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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”