The Right Fit.
When I had my first mammogram in the fall of 2008, I was 50 years old, living in Kissimmee, teaching my cherished first-graders and learning how to be an empty nester, with my two children away at college. Both of my parents had died of cancer, so I knew it was important for me to watch my health, but all-in-all, life was normal. Until that first mammogram detected a mass.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I scheduled appointments with several different doctors, but every time, I would walk out feeling it was just not the right fit. I was feeling lost.
All that changed when a friend recommended Orlando Health. I called the Cancer Center and spoke to Roxanne, a patient advocate. Roxanne became like an angel to me. She met me in the lobby for every appointment; she held my hand and took me everywhere I needed to go.
I came under the care of Dr. Said Baidas, a hematologist/medical oncologist with Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. At my first appointment with Dr. Baidas, he told me that a team of doctors would work together to come up with a plan just for me — to take care of me. And that’s the moment I knew I was at the right place; I had found the right fit.
Dr. Baidas and his staff are a compassionate, kind and caring group of professionals. I never felt rushed out of an appointment, and to this day, Dr. Baidas always makes me feel like I’m the only patient he has to see that day.
I underwent chemotherapy and a lumpectomy. Then, about a year later, in 2010, I was diagnosed a second time — with a different breast cancer in the other breast. We decided on a double mastectomy, but it was determined that my heart was too weak, and so I had a second lumpectomy followed by radiation. The care I received from my surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Smith, and my radiation oncologist, Dr. Tomas Dvorak, was outstanding, just like with every other doctor I have interacted with at Orlando Health.
My cancer treatment continued over a two-year period. But even early on, I started to think of the Cancer Center as a second home. It felt like family. I thought, these are the people who are going to help me get better, and I loved them because they made me feel so good every time I came in. I can’t think of one instance, not one time, when any caregiver seemed to be having a bad day. I think that’s remarkable. And I’m talking also about the valet people, the receptionists, everyone. Everywhere I go, everybody’s so kind, so patient and so loving. To me, these people are my family.
In 2014, after genetic testing, Dr. Baidas advised I have a hysterectomy. He recommended gynecologist Dr. Jessica Vaught with Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. She’s amazing, and I was so grateful for another wonderful, caring, knowledgeable and compassionate doctor.
After my second diagnosis, Roxanne gave me a book called Eating Well Through Cancer. It was then that I knew it wasn’t just a diet that I needed, I needed to make real lifestyle changes. My doctors and medical team were definitely doing their part, and the rest was my responsibility. I made some changes on my own, but I knew if I was going to give myself the best chance for survival and quality of life, I needed more help. Dr. Baidas suggested a nutritionist. So, I went to see Dr. Mary Busowski, my wonderful primary care doctor, and she referred me to Orlando Health dietitian Lauren Popeck.
At my first appointment with Lauren, I knew that she really cared about me and my health. She looked at my labs and determined what we needed to focus on. She was so patient with me, explaining things to me in simple terms and giving me simple changes to make. Because of Lauren, I’m now eating a lot more whole foods and am able to keep all my labs in the normal range. She always made me feel good about my accomplishments — my own personal cheerleader. And my doctors are so proud of me, too.
I am so grateful for every one of my doctors for the care they’ve given me. I’m thankful for every day, and I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life. Now, I try to focus on things I can change and on how I can make life better for others. My heart is fully of joy and I want to share my joy by giving to others. So, I’m always looking for opportunities for me to give kindness and compassion, just like Orlando Health has done for me.
A Family of Care
At my first appointment with Dr. Baidas, he told me that a team of doctors would work together to come up with a plan just for me — to take care of me. And that’s the moment I knew I was at the right place. Everywhere I go, everybody is so kind, patient and loving. To me, these people are my family.