Surrounded by Support
Sandy's Story of Cancer & Care
“Dogs have a sense, they know when people need comfort,” said Sandy Mersereau, a longtime resident of Samish Island, WA. Sandy was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2017 and her neighbor’s dog, Rascal, was a dedicated partner in Sandy’s journey.
“Rascal used to come and run around our pond, but wouldn’t come up to the house,” she said. “When I got sick, he started coming over every day. He would come on the porch and sit next to me; he put his head on my leg so I could pet him. He’d keep me company, it was really calming.”
Leading up to her diagnosis, Sandy said she noticed a lack of energy. She struggled to get through her weekly fitness classes and her active life as a grandparent of rambunctious young boys. Sandy found a lump which she’d hoped was a hernia. However, Sandy’s surgeon confirmed what she had feared, it was cancer.
Having lived in the area for more than 30 years, Sandy had the support of her husband, Bill, her family and Rascal. She wanted to remain close to her community and maintain some independence. For Sandy, independence meant being able to drive herself to and from treatments. So, Sandy chose Skagit Regional Health.
“I felt empowered to have control over that part of this journey,” she said. “You just do what you have to do. It felt good to be able to do for myself.”
The calm comfort she had at home with Rascal echoed her experience at the Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center located in Mount Vernon. Sandy turned to Kiarash Kojouri, MD, an oncologist at the center, for her care. She’d met Dr. Kojouri during her father’s cancer treatments. Sandy appreciated his compassion, kindness and the convenience of having him less than 30 minutes from home.
“He really listened to me,” Sandy said. “I felt like I had a voice in my care.”
On her first day of radiation treatments, Sandy met Mandy, a nurse at the center. “I was so scared to be there,” she said. “She [Mandy] was so upbeat and friendly, she made me feel comfortable, she took away that fear. It was very special.”
Sandy underwent six weeks of radiation therapy over the course of seven weeks - 30 total fractions [treatments]. Her immune system was weak, compromising the strength she once had to visit with her grandchildren. Rascal’s new routine filled the time she wasn’t able to be with the rest of her family.
At four o’clock each day, Rascal would visit Sandy, waiting at the door or looking through the window when she wasn’t outside. Sandy dubbed Rascal her therapy dog.
“I absolutely think he knew,” she said. “Now that I’m not sick anymore he [Rascal] doesn’t come over as often.”
Her visits to the Cancer Care Centerare less frequent now too, but the providers and staff still recognize her and check-in to see how she is doing. Sandy still feels the same warmth she felt her first day through the doors.
“They have a gift of connecting with you and making you feel important. It does become like a family,” Sandy said. “As difficult as some parts of the journey through cancer can be, I made it through and have regained my strength, my life and appreciate every day.”