Brenda Norberg’s cancer care was complicated . . . by pandemic.
Brenda got a phone call after her annual mammogram: The 3D mammogram detected a suspicious area that needed a closer look. A second mammogram, an ultrasound, and a biopsy diagnosed cancer in one breast.
“My sister had breast cancer 15 years ago, so I understood what was coming in the process,” Brenda says.
Except this was March 2020, and the pandemic was just starting to shut down non-essential surgeries.
Brenda was scheduled for a double mastectomy at Northfield Hospital, and reconstructive surgery. Brenda, her husband Dave and daughter Rachel had met with surgeon Katya Ericson, MD to discuss her options: lumpectomy with 5 weeks of radiation, single mastectomy or double mastectomy with or without reconstruction. “I felt completely supported by Dr. Ericson in making the choice that was best for me,” Brenda says. “One big reason I chose mastectomy was that it wouldn’t require radiation.”
Removing the cancerous breast was essential surgery; removing the second breast, and reconstruction, were not. Brenda had surgery on March 31, 2020 to remove her breast.
“My husband dropped me off and stayed in the parking lot” during her surgery, Brenda recalls. “The nurses put hearts on the window of my hospital room so my husband and family could tell which room was mine” as they stood outside to wave to Brenda. “It was an unfortunate time, but the whole world was dealing with it,” she says.
Mary Myos, RN “stayed with me the whole time to support me because my family couldn’t be there,” Brenda adds. That support was so important to us.”
When Brenda went home, “Mary asked if she could come to my house to change the dressing and show my husband how to care for the drainage tube. She knew how unsettling it can be to see the surgical site, and the breast missing. I don’t think in a large hospital I’d get that kind of care.”
In September 2020, Brenda was able to have her second breast removed, and the first phase of reconstructive surgery. She had no second thoughts about following her plan. Her husband was able to be with her after that surgery.
“Everyone went above and beyond to make us both feel heard, and listen to any of our concerns,” Brenda recalls. “I know it was a hard time for medical staff to do this, and they really stepped up. They went above and beyond their normal routines to give me the best care they could.”
“Right here in Northfield is all the care that you need,” Brenda says. “Women I talk with who’ve gone through chemo and radiation here all say the same thing: It’s really personal attention. You’re not just a number; you are treated as a person. I felt very fortunate that I could just get the care I needed right here, and I didn’t have to leave the community.”
The breast care nurse navigator is key to that personal attention: The navigator schedules (and attends) appointments, provides education for patients and families, and “is with you every step,” Brenda says.
The Breast Cancer Support Group helps, too: “Everyone’s journey is different depending on their type of cancer and treatment, but the emotional part is the same for everyone – the questions and fears, where your mind takes you. It helps to hear that this is normal. And for women with a new diagnosis, it helps to hear from women further along in their treatment to know that it can be better in the future.”
Brenda’s advice for women with a new diagnosis: “When you’re told you have cancer, it’s normal for your brain to go down the road of the things that can happen, to prepare yourself for what might happen. But don’t stay down the road.
“Feel the feelings that you have, don’t push them aside . . . but then persevere ahead.
“We have more strength in us than we think we do.”