Patient Reflections

Patient Reflections

Faithful Check-Ups, Faith in Palmer

When Karla Gavin, Fayette, went in for her routine mammogram at Palmer Lutheran Health Center in 2011, little did she know that her life would forever be changed.

“I’ve always been faithful with all my check-ups; so, I’ve never really worried and there was no family history,” Gavin recalls. “When I got a call back requesting a biopsy from my right breast I was in total shock.”

Having the biopsy at Palmer, Gavin praised the local hospital from the get-go, “Having the procedure done in West Union saved me FOUR hours of ‘think time’. The wait and worry was nerve-wracking enough.”

When Gavin received the news that the biopsy was positive and she did, indeed, have breast cancer, she listened intently as they explained the results.

“They told me not to panic; they caught the cancer early and it was very small and non-aggressive,” Gavin remembers. “But, who isn’t going to panic and worry when they hear the word cancer?”

Wanting to stay in the Gundersen system, Gavin scheduled her appointment in La Crosse. It wasn’t long until the day came for her surgery to remove the lump. An outpatient procedure, Gavin had a small incision and had minimal anesthesia. After removing the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes, which after further tests were non-cancerous, Gavin woke up in the recovery room after the procedure and came home the same night.

“I want to commend my employer, Upper Iowa University, and especially my boss. When I told her about my breast cancer, the only things she said was, ‘Tell me what we can do for you. What do you need?’ I appreciated that more than they will ever know. During a time when I felt I was losing control, Upper Iowa gave me some of that control back.”

Gavin soon realized the surgery was the easy part. After a month of recovery, she quickly started radiation in Waterloo. Even though Gavin felt completely comfortable with Gundersen, she knew she still wanted to work in between treatments, and Waterloo was closer to her workplace as she had to make the 45-minute drive five days a week after teaching two classes.

“It’s a good thing I like to drive!” Gavin laughs. “I would always take the same route so my family would know where I would be. Especially my son, Colin. He was my guardian angel. I would get texts from him every day at the same time wondering where I was and checking to make sure I was alright. He was the most protective during that time. There were even times he wanted to go with me!”

Praising her son, Gavin also knew how important her husband, Ray, and daughter, Megan, were in her treatment.

“Megan was so supportive…listening and learning…and just being there for me. Ray was amazing. He was doing double-duty. When I was at treatments, he would work and then go to games, programs and concerts. The North Fayette school system with its teachers, counselors and coaches were great as well. We really tried to keep things as normal as possible during my treatments.”

In less than two months, Gavin had undergone 33 radiation treatments. While most people would think that would take its toll, Gavin’s positive attitude continued to shine.

“Due to Palmer and digital mammograms, cancer is found sooner and smaller. I was fortunate that it hadn’t spread. I didn’t have to have chemotherapy, didn’t swell, didn’t get radiation burns or lose my hair. I would say I was pretty lucky.”

Completing radiation, Gavin now has to take medication to continue treatment. Commenting that she gets to have appointments with her oncologist at Palmer Lutheran instead of having to drive hours to and from his office, she loves having such great care close to home.

“The Palmer Lutheran staff is fabulous! Their dedication and perseverance made my process much easier.  Today, I am healthy and have no side effects from the medication. I continue to have check-ups, mammograms and appointments until I have been ‘clean’ for five years.”

Gavin even attended Palmer’s Pampered in Pink night (an event for women to enhance breast cancer awareness) to say ‘hi’ to the staff who found the original lump.

Palmer Radiology Supervisor, Jayne Soppe, says, “Karla is a perfect example of early detection success!  Our new digital system offers the best technology for our patients here close to home.  We offer screening mammograms, diagnostic  or call back studies, as well as breast ultrasound and ultrasound -guided breast biopsies right here at Palmer.”

“I recommend Palmer to everyone I know. I know I have sent many women to our local hospital for their mammograms because you never know what may happen. No one is immune to cancer. You can do your self-breast exams and get your yearly mammogram like I did and still end up with breast cancer. And, if that happens, I want my friends to have the best treatment possible…and that’s Palmer Lutheran Health Center.”