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Learning Lessons from Cancer: 2014 Cancer Survivors Day

Original post made by D. Erickson on May 19, 2014

Mindi Cummins wasn't even 40. She had never had a mammogram. Cancer didn't run in her large family. So, when her nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente's Walnut Creek Medical Center suggested a mammogram in late October of 2010 to "just check out" a lump she felt during an annual exam, the petite and vibrant Mindi wasn't overly worried.

Even when the mammogram warranted further investigation, Mindi knew she could handle whatever lay before her.

"They sent me to the Breast Center in Martinez for an ultrasound and it was amazing," she remembers. "It was like a spa, with soft robes, tea, natural light and cozy locker rooms. It was lovely. It made a potentially scary visit into something less intimidating."

And when that ultrasound warranted a same-day biopsy, she took it all in stride. "Everyone was so kind. The kindness is what I remember most. There was soft music playing and blankets and again that feeling that this was almost enjoyable if it wasn't for the fact I was having a breast biopsy."

It was a few days before Halloween – just two weeks after that initial exam – when Mindi received a call from her nurse practitioner, the one who initially felt a lump. "She said it was cancer. She was very supportive and let me know that a Breast Care Coordinator would be calling me about next steps."

That was when Mindi made a decision. "I shed some tears and bought a notebook, since I knew I needed to get organized and be practical…you never realize how fast the hamster wheel is spinning until you get knocked off. Your priorities shift. It was now all about family, counting blessings, and having gratitude for the people in my life."

Soon, Mindi was meeting with Breast Care Coordinators and sitting with a large group of experts as they planned a personal treatment plan for Mindi. She met with breast imaging radiologists, breast surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and nurses. "I walked in with my team: my mom, dad, husband and friend. I put a picture of my then 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter on the table and told them, 'I have future grandkids to meet someday, so give me your A Team.' And Kaiser Permanente delivered on that and more."

"Mindi has a tremendous spirit," said Dr. Russin, chief of medical oncology/hematology for Kaiser Permanente's Diablo Service Area. "Each of our patients receives advanced personalized care, unique to their circumstances. Our compassionate patient-centered approach is key and we are proud that Mindi is doing so well."

Mindi opted for an aggressive approach to treat her breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy with nearly 8 months of chemotherapy and radiation. "I never wanted to know the odds," she says. "I know people who have survived cancer and thought, 'Why not me?' so I focused on being optimistic."

The night before her double mastectomy, Mindi donned her slinkiest, most cleavage revealing dress, and gathered with her girlfriends for a night on the town. "We called it 'A Toast to the Ta Ta's.' It was a great night to see everyone as this new chapter unfolded. I have no regrets in having a double mastectomy. I did what was right for me and chose what was important to me. Breasts are just tissue. They are not who I am."

She walked from her Walnut Creek home to her medical appointments, taking in the world around her. "My body works, so I figured I should use it," Mindi recalls. "That first walk to chemo was hard. It felt like a walk to the unknown. Like a meeting with the Grim Reaper was ahead. But then I knew I had to change my thoughts. This medicine would save my life, not take it. That first day of chemo, I met Barbara, who was my nurse. She handed me a pin that said, 'Cancer Sucks' and I wore it every day on my purse and only recently did I gift it to another who is fighting cancer."

"My friends, family and extended community were also key," says Mindi. "Whether it was organizing play dates for the kids or friends coming by with meals, I felt like I was in a constant virtual group hug."

Looking back now, Mindi easily names those in her care team who made a difference and went above and beyond. "Diane and Michaele, the Breast Care Coordinators, and Denise, the nurse practitioner in oncology, they talked to me easily for over an hour those early days helping me understand the road that lay before me. Dr. Nguyen, who performed my lumpectomy and double mastectomy; Barbara, Ann, Barbie and all the chemotherapy nurses who made my visits so comfortable; Dr. Smith who is a true artist when it comes to reconstruction; Dr. Russin, who made me feel buoyed and supported at each turn. Even the phlebotomists became friends and knew me by name. I could contact almost everyone, at any time of day -- which believe me I did -- and never was I made to feel like a bother. They all truly cared."

Now Mindi is focusing on the future. "I am determined to be well," she says confidently with a smile. "I don't want to just survive. I want to live, and cherish every day. That is the gift that cancer gave me. To stay in balance and appreciate every moment."

2014 Cancer Survivors Day
Hear from additional cancer survivors on Saturday May 31st from 11am-2pm at Kaiser Permanente's Walnut Creek Medical Center.

2014 Cancer Survivors Day will feature guest lectures, raffles, lunch, educational booths and activities for kids.

Reserve your space by calling 925-295-6211 or email DiabloKP@kp.org with your name and number in your party. No need to be a Kaiser Permanente member to participate.

Event is open to all.

For more information visit kp.org/diablo

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