Keep the Beat
Mardi's Story of Cancer & Care
“It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how bad you are, or how smart you are, or how rich you are, none of that matters. Cancer doesn’t care,” said Mardi Mclaskey of Concrete.
In November 2017, the retired psychologist, aspiring world beats drummer and doll maker learned that a mass in her mouth was cancerous. When the doctors at Skagit Regional Health confirmed that the mass was lymphoma, additional scans revealed the early stages of breast cancer.
“Because of my little lymphoma, they found the one that was lethal,” she recalled.
Having lived in Concrete, in eastern Skagit County, for more than 30 years, Mardi dreaded the thought of making journeys to Seattle for treatment.
“We’re isolated. Any place is far away for us. I think the proximity [to Skagit Regional Health] was huge,” she said. Mardi chose to keep her support system and treatment close together. “It meant the world to me and my family to have my care so close. I was helped every single step of the way,” she said.
Mardi chose the Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center not only for its location but their expert team noting that, “Dr. (Mehrdad) Jafari and his staff are well respected in the larger oncology community. To have them right here in Mount Vernon is astonishing and really, really lucky,” she said.
“I was initially drawn to the Skagit Valley for its natural beauty. I have worked at Skagit Regional Health for 11 years and have become very attached to the wonderful patients I meet every day,” Dr. Jafari said. “I believe that Skagit Regional Health being part of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance network is a benefit to the whole community of physicians and patients alike. This is a great place to do what I like most: caring for people with cancer.”
Mardi met Oncologist Mehrdad Jafari, MD, at the Cancer Care Center in Mount Vernon.
“He was wonderful and made me feel like everything was going to be fine,” she said.
Throughout her experiences, Mardi continues to echo her initial sentiments that Dr. Jafari and his team were fighting for her and committed to the idea that the word cancer is not a death sentence.
Mardi used her skills as a doll maker to fight the emotional stresses of the cancers. “You’re extremely vulnerable when you’re diagnosed with cancer. You can’t touch it, you can’t feel it. At that point, you’re just being told this is happening to you,” she said.
Mardi found a way to make it a tangible target with her cancer voodoo dolls. She has since gifted them to others fighting their own battles.
“It’s not at a person. This is a non-person. This is a thing that’s attacking you and you have no way to attack it back,” she said. “That was the point of the doll. It’s something you can do.”
During each step of her treatment, the Cancer Care Center staff provided supplemental support. Patient navigators from the start, rides to and from treatment had she needed them, easily accessible and ample parking, reminders about appointments, counseling and nutrition guidance. One of Mardi’s most memorable experiences came from Katie Anderson and Sarah Hendrickson, the patient navigators assigned to her.
“They were wonderful,” she said. “A person to call, a kind voice at the other end of the phone any time you were frightened or confused.”
“Our job as Navigators is to take as many burdens off of their plate as possible and help them avoid barriers in their care so they can focus on their wellbeing. Being there to coordinate their care, confirm an appointment, or point them in the right direction is just part of the job,” Hendrickson said. “The joy, however, comes from making that personal connection. Stopping by the lobby or infusion room to say hello and see how they are feeling are simple things, but it is so important to the patient. We try to do whatever we can to show that we genuinely care.”
“We are so fortunate that we were able to work with Mardi and help her get through her care,” Anderson said. “Her positive attitude was inspiring. She maintained such gratitude throughout treatment and refused to feel sorry for herself. Instead, she put that energy into helping others through their own cancer journey.”
Mardi underwent three separate surgeries within a month prior to radiation treatments. She recalled that both Sarah and Katie visited her at the hospital just before she went into surgery.
“I was so dumbstruck and so touched that they would care enough to come over and wish me well, pat me on the hand and say, ‘You’re going to be fine. We’ll see you after,’” she said. “They genuinely cared. Stop and think how many cancer people they see in a year? They came because of me. That was really cool. That was really, really important.”
The personalized care provided by the staff and providers at Skagit Regional Health stands out to Mardi.
“I never felt so much like a princess in my life, especially going through something so horrific,” she said, describing the treatment she received. “It was astonishing to me. Family and friends showed up and rallied. Then, to have the Cancer Care Center staff be equally concerned,” she recalled. “You kind of go through life thinking you’re a caregiver for other people, but you don’t realize there’s that much concern for you.”
Throughout treatment, Mardi was encouraged to continue her drumming. Her band, Wishbone Alley, performed shortly after one of her three surgeries. Mardi recounted her surgeon, Dr. Joshua Hawkins, confirming that she should continue to play her drums if she felt up to it. So, she did.
Mardi contends that going back to her regular activities helped take her mind off of her cancer.
“You’re gonna be tired, so, you might as well be tired doing what you wanna do,” she said. Wishbone Alley didn’t skip a beat. “It’s me and my tribe doing something really fun and giving to the community,” she said.
Mardi is an outspoken advocate for others to do the same.
“Stand up to it, roll up your sleeves, don’t be a victim,” she stated. “Be there on time, be present, be actively involved in your treatment.”
With the Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center team at her side, she says “you have a choice, you can be a victim, or you can be a warrior.” Mardi chose to be a warrior.
Mardi is currently cancer free.