“We have one life to live — live it in full color!”
Paula Thompson, executive assistant for UnityPoint Health, sees the glass-half-full side of life. Her positivity didn’t waver a bit, even when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“In 2020, I was helping the incident command team take notes for the COVID-19 pandemic. I heard the hospital was going to shut down elective imaging. I thought I would just push back my mammogram a few months to allow other patients who really needed care to have a spot,” Thompson says.
Six months later, in September of 2020, she rescheduled her scan. Since she had a clear mammogram in 2018, she wasn’t overly concerned. But this time was different. Her care team immediately said the results looked concerning. More tests followed.
“It turned out, I had two tumors with a microcalcification forming between them, so it was turning into one big tumor. It had also spread to a couple lymph nodes. Since the two little tumors were forming into one, the whole size of it was about five centimeters — making it stage 3 cancer,” she says.
In the months that followed, Thompson when through chemotherapy (neoadjuvant and adjuvant), surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. As expected, she started losing her hair and decided to shave it off.
“If you're going to get fake hair, why not make it really fake or, you know, just do what you want to do,” she says.
As a surprise for Thompson, her boyfriend started shopping immediately after the diagnosis. In a few weeks, wigs of all shapes, sizes and colors started arriving in the mail. She says she hasn’t kept track of how many she owns, but it’s somewhere in the ballpark of 50 wigs.
“The teal wig was probably my favorite color to wear. It was straight teal to black. The gray, white and blue one matched my nurse practitioner’s new hairdo. I wore it to an infusion on the day after she got her hair done, and we happened to match. The red one with the little curls — I just loved how I looked in that color of hair. Once when I wore a purple one, a nurse said I looked like a Disney princess. Sometimes, I would coordinate my wig with my outfit or lipstick,” Thompson says.
She wore her wigs throughout treatment and surgery, which took a little over a year to complete. She’s still on hormone treatment and glad to report there’s currently no cancer detected.
“My hair is coming back, but I still wear the colored wigs out and about. Sometimes, people give me a funny look but compared to everything else that has happened since September 2020, I really don’t care if others snicker or think I’m trying to be wild,” she says.
Looking back, she says her support crew, including her boyfriend, family and UnityPoint Health as her employer and care team, made all the difference in her outcome.
“Every care team I’ve dealt with as a patient, from imaging, radiation, oncology and surgery to the recovery care unit, has been amazing. Whenever we found out something new about my disease, we determined an action to take. I trusted my team. I knew they were helping me do whatever they could,” she says.