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Cheryl Joe and her sons

Cheryl Joe and her sons

Patient Story

When Provider Becomes the Patient

Cheryl Joe’s experience with Breast Cancer has given her an even deeper appreciation for the technology and staff she works with every day.

As a Radiology Technologist at Lakeridge Health, Cheryl Joe is quite familiar with how advancements in technology can make an incredible impact on a patient’s experience with cancer. In her role at the Hospital, she helps treat patients from all different departments, especially those having treatment for their cancer in the Interventional Radiology Suite.

When the mother of two had abnormal results from a pap smear in late 2021, her care team also booked her in for a mammogram as well. “I didn’t have any signs or symptoms that something was up,” recalls Cheryl. “Nothing tipped me off. One of my sisters had breast cancer and the other passed away four years ago. It was important for me to take this serious and keep on top of my health.”

After Cheryl’s mammogram in the Heather Griffith Breast Assessment Centre, she was told by her colleagues that the scans showed something wrong. She was booked in for a biopsy the very next week at the same location – Lakeridge Health’s one-stop-shop and comprehensive centre for breast health.

The results of the biopsy uncovered that Cheryl had cancer. At first, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early form of breast cancer inside a milk duct. Unfortunately, during surgery her care team discovered that her cancer had in fact spread and she required three surgeries in total. This was followed by five weeks of radiation treatment in the R.S. McLaughlin Durham Regional Cancer Centre.

“It felt very weird to be the patient. I’m not used to being on that side of things. I’m usually the caregiver – at work and at home with my boys,” says Cheryl. “This experience has made me even more thankful for my colleagues. I already know what it’s like to be caring for patients in these situation, I understand the delays and ins and out of planning care. But to see it from this angle – I am just so appreciative for everyone.”

Radiation treatment wasn’t easy for Cheryl. She experienced extensive radiation burns and was very uncomfortable due to missing skin on her breasts. While this is an unfortunate result of radiation, Cheryl knew many patients have experienced the same thing. She was able to reach out to the Wound Care Clinic and come up with a plan to treat and care for her burns.

By the summer, Cheryl had completed her treatments and began hormone therapy. She’ll have another mammogram in the new year and continue to meet with her surgeons and monitor her cancer.

With two boys at home, Owen, 10, and Elias, 5, Cheryl has her hands full. “I’m a single mom and being honest with my boys was important. I shared with them as much as I could. My oldest knows a little more and it has been hard for him. Every time he gets worried or cries I tell him - I’ve got this!” Cheryl also finds support from her mom and boyfriend who give her a shoulder to cry on and rational advice when she needs it. “I know I’m tough. And cancer isn’t a new concept to me, I’ve helped so many other people in these situations but as you can imagine when it’s personal, it’s so much harder. They help reign me back in and I’m grateful for their support on top of my amazing work family.”

While she took some time off during her treatment, Cheryl has been able to maintain working as a Charge Radiation Technologist where she supervises, organizes, and assigns work to her colleagues in Interventional Radiology. Cheryl colleagues were an important part of her support system.

“I had some setbacks in my care, like lots of people do. But I know the quality of care we have at this Hospital. I have trust in our system, the staff and physicians. They are truly the best at what they do! I couldn’t imagine driving into the city for care when we have such an incredible Cancer Centre in our community.”

“These days, because of the incredible technology we have at the Hospital, patients have so many more options,” says Cheryl. “When I first told my mom she thought I was going to die, but it was easy to reassure her. I have so much faith in what we are doing here at Lakeridge Health. On top of surgery, there are new drugs being trialed and so much ongoing research – cancer care has changed so much!”