LANSING, Mich. — Haslett resident Jaimie Hutchison's life took a dizzying plunge into uncertainty last year when she received the life-altering news: she had joined the ranks of millions of brave women across the nation, who fight a battle with breast cancer.
“Luckily, it's a treatable form of breast cancer that does respond to medication," says Hutchinson. "So, I had chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, and I am now cancer free.”
Jaimie’s good news motivated her to reflect on her turbulent past year. She says cancer tested her in many ways both physically and mentally.
“I had a rough morning with my teenager. And I was feeling like I wasn't myself. I was feeling rotten from the medication. And I came in and I talked to Dr. Isaac first and I said, "I'm failing as a parent; my life is falling apart. I don't know if I can do this." And he said, "It's okay. Everyone falls apart during cancer treatment. It affects the whole family,' and I thought "okay, it's not just me, he really normalized it."
The experience inspired Jaimie to write an essay highlighting some of the emotions she went through and helped her express thanks to the doctors and nurses for the care she received at McLaren Greater Lansing’s Karmanos Cancer Center.
“I wrote a story about the bond between a chemo nurse and a cancer patient, says Hutchinson. "As we said goodbye after completing my treatment. It reminds me of the transformational power of compassion, care, medicine, and hope. Sue is an extraordinary chemo nurse at the Karmanos Cancer Center in Lansing. Sue was there for the early difficult days. She was strong and knowledgeable and became my rock. guiding me through tumultuous waves of chemotherapy and offering a comforting presence during my darkest hours. On one of my darkest days, I sobbed for about three hours straight during my infusion. It was a tipping point for me where when my stress just overwhelmed me.”
Dr. Daniel Isaac was Jaimie’s oncologist.
“Every patient goes through this kind of long journey waiting to start chemo," says Isaac. "Then going through chemotherapy and you get to know them so well during that process and not only just their toxicities of chemotherapy but how their kids are doing How's work going. What kind of stressors are they having in their life, what else happened outside of chemotherapy that's causing stress in their life.”
Sue Oliver was Jaimie's nurse.
"I spend you know, a good portion of my life here with these people and every nurse that works here, and every doctor that works here is just over the top caring and compassionate," says Oliver. "You know, they just treat people with respect and dignity, and they just care about people.”
“I tell everyone Dr. Isaacs, the most responsive health care provider I've ever had someone who answers emails, returns, phone calls, and when you're having all these side effects, you don't know what's happening. It's so important. It helps you maintain your mental health when everything is really scary, so I would just thank them all for doing hard work and being an unsung hero working behind the scenes for so many people.”
We agree and want to say thank you to the doctors and nurses at McLaren Karmanos Cancer Center. You are this week’s Good Neighbors.
Below is Jaimie's essay she wrote in tribute to the doctors and nurses at McLaren Karmanos Cancer Center
Celebrating Life Beyond Cancer: Have a Good Life
Jaimie Hutchison | July 25, 2023
In the world of oncology, there are countless stories of bravery, resilience, and the unwavering human spirit. Today, I wanted to share a story that highlights the bond between a chemo nurse and a cancer patient, as we say goodbye after the completion of treatment. It reminds me of the transformative power of compassion, care, medicine, and hope.
At the forefront of this story is Sue, an extraordinary chemo nurse at the Karmanos Cancer Center in Lansing. For twenty years, she has dedicated her life to providing solace, support, and unwavering care to countless individuals embarking on their cancer treatment journeys. Sue’s compassion has touched the lives of many, including me.
I was in my late forties when I was diagnosed with HER 2+ breast cancer just over a year ago. The diagnosis swept through my life, upending everything in its path. Throughout the challenging journey that followed, Sue and all of the other infusion nurses stood by my side as a constant source of strength and optimism. Sue was there for the early, difficult days. She was strong and knowledgeable and became my rock, guiding me through the tumultuous waves of chemotherapy and offering a comforting presence during my darkest hours. On one of my darkest days, I sobbed for about three hours straight during my infusion. It was a tipping point for me where the stress just overwhelmed me.
