By Marcella Sowell, Freeman Health System Breast Cancer Patient Navigator
“Heal me, Oh Lord, and I shall be healed!” Jeremiah 17:14 is one of Debby Rieck’s favorite scriptures. She was recovering from a bout with COVID-19 last June, and then in July she felt a nodule on her chest. She waited to get it checked – something she doesn’t recommend to other women. In August, a mammogram and an ultrasound confirmed her fears, and she was diagnosed with lobular invasive stage 2B metastasis in her breast and lymph nodes. Debby had breast cancer.
“Your whole life feels like it’s been completely tipped over and upside down,” Debby recalls.
She had to make some big decisions about surgery and says she prayed to the Lord for signs. She had a lumpectomy with lymph nodes removed in September and began chemotherapy. That’s when she met nurse Laura Walker at the Freeman Cornell-Beshore Cancer Institute.
“We just kind of clicked,” Debby says. “She was such a blessing. She has one of those personalities that is bubbly fun but at the same time shared her own story of loss to cancer. I requested her every time I came in for treatment.”
“I truly believe it was the Lord that made the connection between Debby and me,” Laura explains. “I believe the Lord has gifted me with the compassion for these patients. I, too, have walked a cancer journey with my oldest daughter. Debby was nervous the first time she came in, and rightfully so. I was able to joke with her some to break the ice and tension. I try to get to know my patients as I give them their treatments. I enjoy learning about their lives. These patients are more than their diagnosis. Patients just want to be heard. Debby is an amazing woman and an amazing warrior!”
When I first met Debby as her breast cancer patient navigator, she was surrounded by family who was very involved with her care. She says her husband Eric waited on her doing everything.
“She’s my help mate,” says Eric. “When she hurts, I hurt. The trial she goes through is part of my trial. The bond we have for each other grows greater every day. I took a vow 47 years ago, and we lived by it.”
Daughter Amber Richards went along to doctor’s visits with Debby and Eric and took notes so they could ask questions. Amber lives across the street and would make extra when she cooked meals to provide dinners for her mom and dad and also cleaned for them. Helping Debby with showers became a team effort for two months.
“It can be an overwhelming roller coaster of emotions, and you ask, ‘Why my mom?’” Amber says. “I think I have a new appreciation for both my parents.”
Debby finished chemotherapy and “rang the bell,” a tradition at the cancer institute to mark the end of chemotherapy treatment. She also had gene testing and was able to tell her daughters her breast cancer was not hereditary.
“I can only hope to be an encouragement to someone else that is going through this journey, letting them know there is light at the end of the tunnel,” says Debby.