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‘We can do this together’ |  Health beat

‘We can do this together’ | Health beat

  • October 22, 2021

On Stacie Garcia-Moon’s first chemotherapy day last June, she sat in her IV chair and wept through a box of Kleenex.

As one of the youngest patients at the infusion clinic that morning, Garcia-Moon, a 43-year-old mother of three from Lowell, Michigan, couldn’t shake her overwhelming fear and grief.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is real,'” she said. “‘I’m so weak.'”

When they passed the series of infusion stations inside the Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer PavilionLined up on the windows overlooking downtown Grand Rapids, Garcia-Moon couldn’t fail to see the contrast: three resilient women receiving chemo fluids with determination.

She wanted to be like her.

“I see these strong women looking out the window, doing their chemo like it was nothing, wearing their headscarves confidently … and I remember saying to my nurse Michelle, ‘That’s what I want to be. I want to be the woman over there, ‘”said Garcia-moon.

“And Michelle said, ‘Stacie, you were there too. And you will be that person. Allow yourself this time. Feel sad, feel all these feelings. ‘”

With an army of support behind him, Garcia-moon set out through the dark valley.

And while she has not yet reached the end of her breast cancer journey, she now counts herself to this sorority of strong women.

“We call ourselves pink sisters,” she said.

“They say, ‘Come on, pink sister, you can do it.’ And I say, ‘I like that! Yes, we are sisters, pink sisters. Good.’

“That is the support. That’s what I feed on. “

‘A whirlwind’

Garcia-Moon has her family doctor Natasha DeHaan, NPto thank them for their timely diagnosis.

That got her doing a mammogram when she played with skipping a year.

The screening is preventative, available, and covered by insurance, DeHaan reminded her. Why wouldn’t you do it?

So Garcia-Moon planned her showing.

When it showed an abnormality, she went for a follow-up mammogram. Then the radiologist ordered an ultrasound on the same day.

The right breast showed a lump. After two biopsies, she learned that she had invasive cancer.

She took the news hard. Her thoughts jumped into the future of her children.

“All I always thought was, ‘I’m going to die,’ you know? ‘I’m going to die,’ ”she said.

The devastating call came while Garcia-moon, a registered nurse, was working in the office Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center. She has lived there for the past 16 years and worked in the cardiac catheterization laboratory.

Unable to process the message herself, she found her supervisor who helped her go over things before sending her home to be with her husband, Tim.

The next day, Garcia-Moon received a second call, from Tracy Waldherr, RN, a Spectrum Health breast cancer nurse navigator Multi-specialties team.

From that first conversation on, Waldherr became Garcia-Moon’s point of contact, her guide in dealing with the questions, emotions, and logistics associated with her cancer treatment.

“We talked about the fact that this cancer doesn’t define you,” said Waldherr. “It’s a piece of her life … but it doesn’t define who she is.”

Waldherr assured her that this diagnosis was not a death sentence.

“I said, ‘Stacie, I don’t think you’re dying. I see you alive And we can do that together, ‘”she said.

Within 24 hours of that call, Garcia-Moon had an extensive nursing team – a nurse, cancer surgeon, plastic surgeon, oncologist, genetic counselor, and social worker.

Just a few days later, she was sitting in her cancer surgeon’s office discussing the procedure and making an appointment.

“Ten days. A whirlwind,” she said. “A week and a half from ‘Let’s just take some pictures’ to ‘You have cancer and now we need to get rid of it.’ That was a terrible time for me. “

But if Garcia-moon has a superpower, it’s her serene spirit.

“She is just a bright light, and she accepted her diagnosis with decency,” said Waldherr. “Not without fear or sadness, but with grace.”

She gathered her loved ones around her and refused to go alone.

“A wonderful feeling”

Garcia-Moon’s operation – a bilateral one Mastectomy with simultaneous Breast reconstruction– was set for April 12th.

Working across the table Jayne Paulson, MD, performed the mastectomy while Matthew Martin, MD, carried out the first phase of reconstruction.

