Testimonials

Jill FitzRandolph-Groelle — breast cancer survivor

A breast cancer diagnosis can make any women’s mind race. Surgery dates, insurance premiums, disability coverage—the details can easily become overwhelming. That’s why Mercyhealth now has two breast health patient navigators who can both literally and figuratively hold a patient’s hand after she hears the dreaded “C word.”

“It’s just an amazing service,” says Jill FitzRandolph-Groelle, 55, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2013 after her annual mammogram.

Jill, who lives in Milton, underwent a lumpectomy with surgeon Patricia Garner, MD, in May.

Subsequent testing determined she needed further treatment with radiation oncologist, Dr. Kevin Kozak. Through it all, breast health patient navigator Sandra Mascari-Devitt, CSW, CBPN-1C, was in constant contact to help her understand the steps she needed to take.

Jill first met Sandra at the appointment where she set up her lumpectomy surgery. Right away, Sandra told her about two organizations that provide support for women who have been newly diagnosed: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD) and the American Cancer Society. “Within two days, I heard from both of those organizations,” says Jill. “I wouldn’t have known about them at all if it had not been for Sandy.”

The biggest stressor for Jill was working with the company that coordinated her short-term disability coverage. The company was taking a long time gathering the information it needed to approve her case, but with just a few calls, Sandra connected the company with Jill’s doctor, Patricia Garner, MD, and helped move the process forward.

“I just try to help connect the dots,” says Sandra, who is herself a breast cancer survivor.

“Sometimes when patients are going through the difficult period of being diagnosed with breast cancer, there’s a lot on their plate. When you can take something off their plate, it helps relieve some of their stress.”

Jill has a long way to go before she can consider herself cured of her cancer. However, she is comforted knowing she has the support she needs at Mercyhealth. “Sandy has been there for me and continues to be there for me,” she says. “She takes care of things for me even before I know I need them.”

Jill also has words of praise for Mercyhealth overall. “The care I received was amazing. The whole experience, as horrible as it is to have cancer, was made easier by Mercyhealth. All of my doctors are always on the same page. When I go to see one doctor, they already know what happened at my last appointment with another doctor. I like that.”

Donna Conkle — breast cancer survivor

Donna Conkle takes her health seriously and always has her annual exams right on schedule. Even so, at last year’s mammogram appointment, she joked with the technician about how many more years she would need the test. The tech emphasized the reasons why lifelong screenings are important.

When Donna’s mammogram showed an area of concern, the technician’s words of “why” took on a new and very serious sense of importance. Donna’s biopsy confirmed breast cancer.

Donna’s medical oncologist, Dr. Emily Robinson, told her about a clinical trial Mercyhealth was offering for her type of breast cancer. Dr. Robinson explained it was voluntary, but Donna didn’t hesitate to say yes. “I wanted to participate because if it could help me, then it could help others down the road. And I thought ‘what could it hurt if, in the future, it helped others?’”

From day one, Donna received the best care possible at Mercyhealth. While she participated in the clinical trial, radiation oncologist, Dr. Kevin Kozak, administered her radiation therapy.

Donna says, “I thought Dr. Kozak was a very nice guy … and I was lucky to have him for my doctor. And the other physicians and staff I met with were very concerned, very caring and very up-front through the whole process. Everyone made me feel comfortable. I would recommend Mercyhealth to anyone.”

Donna also considers herself fortunate that her cancer was found early. “My experience proves that preventive screenings work and that it is important to get your mammograms when scheduled. I could not have found that lump on my own. It was the mammogram that found my cancer. It saved my life.”

Druanne Cryer — breast cancer survivor

Druanne knows the true value of breast self-exams. Around Thanksgiving, she found a lump in her left breast while taking a shower. Her stomach dropped, and she immediately made an appointment for a mammogram. The first mammogram did not show cancer. She then had an ultrasound. A spot was detected and biopsied. Her doctor told her what she didn’t want to hear; she had stage 1 breast cancer.

Her doctor also told her she could all get her care at Mercyhealth, and then referred her to Mercyhealth surgeon, Dr. B. K. Wasiljew. “I went home and cried all night, thinking I was going to die. When I met with Dr. Wasiljew that same week, he reassured me I wasn’t going to die and told me to go home and buy Christmas presents and put up my tree. I felt so much better after meeting with him.”

