Breast cancer survivor glad to be back at work at hospital

Lisa-Mitchell-personality Lisa-Mitchell

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Mitchell, a Milaca native now living in Princeton, thanks her January back surgery for indirectly leading to getting her breast cancer diagnosis as early as she did.
She has also developed a strong belief in being an advocate to look out for one’s health when it comes to seeking answers to medical concerns.
Taking time off from her job as a nurse in the Fairview Northland emergency department in Princeton to recuperate from the Jan. 2 surgery to correct four years of severe back pain allowed her to step back and think about her new health concern, Mitchell said.
Mitchell, 48, said she would have been too distracted by work to investigate the itching sensation that she noticed in her right breast one morning that month if she had still been on the job in February. She noticed it when she was putting on her shirt, and when checking it out, detected a lump there that was not moving. That was not a good sign, because if it was just a benign cyst, the lump would have been moving, she said.
But she also knew she had a mammogram scheduled two months later and thought perhaps she could just wait until then to check out the lump. It also crossed her mind, she said, that maybe “she was just going crazy” to worry about the lump. But as the days went on at home, she began feeling stressed about the lump, she said.
Finally, she took action and decided to see Dr. Ross Chambers at Fairview Northland’s Milaca clinic. Both Chambers and his nurse Kayla were “wonderful,” Mitchell said.
Chambers ordered a mammogram and ultrasound for March 5. The mammogram was negative but the ultrasound pointed to possible cancer, Mitchell said.
“We don’t know what it is, but it is not a cyst, and we’d like to take a biopsy of it today,” Mitchell remembers hearing Chambers saying.
Mitchell’s mother Bonnie Meyer was with her at the clinic at that moment and gave emotional support, said Mitchell, adding: “Thank God for moms. I just cried. I just knew (it was cancer).”
Mitchell said it was her mother who had inspired Mitchell to go into nursing. Mitchell explained that her mother is a nurse and that Mitchell, as a child, would watch her mother go to work in her white uniform and admired what she did in her job.
“She was a huge influence on me,” Mitchell said.
The day after the biopsy was taken, Chambers called Mitchell to say Mitchell had a “very low grade of cancer.” Mitchell remembers him also saying, “We will take care of this,” and “You can do this.”
“I immediately broke down,” Mitchell said. “As an ER nurse and having been next to patients and telling them they had cancer, I never thought I would have cancer.
“I was there when they got the news and I felt so badly for them. But to get the news myself, I don’t know how they would feel.
“I went into the worst place,” thinking, “I have my kids. I am going to die,” Mitchell said.
After she called family members with the news “they just showered me with love and hugs and I felt so much better with all that support,” she said. “And my kids, they were tearful. I tried not to show too much emotion in front of the children.” She and her husband Scott have three children – Marisa, 20, Jake, 19, and Reed, 15.
Mitchell said she also found invaluable help from Sara Larsen, a friend since high school and a fellow ER nurse at Fairview Northland. Mitchell said she called Larsen at  6:30 p.m. on March 5 when Larsen was working the night shift.
“It was a crazy, busy night (there) but she called me right back and said, ‘Lisa, I’ll take care of everything.’”
Mitchell said Larsen set up an appointment for Mitchell with a cancer surgeon in St. Cloud and worked on a schedule for Mitchell to get radiation treatment at the Coborn Cancer Center at St. Cloud Hospital. Mitchell said Larsen arranged all that plus arranged the insurance part, all during that night shift.
“It took that off my shoulders,” Mitchell said. “I was extremely grateful.”
Mitchell saw her surgeon on March 11 and had the surgery seven days later. She said the doctor told her he removed all of the tumor and that the nearby node checked negative for cancer.
Mitchell’s next step was 33 days of radiation treatments ending June 25. Now she will be on a breast cancer drug for five years called Tamoxifen.
She recalled the “wonderful driver friends,” some she hadn’t seen in a long time, taking her to some of the treatments.
Then came a follow-up mammogram and the results were “fine,” she said. Mitchell was also given a blood test to see if she had genetics that can lead to breast cancer and the test turned out negative, she said.
Mitchell said all the people who gave her support during her cancer experience are “angels on earth.”
“They kept me so positive. They made me want to do my best,” Mitchell said.
Her support included phone calls and messages on Facebook. She said one friend sent her a card every week.
“I have met people on Facebook (now) who I don’t know who said they are a cancer survivor,” Mitchell continued. “Now they are my friends. My ER family, my work family. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me; gave me a basket (of gifts), money, gift cards.”
Mitchell also recalled a memorable exchange of text messages with son Reed during the cancer experience. It was the day he was texting her asking if she had to get chemotherapy. When she texted him that she didn’t have to get chemotherapy, Reed texted back, “OK, can you get me something to eat?”
“He didn’t want to lose me as an active mom,” she said.
She recalled daughter Marisa just “hanging out with her,” and going with Mitchell to a coffee shop even though Marisa hates coffee.
She also called it a “blessing in disguise” that son Jacob hadn’t yet started college when she needed to get to cancer-related appointments because he became her main driver.
Mitchell had one more surgery two days after her radiation treatments ended. That was a hysterectomy, a significant event for many women.
Mitchell returned to her workplace about three weeks ago, starting out on a limited schedule.
“I love it,” she said. “I am glad to be back.”
Mitchell described her nursing job as demanding emotionally and physically and said it satisfies some needs.
“As much as the patient needs me, I need my patients,” said Mitchell, who is known for her bubbly way and for preferring hugs over handshakes.
“Just hearing their stories and what they have gone through just makes me appreciate them more,” she said of her patients. “It’s important to be nice to people because you don’t know what they’ve gone through.”
Mitchell now savors what she learned while going to the Coborn Cancer Center. The staff there was so welcoming every single day and it became “my social life going to doctors,” she said.
She is also grateful, explaining: “I’ve been blessed. I’ve seen so many at the cancer center so sick.
“God had a plan for me. Maybe if I hadn’t had back surgery, I wouldn’t have found it (the cancer in time). I hope going through this makes me a better person, a better nurse.”
Mitchell is not just thankful for how her cancer turned out. She offers advice to women about trying to prevent breast cancer.
“Be your own patient advocate,” Mitchell said. “Speak up (if you think something needs to be checked out).”
Mitchell recommends that women get a mammogram annually and not be afraid to call a doctor if they have medical questions.
Mitchell then added one more piece of advice: “Live, laugh and love.”