“I had a lot of people who worked for me, pushed for me, stood up for me, and were there for me,” said Garcia-moon. “It was a wonderful feeling to have this support.”

When the postoperative pathology report came back, Garcia-Moon’s team advised her to undergo chemotherapy. The five-month course would begin in June.

Now she was facing a new emotional hurdle: the prospect of hair loss.

“I had beautiful hair – thick, curly locks, and that was kind of my thing,” said Garcia-moon. “I’m short, but my hair was kind of my identity. … When it was gone, it was really hard. “

Waldherr assured her that “it is okay to mourn your hair” and referred her in advance to a local salon’s Beautiful You program aimed at women with cancer.

A stylist there helped donate her locks after a pre-chemo haircut.

A more dramatic change came just before her first round of chemo: a surprising buzzcut.

On a Saturday, she took a few family members out to lunch. After lunch, she called adults and children together and invited them to a “shaving party” outside. She explained what that meant and encouraged the children to ask questions.

“They knew I had cancer, but they weren’t sure what the side effects could be,” she said.

“I told them, ‘I think it will be a lot easier for me when I see small things (instead of long strands of hair) coming out.’

But I also said, ‘You know, this is a great teaching moment for you little kids. This is how you support someone. … When you hold my hand or stand for me … that’s called support, and that’s what I need most. ‘”

The group accepted their message and cheered them on. Her husband, mother, sister, brother, and eldest daughter all helped, wiping their heads with clippers.

Through laughter and tears, Garcia-Moon got what she was looking for: a circle of support and a feeling of freedom of choice about her impending hair loss.

“It’s like taking control of something that you don’t have much control over,” she said.

“Incredibly grateful”

According to Garcia-Moon, the treatment has gone exceptionally well so far Amy VanderWoude, MD, an oncologist with the West Michigan Cancer and Hematology Centers and a member of Spectrum Health’s breast cancer multi-specialty team.

Garcia-Moon is fortunate to have had minimal side effects, said Dr. VanderWoude. On the other hand, this is becoming more and more common in chemotherapy patients.

“A lot of people imagine being really sick and vomiting a lot, and that’s no longer the norm for patients because we have a lot of supportive drugs,” she said.

“You might feel a little queasy and tired, but you are not in bed all the time.”

After Garcia-Moon completed chemotherapy in October, she faces radiation therapy in November and December.

It starts in the new year antihormonal therapy in tablet form – part of their treatment because of their tumor type.

And six months later, she will have her final reconstructive operation.

The road is long, but Garcia-Moon – remarkable, implausible – is grateful for what she’s been through this year.

“I learned so many lessons on this trip that I would not have learned otherwise, and I am so incredibly grateful – despite the diagnosis and what I have been through.”

Lessons about fellowship. About care. About perseverance.

“I saw God’s love in everyone who offered texts, meals, or a visit – it was just amazing,” she said.

“There was a week when about eight of my colleagues, the boys, shaved their heads when they knew I was going to lose my hair. And the following week three girls did. … They told me: ‘You are not your hair; You are much deeper than your hair … and we love you no matter what. ‘”

Even strangers have gathered. A quilting group gave her a prayer blanket, and Lowell High School honored her at their annual Pink Arrow soccer game for cancer awareness.

“There are just no words to be the recipient of such love,” she said.

Garcia-moon realizes that not all of her pink sisters are in the same situation. Some experience more toxicity in response to their chemotherapy. Others lack a solid support network.

Knowing this, she wants to get to the other side of this disease faster so that she can spread love and learning.

“As a nurse, I always want to help a patient,” she says. “If I can be an inspiration, a counselor … that’s what I want. I want people not to be afraid even though I was. “

As a patient who is also a healthcare provider, Garcia-Moon has found a significant silver lining, said Dr. VanderWoude.

“It is difficult for healthcare professionals to be on the other side of the receiving end of the healthcare system, but they still learn so much and can be much better at their own jobs,” she said.

“I’m sure she will be for many of the patients she meets.”

Thank You For Reading!


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