By her very nature, Kathy Moeller has always been a caring and helpful person – she wouldn’t work in customer service if she wasn’t.
But she’s also human, with emotional ups and downs, good days and bad days. And she freely admits that there were days in the past where those bad moods sometimes got the best of her and affected her work.
But then cancer struck, and everything changed.
In one capacity or another, Kathy, 58, has worked at Columbia St. Mary’s for more than a decade. In March of 2015, she was a Customer Service Representative at Columbia St. Mary’s West Allis Medical Clinic when the Mobile 3D Mammography Coach was onsite.
“I was due for my regular exam, so I had my mammogram on the coach Monday morning and went right into work,” she says. “On Wednesday they called me and wanted me to come back in for an ultrasound.”
A subsequent biopsy confirmed invasive ductal carcinoma. Luckily it was caught early – stage 1 – and her prognosis was good. The cancer was at such an early stage, in fact, were it not for the advanced 3D technology, the radiologist would never have even seen it.
“The tumor was very small, just one centimeter in size. If we had performed a conventional mammogram, I don’t believe we would have seen it,” says Dr. Patrick McWey, the radiologist who read Kathy’s diagnostic mammogram. “Had we not discovered it when we did, it likely would have been another year until Kathy’s next mammogram. Finding her cancer at this early stage increases the chances of a cure with less aggressive treatment.”
On March 25, 2015, Kathy underwent surgery to remove the tumor, which was followed by a six-week course of radiation.
“The care was awesome. Dr. DiGilio, Dr. Shah, Dr. Swanson, Deb Theine – everyone was heaven sent,” she says. “Along with my faith in God, I put myself in their hands and they took care of me.”
The entire time she was undergoing treatment, coming in every day for radiation, suffering through burns and blisters and sores, the one thought she couldn’t shake was how nice it would be to work at Columbia St. Mary’s Van Dyke Cancer Center.
“Toward the end of my treatment, I told one of the nurses that as soon as there is an opening, I will have that job. I told her I won’t leave the interview until I get the job,” Kathy says. “The next day when I came in for my radiation, the nurse told me she had spoken to her manager and she wanted my resume.”
Ever true to her word, Kathy started work at the Van Dyke Cancer Center in October 2015.
“This is heaven for me,” she says.
Now, more than seven months since her radiation has ended, Kathy can look back and take stock of the profound affect the cancer had on her and how it carries over into her work. She has no doubt that having gone through cancer herself has made her better at her job.
“I’m a whole different person,” she says. ‘I’m much more caring. I live for today. If I can make one person happy today, then I’m okay – and if I don’t, I’m still okay, but I give it everything I’ve got. I didn’t before. Obviously, I would do my best because that is my job. But here I just have a closer connection with the patients.”
Not often, but on a few occasions she’s shared her breast cancer journey with patients. Reflecting back to when she was on the other side of that counter, she notices things others might not. Through that shared experience, she’s able to comfort patients in unique ways.
“I see them standing there and they don’t want anything to do with me, they don’t want anything to do with this clinic, they don’t want anything to do with the cancer, and I can see it,” she says. “And I’ve let them know, I was in your shoes. I had breast cancer. And they kind of look at you and things change. They know you know.
“Somedays a patient will come in and they just don’t care that I had cancer. They have cancer, they’re sad and they’re miserable. Sometimes I’ll just look out the window and say, ‘Isn’t that just the most beautiful view?’ And then they’ll stop and look and sometimes that’s all it takes. Just pause and take a breath.”
That’s something Kathy does a lot these days – pause and take a breath. She’s freed herself from any negativity and pettiness that would sometimes infect her life and work. She’s embraced the “diva girl” she’s always been, even if it means getting sideways looks when she wears her lace dress and high heels to work.
“This is who I am and I am living for today,” she says. “I won’t let cancer control me. I can’t. I refuse. Then I may as well just crawl away and be done.”