Debbie A., NV
During the COVID surge, the hospital where Debbie worked had finally received their low dose CT scan which was delayed for several months. Because there were no visitors allowed in the hospital, they were limited on training opportunities. Debbie, being the go-getter she is, volunteered to be the person to receive this scan and allowed the radiologists to practice on her. It was her birthday after all, and being all employees had to work due to the full house of COVID patients, Debbie thought this would be her chance to put her feet up and take a nap. On October 15, 2021 Debbie was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma – a non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer seen in people who don't smoke. It is more common in women, and luckily was found before it spread.
Debbie felt overwhelmed by her diagnosis, which had only been an accidental discovery. Now she was facing an especially difficult situation, but she was adamant that she would receive the treatment she needed to survive. After receiving medical consultations, she decided to forgo surgery and jump right into immunotherapy and chemotherapy. And although she was strongly advised to take time off from work, there was an overwhelming call to be at the hospital during the pandemic that was taking the lives of multiple people a day in her small-town hospital.
Like many of those going through treatment, Debbie struggled with side effects like fatigue, nausea, and hair loss. She was surrounded by an army of people to support her, mainly made up of doctors and nurses. She was even able to remain at her workplace for her infusion session. While Debbie had a large amount of support, she did not connect with other cancer patients and survivors who could have related to her situation. “I was hesitant to meet any other patients because I felt I was not really sick. I was afraid of what I was going to find out if I did meet other patients.” During treatment, Debbie relied on her faith and her co-workers to keep her going. However, despite everyone worried about her health, Debbie kept stating, “the people in the hospital beds are the sick ones, I just have cancer”.
After completing infusions, a year later she switched to oral medications, and Debbie began to embrace her journey and started advocating for those with cancer in rural areas. The biggest challenge that Debbie faced after her diagnosis was the decline in her mental health. Between learning how to manage her own diagnosis and the passing of a colleague and friend, as well as the many community members to COVID, Debbie was not doing well mentally. She began to talk to a therapist and get the additional support that she needed to face her challenges. Debbie not only remains working in the hospital, but she has also returned to school to complete her PhD in psychology.
Debbie would like to see an increase in direct patient support for cancer survivors. She feels that having someone help guide survivors through the treatment process can be incredibly helpful, and people should never have to feel like they are doing it alone. One of Debbie’s main reasons for becoming an advocate is to help people in rural areas to receive treatments closer to home by speaking to cancer centers in the larger cities and ask them to think outside the box of traditional treatment options. “It’s a lot to have to travel 4 hours each way for an infusion you can get at a local hospital. It is even more difficult to advocate for something when you do not have the facts.”
Debbie knows, as a survivor, that cancer is an experience that never truly leaves you. She speaks with other cancer survivors through in-person and online social communities. She is the founder and board member of the Elko Cancer Network and sits on the board of directors for her state speaking at conferences and community events to talk about her experiences. Debbie seeks to improve health disparities and inequities in underserved and vulnerable populations, especially in rural communities and the mining communities to educate the people of her state on the dangers of Radon in the workplaces and homes alike. She hopes to inspire others and to improve patient access to affordable testing.
Debbie wants others to know that there is hope and they are not alone. “There are other patients just like you. And testing is available for every type of cancer thanks to the ongoing research. And we can take some comfort knowing that there are people who have dedicated their lives to finding a cure for cancer.”
Debbie continues to serve as Director of Case Manager and Behavioral Health, is active in her rural community and church. She is a mother to 5 children, and now grandmother to 7 grandchildren.
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