Renee Silva, a medical assistant at Saint Anne’s Hospital’s Hudner Oncology Center for the past nine years, has helped many people with breast and other types of cancer face treatments and the life-altering feelings that cancer represents. Three years ago, Silva found herself lying on a hospital gurney facing the same fears and questions.
Renee Silva, a medical assistant at Saint Anne’s Hospital’s Hudner Oncology Center for the past nine years, has helped many people with breast and other types of cancer face treatments and the life-altering feelings that cancer represents.
Three years ago, Silva found herself lying on a hospital gurney facing the same fears and questions.
She was diagnosed with Paget's disease, a rare type of breast cancer. There was no lump. Nothing suspicious was found on her mammogram. There was bleeding, a symptom that is often misdiagnosed as a skin condition.
Silva had a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. When the cancer came back a year and a half later, she underwent a double mastectomy.
“I feel like I’m on a whole new level with my patients now,” Silva said.
Linda Lachapelle, a registered nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, had a mastectomy two years ago. Like Silva, Lachapelle chose to be treated locally, alongside her own patients.
“It was kind of surreal at first,” Lachapelle said. “It didn’t sink in right away. I was very matter of fact about it ... in health care mode.”
Lachapelle was on leave for nearly a year. When she resumed her position at St. Luke’s Hospital, she discovered that she had been changed by cancer.
“It’s made me a better person,” Lachapelle said. “It makes you realize your own mortality. It changes the way you work with your patients.”
Silva also learned from her own disease and applied it toward her profession. She knew that health care professionals could certainly affect their patients’ feelings with caring comments, shared laughter and education.
But having cancer herself and needing that caring and communication was an education in itself.
Catherine Poisson, a Saint Anne’s registered nurse at the Center for Breast Care, had already gone through the ordeal of breast cancer in 1992. It was Poisson that convinced Silva not to let her symptoms be swept under the rug.
When Silva was feeling down one day, Poisson plucked an angel pin off her coat and pinned it on Silva.
“Someone had given it to me when I had cancer,” Poisson said. “I knew Renee needed it more than me.”
“She really helped me,” Silva said. “She held my hand through a biopsy that was very painful.”
Since Poisson had breast cancer 20 years ago, she’s often passed on her experience to patients needing a little counsel, even showing off her own reconstructive surgery.
“It taught me a lot about how I practice my nursing,” Poisson said. “You lose control over everything when you have cancer. You need to take control. You learn that this is a bad moment right now. You’ll get past it. You will figure out why God put this in your path.”
Email Deborah Allard at email@example.com.