Sue, Natalia, and the social worker, Heather, were very compassionate and reassuring. Heather popped into my station every forty-five minutes or so. She asked me if I wanted to talk, or if I needed water. She was attending to me in a calm, consistent, caring way. As a therapist myself, I would have done the same thing. I understood what she was doing and why. Although at the moment, I just needed to sob it out. I let them know that I just needed to cry for a bit.
Earlier that day, I met with my oncologist, Dr. Daniel Isaac. I told him I was failing as a parent and that everything was falling apart at home. He looked right at me and said calmly, “Jaimie, everyone’s life falls apart during cancer treatment. It affects the whole family.” There was nothing more powerful that I could have heard at that moment. He normalized the stress on my family and the immense stress of fighting for my life.
“Jaimie, everyone’s life falls apart during cancer treatment. It affects the whole family.” Dr. Daniel Isaac
That day cemented for me that I was in the best hands. These folks not only cared for me, but later that day when I asked, they shared that there were fifty patients scheduled in the infusion center that day. Forty-nine other people who were fighting for their lives. Forty-nine other people who may have had one of the hardest days of their lives, too. The thing is, medically, these nurses handle and administer very dangerous medications every day. They must be on high alert all of the time to make sure their patients do not have deadly reactions to these medications. They wear protective medical gear when handling chemotherapy medications. It is critical for the nurses to be serious, knowledgeable, always on, and compassionate. Truly, they are saving lives and equally important, they are on the front lines of mental health as well.
During my treatment, the chemo infusion center became a second home—a place where laughter, tears, and hope intertwined. Due to COVID, my supportive spouse was able to be in the hospital, but not with me during treatment. He would work from Karmanos Cancer Center on those days, so he was nearby. So, the nurses were my support. Sue, Natalia, Cynthia, and many others were there every step of the way, administering medications, offering kind words, and just chatting about life or looking at my family pictures. With each visit, I learned a little bit more about them and why they did this work. They all answered some variation of, “To help people.”
As my treatment journey neared its end, a mixture of emotions started to surface. These were new for me, but I knew they were not new for my nurses. The weight of uncertainty was overshadowed by a newfound sense of hope and anticipation for a life beyond cancer.
The day finally arrived when I completed my last infusion session. The air was thick with emotion, as joy and relief intertwined with a lingering sense of change. Sue approached me with a gentle smile when I thanked her with tear filled eyes for being here for me.
“Jaimie,” Sue said, her voice filled with that straight forward, no nonsense tone wrapped in compassion that I was used to, “Go out there and have a good life.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as we hugged, grateful beyond words for the nurse who had become my rock throughout this arduous journey. In that poignant moment, Sue’s words resonated deep within my heart, reminding me that I was not alone. I had triumphed over adversity and was ready to embark on a new chapter. Treatment worked for me.
Sue, like countless nurses in similar roles, continues to touch the lives of patients, providing comfort, support, and unwavering care during their darkest hours.
This story is a testament to the countless heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes, bringing light to the lives of those grappling with cancer. It is a reminder of the transformative power of compassion and the profound impact that a caring nurse, phlebotomist, front desk support, oncologist, or radiation technician can have on a patient’s journey.
I am so grateful that treatment worked for me. I am so grateful for my supportive employer, coworkers, family, friends, and care team. I am grateful for my breast friends: Trish, Sarah, and Aimee. Not everyone has the same support or outcome, and I will live my best life to honor Sue, and to honor all of the cancer patients who do not have the luxury of turning the page on their cancer journey. I will have a good life.
Thank you to all of the Karameros Cancer Center staff who cared for me in a compassionate, and knowledgeable way. Sue, Natalia, Laura, Cynthia, Heather, Ken, Dan, Neely and all of the others: You are the absolute best. Thank you for working in a trauma informed way. Thank you for the smiles and commitment to your patients. I see you all. You are my heroes.
For anyone reading this, please schedule and attend your routine health appointments. You are worth it. Now go out there and have a good life.
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