Breast Cancer Survivor’s Care Team Was There for Her Through Ups and DownsPublished: Feb. 15, 2023
Erika Felt completed her final chemotherapy treatment at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center (MECC) on Jan. 12. Despite a rocky start to her cancer journey, she left MECC that day with a deep appreciation for everyone who’s impacted her.
“They all deserve to hear that they’re amazing,” Erika said. “They really do.”
When Erika received her diagnosis of breast cancer last spring, she was overcome with anxiety because of what she witnessed her mother go through.
Erika’s mother received a late diagnosis of ovarian and breast cancer and lost her battle at age 61.
In fact, Erika, 52, told friends that she reached the middle of her life at age 25 because many women in her family died from cancer in their 50s and 60s.
Her Methodist care team quickly picked up on those fears.
“When Erika first came into the office, she was extremely nervous and emotional,” said Sara Vaghy, BSN, RN, OCN, a nurse navigator at the MECC Breast Care Center.
In addition to wrestling with the trauma caused by her mother’s experience, Erika feared for the families that rely on her to provide childcare services out of her home.
Surgical oncologist Lisa Poole, MD, stepped in to help Erica with her priorities.
“I had a lot of discussions reminding her that while she was worried about the kids and their families, she needed to take care of herself first,” Dr. Poole said.
Erika said she values the way Dr. Poole communicates.
“She’s very informative and to the point,” Erika said. “And I trust her implicitly. She’s fantastic.”
Early in her cancer journey, Erika connected with Methodist’s team of oncology social workers.
According to Carrie Pedersen, LCSW, a medical social worker at MECC, her team contacts each new breast cancer patient to identify additional needs.
“We’re the part of the team that has more time to devote to listen to them talk about how they’re feeling and things they’re worried about,” Pedersen said.
And that extra listening ear is something that Erika deeply appreciated.
“First, and really most importantly, they listened,” Erika said. “Carrie, in particular, listens without judgement.”
Pedersen said she enjoys supporting patients’ unique needs during what can be a stressful time.
“I try to look at what I might need if I was going through that,” she said. “And I really try to get each patient’s perspective so that I can help them in the best way that I can.”
Erika relied on the social work services for financial assistance because she had to shut down her child care services just before having surgery in August. Oncology social worker Donna Wilhelm, LCSW, LMHP, connected her with Project Pink’d and Susan G. Komen®.
“Erika’s someone who is very resourceful,” Pedersen said. “If you gave her information, she was able to utilize it.”
On her first day of chemotherapy, Erika wasn’t afraid to tell her care team about her apprehensions to start treatment.
Erika’s primary chemo nurse, Robyn Curran, RN, ASN, OCN, an infusion nurse with Nebraska Cancer Specialists, has worked with patients for nearly 23 years, and she knows each one is unique.
“The biggest thing I try to do is put myself in their shoes,” Curran said. “Every day I deal with this at work, but this is their first time coming in, and this is their first time seeing this whole setup.”
Curran offered to put the IV bag behind a curtain so that Erika didn’t have to watch the drip.
“It’s not us to judge how or what they feel,” she said. “Our job is just to make them feel more comfortable with the situation.”
After that first day, Erika grew to appreciate how Curran made time for each of her patients.
“She meets them where they’re at with such respect,” Erika said.
“It comes down to treating everyone the way that you would want to be treated,” Curran said. “That includes taking the time and giving them the ability to vent their fears and concerns. Because it’s not just a physical disease. It affects the whole person – body, mind and spirit.”
Erika recently started radiation and hopes to reopen her child care services this spring. She admits that fear still creeps into her mind, but she knows that members of her care team will find ways to continue supporting her. After all, they’re a big reason why she’s where she is today.
Dr. Poole said she admires the way that Erika continues to help herself.
“Erika is a force,” Dr. Poole said. “She has so much energy. She has so much heart. She cares about other people so fiercely. I know it’s been hard for her, but she is willing to do whatever it takes to do what she needs to do to get the treatment that she needs.”
Vaghy added: “As she conquered treatment steps, she became confident and began to realize she was going to fight her way through and win this battle.”