Jan, a 56-year-old Bossier City resident and retiree, is a wife, mother, grandmother, sewing enthusiast, travel lover and professional billiards player. In short, her life is full and rewarding. If not for cancer, however, something significant would be missing. In December 2007, Jan, then 49, received news she always knew was possible but never truly expected: She, like her late mother, had breast cancer. An annual screening mammogram had revealed an abnormality, and a biopsy performed by Brian Dockendorf, M.D., general surgeon — coincidentally, a member of Jan’s Mardi Gras “krewe,” the Krewe of Gemini — confirmed the finding of stage one cancer in Jan’s right breast. “My mother had breast cancer twice, so I knew the probability of my developing cancer was elevated,” Jan says. “Still, the diagnosis threw me for a loop. You’re never fully prepared for a cancer diagnosis.”
After the biopsy, cancer remained in the margins of the breast, meaning the entire area of tissue needed to be removed. Dr. Dockendorf performed a mastectomy on Jan at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center on New Year’s Eve 2007. Jan consulted Dr. Dockendorf and her mother’s former physician, Robert Massingill, M.D., hematologist/oncologist at CHRISTUS Cancer Treatment Center. The decision was made for Jan to have breast reconstruction using temporary tissue expanders followed by placement of a permanent implant. The early stage of the cancer and the fact that no lymph nodes were affected meant Jan was able to avoid radiation therapy and chemotherapy. She took an oral medication daily for five years to reduce the risk of recurrence and has been cancer-free since the mastectomy.
“Cancer is a humbling disease,” Jan says. “During my experience, there were moments when I didn’t know what else to do but cry, and the physicians and staff members at CHRISTUS Health understood that. They treated me very well and made me feel like I mattered. I had such wonderful support from my husband, family and the good Lord, and that got me through everything.”
Lost, Then Found
Jan took sick leave from her job at the General Motors (GM) plant in Shreveport during her mastectomy and recovery, and in May 2008, she elected to take early retirement. She found that she was left with a void in her life. “I sort of sat around, not knowing where I belonged,” she says. “A friend and cancer survivor called and said, ‘I want you to come to CHRISTUS Schumpert Medical Center and join our volunteer program. I think you’d be a good fit.’ I attended an orientation, met other prospective volunteers and thought, ‘This is it. This is where I belong, and these people are my family now.’”
Jan never looked back. She began volunteering in the Schumpert Gift Shop and the Cancer Treatment Center (CTC). Currently, she spends Wednesdays helping the director of volunteers with special projects and Thursdays visiting with patients, greeting visitors and distributing lunches at the CTC. Jan also devotes time to her role as president of the CHRISTUS Schumpert Medical Center Guild, a group of volunteers that organizes events to show appreciation for the hospital’s physicians and associates. Jan’s favorite volunteer hours are those she spends at the CTC.
“Some people ask me how I can volunteer at the CTC because they think it must be sad,” she says. “It’s not sad. Not everyone will have a good result, but we will take care of everyone and do what we can to make him or her feel better. We are here to serve.”