Dr. Wasiljew scheduled her tumor removal surgery for mid-December. “My entire experience was great. Dr. Wasiljew said everything would be fine and I trusted him. On the day of surgery, the anesthesiologist walked by me a few times, then stopped and looked at my chart. He said, ‘I thought I was looking for a 42 year old.’ That made me smile right before going in for surgery,” Druanne recalled. She was pleased with her surgery results.

Druanne wanted to cover all her treatment options, so she met with Mercyhealth medical oncologist, Dr. Emily Robinson, to see if chemotherapy should be her follow-up treatment. Testing showed that chemotherapy wasn’t her best option.

Next, Druanne met with a Mercyhealth radiation oncologist. Together, they determined radiation therapy was her next best step. Druanne said, “I told him I wanted to know everything about my treatment plan. He explained the radiation process thoroughly and I was thrilled with the experience.”

Overall, Druanne thought the entire staff at the Mercyhealth Cancer was great and some are now her Facebook friends.

“I was really impressed with my care at Mercyhealth and my overall experience was amazing. I felt very confident in my care—it was truly big-city care with a small-town feel. Mercyhealth turned a frightening experience into a great one with their care from day one.”

Wayne Overby—breast cancer survivor

Wayne Overby thought he had already paid his “cancer dues.” The 64-year-old Beloit man was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, and never had any problems after doctors removed his prostate gland. “I thought to myself, well, I’ve had cancer; now I’m done with it,” he says.

But cancer doesn’t play by the rules. In December 2010, Wayne found out he had male breast cancer, an incredibly rare disease. He sought treatment at the Mercyhealth Cancer Center, where he encountered thorough doctors, caring nurses and staff and a place where he felt safe. “The whole staff in the oncology department was so helpful, caring and concerned.”

According to Shahid Shekhani, MD, medical oncologist at Mercyhealth, about one percent of breast cancer cases occur in males. “Men need to be aware of the area behind their nipples,” he says. “There should be no hard nodule behind the nipple, which makes an abnormality easy to find.”

Dr. Shekhani also states that male breast cancer tends to be more aggressive than female breast cancer. But Wayne was fortunate; he caught his cancer early, so it was quite treatable.

After Wayne had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, the real battle began. Wayne underwent chemotherapy for six months, and then had radiation therapy. “The chemo took a little out of me, but the radiation was a snap,” says Wayne.

Since treatment, Wayne has been cancer-free. He attributes his success to three factors: the care he received at Mercyhealth, his family’s support, and his good attitude. “I had wonderful doctors and staff at Mercyhealth,” he says. “My three grown children were also very supportive; my son would wait for hours in the car during my chemotherapy sessions.

“Not once did I doubt I was going to get through this experience,” he adds. “I considered myself very lucky to be treated by such a good staff.”

Suzanne Moore — breast cancer survivor

During her annual physical, Suzanne asked her doctor to look at a cyst on her breast. Her doctor ordered a mammogram, which came back negative, and an ultrasound that came back inconclusive.

Still concerned, Suzanne visited a surgeon. Together, they chose to do a biopsy, which showed she had stage 1 breast cancer.

Her surgeon’s original plan was to remove the tumor (lumpectomy), but doctors found another lump in the same breast, so they decided to remove her breast (mastectomy). “It was a biggest blow to find out there were two tumors and I was going to lose my breast,” said Suzanne.

She felt tired and depressed. “I work in the medical field and am always the caregiver, so it was hard for me to be the one needing care. I had my good days and not so good days.

“On my way to treatment, I would cry, and then would start to sing and whistle, ‘I’m off to see the wizard!’” She said the Wizard of Oz did magical things, and singing lifted her spirits.

Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics patient, but her UW doctor referred her to the Mercyhealth Cancer Center for radiation therapy. “My doctor said she knew Mercyhealth’s radiation oncologist, and that he and his team were great. I got it approved by my insurance and was so glad to get my treatment in Janesville.”

About halfway through radiation therapy, she was tired and wanted to quit. “I asked my doctor why I had to keep going. He said he wanted me to live longer. That did it. I finished my 28 treatments.

“He also told me part of my tiredness was because I was a busy person, which was true. I was busy in the yard, busy painting, busy doing chores around the house. It was the only way I could get through my ordeal. Otherwise, I would be so sad.”

She couldn’t believe the outpouring of support after her diagnosis. She made a hope chest and put all the cards and gifts she received throughout her journey in it. Her dog Tanner got very spoiled while she was at home.

“This was my first experience with Mercyhealth, and I can’t say enough about the radiation oncology team.”

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