A Journey of Healing


Surrounding the patient and family with care wherever the road leads.

Maria Parbs’ cancer journey has not been an easy one.

Parbs, a NICU nurse at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, was just 31 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. As doctors pursued therapies to slow its progression, her disease continued to spread. Along the way, Parbs has been surrounded by the love of family, friends and her support team at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center.

The journey began on Christmas Eve 2015. Parbs rolled over in bed and felt a painful lump in her breast. Twelve days later she learned the golf ball-sized tumor was cancer that had already invaded her lymph nodes. Mona Cook, breast care coordinator with Nassif Community Cancer Center, reached out to Parbs right away.

“Mona sat down with my parents and me and went over my treatment plan,” recalls Parbs. “She explained my type of cancer, talked about side effects and discussed surgery types, radiation and sexuality. She continues to be a resource and support person I can contact at any time.”

Cook explains, “In the beginning my job is to help patients get past the deer-in-the-headlights look. I help them feel more comfortable talking about their disease so when they meet with the oncologist and surgeon they can really focus on what the doctors have to say.”

Cook also connected Parbs with the many resources available through Nassif Community Cancer Center.  “I had genetic testing and learned ways to maintain weight during treatment as well as exercises and stretches I could do at home,” says Parbs. “I see social worker Nancy Yeisley frequently. She checks in on my mental health and talks about my life outside of cancer treatment.”

The Center’s resources extend to Parbs’ family. Her mother especially liked the Caregivers Retreat—a free event that shares ways to deal with the stress of caring for a loved one. “I enjoyed meeting other caregivers,” says Shelley Parbs. “It helped to know I’m not alone in this.” She adds, “I appreciate how knowledgeable and caring everyone at the cancer center is. When they get emotional along with me, it really makes me feel like we are fighting this cancer together.”

As Maria Parbs’ disease has progressed, her support team at Nassif Community Cancer Center continues to grow. She says, “Brook Sternberg from palliative care has been excellent at finding medications to manage my pain. She is really focused on my quality of life.”

At Christmas the team arranged for Parbs to receive a phone call from her favorite Chicago Cubs player, Anthony Rizzo. Social worker Yeisley also connected Parbs with the Dream Foundation, a national organization that provides “dream” trips for terminally ill adults. Parbs was thrilled to learn she and her mom were going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World.

Parbs says, “The cancer center is an amazing group of people. Doctors, surgeons, nurses, social workers, care coordinators, dietitians, exercise specialists and palliative care specialists all collaborate to provide the best care for me. They treat the whole person and offer me support and encouraging words.”

Maria Parbs’ journey has not led where everyone hoped it would. Surrounded by her loving circle of family and friends, including her team from Nassif Community Cancer Center, Parbs and the dedicated caregivers who have accompanied her are now teaching one another how to let go.

“We haven’t cured Maria but we are helping her heal in another way, so she can have a death that is peaceful and on her own terms,” says care coordinator Mona Cook. “She has so much strength, she has been an inspiration to all of us. Maria is truly one of those people who is an angel on earth.”

Though Maria lost her cancer battle in March 2018, her life continues to inspire everyone she touched.

The Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center provides resources to help patients and families navigate their cancer journey. For information on our patient-centered approach to cancer care, call (319) 558-4876.

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