All this month – National Cancer Survivor Month – we are sharing stories from our own cancer survivors. Each cancer journey is unique. At Luminis Health, we want to shine a light on these journeys from the perspective of our own patients. That’s why we’ve started this new series – bringing hope and comfort to those who have been touched by cancer.
Jeannie Barzanti’s story
I am a registered nurse and started working at Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center (LHAAMC) about 18 months ago, as a clinical supervisor in surgery. The organization’s reputation in health care proceeds them, and I had very intentionally wanted to be a part of it.
Everything was going great, but as life would have it, on September 17, 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer on a routine mammogram. Then came the ultrasound, and the biopsy, which showed invasive ductal carcinoma. My sister is a 10-year survivor of breast cancer, so I knew something about what the process could be like, and I also knew that it was very possible to survive it. Still, nothing prepares you to hear that you have cancer—it’s terrifying. My eldest daughter had just gotten married, my younger daughter was almost through graduate school, and there was so much going through my mind, about the future and all the unknowns. It was extremely hard to tell my daughters and my husband that I had cancer.
But the treatment at Luminis Health is first rate—as an employee I knew that, but I experienced it in a different way as a patient. My case went to the Tumor Board, a multidisciplinary team of nurses, doctors, radiologists, pathologists, genetics counselors, social workers, and nutritionists who review each patient’s diagnosis and design a game plan. They all agreed that I would have chemotherapy first, then surgery, then radiation.
Along the way, I had an amazing support system outside the hospital which included my daughters, my husband, my sister and friends in the community. But the support inside the hospital was just as important. I first met with my doctor, Dr. Lorraine Tafra, at the Breast Center to outline my treatment. I then met with Nurse Navigator Alyson Figlioli, who made appointments for me, provided a detailed plan with my specific diagnosis, made sure I saw all the right clinical staff including my medical oncologist, Dr. Young Lee, and radiation oncologist, Dr. Mary Young. Alyson ensured I completed all of the required testing. She really held my hand and led me through the process. She calmed my fears and helped me understand the overwhelming process I was about to undertake. All of the staff made me feel so supported. I found it very comforting to be in my “own house” during this time, to work at the same place where I received treatment.
Though I’d take several days off after chemotherapy, I kept working throughout my treatment. I needed a total of six rounds, three weeks apart. I found that toward the end it gets harder to bounce back, and you need more support.
In LHAAMC’s infusion center waiting room, there is a bell hanging on the wall to celebrate patients completing chemo. When I finished my last dose of chemo, my husband and daughter joined me for this celebratory “ringing of the bell.” But before I rang this bell, the infusion center staff sang a “no more chemo” song. Such a simple celebration meant the world to me! Tears were streaming down my face as I realized that the worse part was over, and I was going to be OK.
After chemo, I had surgery and then radiation, and my incredible care continued. Dr. Tafra and the operating room (OR) staff were amazing and listened to all of my fears. Since I work in the OR, I knew I was in great hands. The radiation staff, which included Dr. Mary Young and technicians Vicki, Leah, and Michelle, were also exceptional. They treated me like I was the only patient they had for the day. They were so very compassionate and efficient.
I finished my radiation treatments in the middle of April 2021 and, today, I’m officially cancer-free. When I was first diagnosed, I had told my husband that I didn’t want breast cancer stuff—no pink survivor sweatshirts or ribbons. But then I got knee-deep in chemo, and I started feeling differently. I realized we are all warriors. And the staff at Luminis Health were right there by my side, fighting with me the whole way.