Adjacent to the Wendt Center, at the corner of West 5th and College Streets in Dubuque, is a small, parklike area dedicated to cancer survivors. Throughout the years, whenever I passed by that spot, whether on foot or in my car, I would offer a silent, two-word prayer: Please, God. Even in my mind I could not form the rest of that prayer: To use the words might make the possibility more real.
Then, in July 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, my surgeon was able to assure me that the malignancy was very small and treatable with minimally invasive surgery and appropriate adjuvant therapy. I opted for a lumpectomy, which was successful. Sentinel node biopsy revealed that the cancer had not spread, so I was not required to receive chemotherapy. I did, however, receive 25 radiation treatments at the Wendt Center at UnityPoint Health—Finley Hospital, in Dubuque. During the next five years, I will continue to be monitored by an oncology nurse practitioner, my surgeon, and my internist—all of whom are affiliated another health care facility in Dubuque. I thank God daily that I am so well cared for!
My communication with the Wendt Center began immediately after my surgeon cleared me for radiation treatment. I received a call from the receptionist at Wendt, and within minutes had set up a time that was convenient to me for my treatments—my first choice of time, as a matter of fact! I was told by the receptionist where to park and how to navigate my way to the Center. Understandably apprehensive on my first day of treatment, I was welcomed warmly by all Wendt staffers, from receptionists (thank you, Maggie and Janaan!) to nurses (thank you Mary Carol, Julie, and Laura!), to technicians (thank you, Rebecca, Bree, and cohort!) to radiation oncologist (thank you, Aruna!). Yes—after 25 visits to the Wendt Center, I am on a first-name basis with the staff. Truly, I love them. Each has played a major role in helping me deal with my cancer and emerge from the experience a stronger, more informed, and more empathetic person.
During the course of my treatment at Wendt, my radiation sessions began at the scheduled time and progressed without interruption. The Center has two linear accelerators, so when one needed servicing, my technician simply escorted me to the other one, with no befuddlement or loss of my time or hers. Each of 25 days I arrived at Wendt at 10:00 a.m. for a 10:15 treatment; each of 25 days I walked out of the Center by 10:40 (unless I stayed to chat with other women in the disrobing area with whom I also had established friendships, as a cancer diagnosis empowers you to build community quickly).
Throughout the five weeks of my treatment, I received excellent education from my nurses about what I might expect in terms of my body’s response to radiation. They were always available to me in person or via telephone call, always eager to offer me tips about how to best deal with the fatigue and slight burning of the skin commonly experienced by patients receiving radiation. Too, I visited once weekly with Dr. Turaka, the Center’s radiation oncologist. At each of my visits with Dr. Turaka or a nurse, I was the focus of their complete attention: I felt I was truly receiving individualized, personalized care in a setting that offered the most up-to-date technological resources.
On the day of my final treatment, Laura, the Center’s nurse navigator, supplied me with an abundance of educational material relevant to my diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up—what I could expect in the days, weeks, and months ahead. She emphasized that she would always be available to answer any questions I might have, even weeks or months after treatment.
It has been nearly a year since my last treatment at the Wendt Center. But because I am so grateful for the care I received there, I visit the Center now and then, usually in conjunction with a holiday, to offer the staff a little treat. As I mentioned, I love them for who they are and what they do—and the excellence with which they do it.
I have known firsthand the brokenness that people battling cancer feel. Thanks to Wendt Center staff, many of whom work in the background with little if any recognition, I also have known the caritas—the professional yet humane care and concern—that can mend that brokenness.
Written by Sue Dolter