By Guest Writer - February 16, 2021
During my twelve years working at Moffitt Cancer Center in the Government Relations office and now as a Chief of Staff to the CEO, I have taken hundreds of phone calls from family, friends, elected officials and community leaders at their darkest hour seeking help after their cancer diagnosis. My heart aches each time and I always hope they are comforted knowing that we have the best possible care right here in our backyard. Unfortunately, in March of 2020 one of these phone calls hit closer to home than ever.
During an annual mammogram at a local health care facility, my mother was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. She was scared, confused and already feeling incredibly helpless. Even with my limited medical knowledge, I knew this was the rarest and most aggressive type of the disease. The doctor gave her grim chances even with an incredibly aggressive treatment plan.
I found myself making one of those calls to Moffitt’s Physician-in-Chief, Dr. Doug Letson, this time to help my own mother. As always, Letson’s compassion was second to none and she began treatment at Moffitt.
Our fears were calmed when Moffitt gave her hope and a thorough treatment plan. Cancer treatment is never easy. It’s a full-time job for the patient and their caregivers, further complicated by a pandemic. My mom had two surgeries, several rounds of chemotherapy and more than a month of radiation. Luckily, she also had genetic testing which ruled out that the cancer was heredity. That peace of mind was priceless to our entire family and we will always be grateful for this service. It was a bizarre feeling not being able to sit with her during chemo and having to call into her appointments. Having worked at Moffitt for over a decade, it was the one time I couldn’t be at my own place of work when I was needed most.
One of the hardest times came after just two chemo sessions when her hair began to fall out and I was asked to shave it that evening. We were all dreading it, and honestly if it wasn’t in the middle of a pandemic, I would have taken her to my hair stylist. My mom was the bravest woman I have ever seen that day. As her thick hair fell all over the pool deck, she didn’t cry or feel sorry for herself. She knew it was a step in a journey to be with her family as long as possible.
That was also the day I knew we had to tell our six-year-old daughter, Logan, that her “Mae” was very sick and prepare her to see my mom without hair. I expected lots of questions and sadness, instead she jumped up from the kitchen table and came back with two princess wigs (Anna and Jasmine) that she wanted to take to Mae. It was the first moment I was able to breathe easy about the situation.
My mom’s cancer diagnosis helped Logan understand more about what I do every day. She always knew that my job was to “help sick people,” but she has now seen firsthand my mom get stronger every day. I hope she’s proud of me and realizes my long hours and nights away are worth it, not only for our loved ones, but for everyone else’s.
Right before Christmas, I was finally able to attend one of my mom’s radiation appointments. Luckily, it was her last one. She rang the bell in front of a room full of cheering patients – giving them all hope and making her daughter proud. She told me, “without Moffitt, I can’t imagine the things I would have missed, Christmases, watching Logan grow up, boat rides. Moffitt truly saved my life. I am thankful for every single person who works here, I can’t imagine trusting my life to anyone else.”
The article was written by Merritt Martin, chief of staff to the Moffitt CEO