon as space is limited to 12 women per party.

Cancer screenings can be very scary. We hope these mammogram parties minimize anxiety and encourage women to get their screening in a safe and fun environment.