Six months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, a lumpectomy, a double-mastectomy with reconstruction and 19 years of surviving later, Mary helps other patients with breast cancer, like Rita, so they do not have to walk their journey alone.
Mary encouraged Rita with her own story of survival. Rita talked to her oncologist, family and close friends and decided to undergo chemotherapy. Mary and Rita also started meeting with each other on a monthly basis.
“She was right there, saying, ‘Ask questions. You are your best advocate. If something doesn’t sound right, you ask. If something doesn’t feel right, you ask. It’s okay if this one isn’t working out. You go get another. This is you,’” said Rita.
Mary helped Rita develop a sense of normalcy. When Rita experienced memory lapses after starting chemotherapy, Mary reassured her it was temporary. When Rita became unable to work due to the cancer treatments, Mary encouraged her to file for disability and helped her find financial resources. Mary also helped Rita understand what was happening with her treatment process.
“She’s been great, just to have someone who has been there, done that,” said Rita.
What was more, Mary reassured Rita that is was okay for her to ask for help and to acknowledge her feelings of sadness, confusion or anger.
“You can watch people go through cancer,” said Rita. “You can assist people who go through cancer. You can see the harshness that goes with it. But until you go through it yourself, you are clueless.”
Since last October, Rita’s journey has included two rounds of chemotherapy, a double-mastectomy with reconstruction and radiation. Mary has been with her each step of the way. Short-term Rita hopes for one good year to counter her one bad year fighting cancer. After that, she plans to hope for another year. Long-term Rita hopes for 16 years so she can see her twin grandsons graduate high school. Her message to others who are fighting breast cancer is to not be afraid and to reach out.
“You’re not alone. You’re absolutely not alone, and you’re going to feel alone. There’s going to be days where you can have a million people in the same room, and you’re going to feel alone because they’re not going to understand that you’re so tired,” said Rita. “It was hard to ask for help, but you learn it’s okay to do that. Once you take that barrier down and are comfortable asking for help, you’ll be amazed at how many people are open and receptive to be with you.”
People in the Brookings region who are diagnosed with breast cancer may call Breast Cancer Patient Champion Mary Oien Reed at (515) 231-4432. She is available to listen, encourage and educate as well as help patients and their families bridge the medical, emotional and personal challenges of breast cancer.
Individuals who want to support local cancer patients may purchase Tough Enough to Wear Pink t-shirts at the Swiftel Center box office, SDSU Wellness Center, Avera Medical Group or Brookings Health System. Shirts are $12 for adult S-XL, $14 for 2XL and 3XL. Youth sizes S-L are also available. Please call the Swiftel Center with any questions at (605) 692-7539.
One-hundred percent of proceeds from the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign stay local and go to Brookings Health System Foundation to support patient services like the Breast Cancer Patient Champion. For more information, please contact the Foundation at (605) 696-8855 or email@example.com.
About Brookings Health System
Brookings Health System, located in Brookings, South Dakota, includes a 49-bed hospital, the 79-bed The Neighborhoods at Brookview nursing home, Brookhaven Estates senior living apartments, Yorkshire Eye Clinic, and medical clinics in Arlington, White and Volga, South Dakota. It is a non-profit, city-owned facility that offers the community a full range of inpatient, outpatient, surgical and extended care services. The emergency room is staffed 24 hours a day and provides around the clock patient needs ranging from minor injuries to life threatening crises. For more information about the services offered at Brookings Health System, please call (605) 696-9000 or visit us on the Web at brookingshealth.org.