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'They take you in as part of their family:' Wendt Center Welcomes Patient With Open Arms

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Wendt Regional Cancer Center patient Dawn Bryant with her family.

On October 23, 2018, Dawn Bryant heard the worst words possible – “You have breast cancer.”

From that point on, Dawn embarked on a cancer journey that first started in Cedar Rapids, before she came home to Dubuque and UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital’s Wendt Regional Cancer Center

“I was still really weak, and you just stay in shock for a long time with this,” Dawn said. “I walked in and immediately, they were asking if I wanted anything to drink or needed a wheelchair and were just welcoming me. There were hugs and everything. I had never been somewhere where I felt like they knew what I was going through, even though they didn’t know me quite yet. They made it clear they were here to help me.”

After having chemo treatments and a mastectomy in Cedar Rapids, Dawn made the choice to go to the Wendt Regional Cancer Center for radiation therapy. 

One thing that stood out and was appreciated by Dawn was the individualized care she received at the Wendt Center. 

“When you go to the Wendt Center, they don’t need your chart to know who you are,” Dawn said. “It’s such personalized care, and it’s what you need, not what is within their schedule.”

Coming to the Wendt Center, Dawn was still fighting 15% of her cancer, after she underwent a mastectomy. 

With cancer still present after surgery, the goal was to use radiation therapy to shrink the cancer and treat it with other drugs.

“There wasn’t a very good prognosis on the 15%, because the mastectomy couldn’t get it all,” Dawn said. “They went ahead and gave me the radiation at the Wendt Center.”

Walking through the doors of the Wendt Regional Cancer Center, Dawn wasn’t sure what to think at first. 

Dawn was then welcomed with open arms, and she quickly realized she was in the right place.

“You walk in through the doors, and you feel this calmness come over you,” Dawn said. “It’s not like walking into a hospital and getting scared. They take every effort to make you feel calm and relaxed.”

During her time at the Wendt Center, Dawn enjoyed cultivating relationships with all of the staff members.

On the last day of her radiation treatments, Dawn said emotions were flowing, as she thought she was saying goodbye to the people that had cared for her. Instead, they assured her that she is always welcome at the Wendt Center – a cancer patient or not.

“When I came for my last day, I had some burns and was really sore,” Dawn said. “I would have gone through it ten times more, if I could just be with those people. I was doing this every day with them and the only time I felt calm and at peace in my life was when I went to see the staff at the Wendt Center. When it was all over, I told them how much I was going to miss them, and they said, ‘You don’t have to miss us. You can come in any time to have coffee and just chat for a bit.’”

One person that played a key role in Dawn’s Wendt Center experience was Laura Duerr, the Oncology Nurse Navigator at the Wendt Center. 

If it was just needing someone to listen or to arrange treatments, Dawn knew she could count on Laura for anything throughout her journey.

“If I had a problem, any problem, I could go to Laura, and she would know,” Dawn said. “I would walk in in the morning, and she would sometimes say, ‘Oh, you need a hug, I can just see it.’ The kindness and heart that Laura has is unique to any person, let alone finding it at a hospital. With Laura, you can tell that she loves what she does by helping the patients.”

As she got to know the Wendt Center staff throughout her radiation treatments, Dawn quickly realized one thing. At the Wendt Center, everyone is family.

She believes that’s one of the staff’s greatest attributes, especially with how they work together. 

“There’s not one person over there that I can say that didn’t smile whenever they looked at me,” Dawn said. “They fit together. There’s always comradery with all of them, and they joke with each other like they are family. They take you in as part of their family.”

Even though each member of the Wendt Center staff has a specific job to do, Dawn never felt that way. 

Instead, she believes they each have the same goal – to help all patients along their cancer journey. 

“Finley has a center that is so geared toward the people, not just their jobs,” Dawn said. “It’s almost like their jobs are secondary, because they do their jobs so perfectly. Their job is making you feel comfortable and getting you through this journey. When I went in for an appointment after my last treatment, the doctor said, ‘There are no active signs of cancer cells.’ They made sure that I lived, and they hit the spots that needed to be hit.”

For anyone going through their own cancer diagnosis, Dawn highly recommends the Wendt Center and its staff. 

From her own experiences, she is confident they will provide the best care for many patients to come. 

“Know that you are going to get the best of these people,” Dawn said. “You are going to be treated more like a human than you’ve been treated throughout the rest of this journey. Any fears that you have, they will take away. If you do end up crying or are scared, they will take it away.”

On October 1, Dawn rang the Wendt Center’s bell, signaling her courageous victory over breast cancer.

With cancer now behind her, Dawn is looking forward to spending time with her family, especially since it’s growing. 

“I am in remission,” Dawn said. “I am going to live right now. That’s amazing, and I get to see my first grandson, because of these people and the Wendt Center.”