Christina Ross remembers the day her life changed forever. She was getting ready for major back surgery—a frightening prospect for the 42-year-old single mom of a young son. Then she noticed a lump in one breast. A visit to her doctor revealed a second lump. Ross had back surgery, followed by a mammogram and a biopsy. On October 3, 2015, she received the diagnosis: breast cancer.
“When my back problem occurred, I prayed,” Ross recalls. “I said please don’t let me become paralyzed because I have to take care of my son. Little did I know God was preparing me for cancer.”
Ross says she “received a lot of bad news very fast.” Because the tumors indicated a fast-growing cancer, Rasa Buntinas, MD, of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Hematology & Oncology advised starting chemotherapy right away. Admits Ross, “Right then I had to ‘man up.’ I had to prepare myself not just to deal with the cancer, but to tell my son and family. That was going to be hard.”
Psychosocial Services Coordinator Nancy Yeisley met Ross on her first day of chemo. Yeisley says, “Christina hadn’t told her son yet and was very worried. We talked about how to approach the conversation with him and made a plan together. We also agreed she would tell him within the next three days. Christina likes deadlines, so that helped.”
Fortunately, Ross already had a strong support group, starting with her sister Flora “Sandy” Williams. Together Ross and Williams broke the news to Ross’s son Cameron as well as to Williams’ children. “We were prepared for their questions,” explains Ross. “We stressed the cancer was caught early, it hadn’t spread. We knew the kids would take their cue from us. It helped them to see our positive attitude.”
The initial rounds of chemotherapy were followed by surgery on April 25, 2016. “I’m cancer-free as of that date,” Ross beams. Surgery at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital was followed by more chemo as well as radiation therapy at St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center.
“The nurses who helped with my chemo treatment were amazing in the love and support they gave me,” adds Ross. “They all deserve a month’s paid vacation wherever they choose! And my radiation team made me feel extra special.”
As Ross moved through treatment and into recovery, she continued to rely on her support network, including Nassif Community Cancer Center. “That cancer center is like an extended family to me!” she exclaims.
Just two months after her diagnosis, Ross and Cameron attended the Children’s Holiday Celebration put on by Nassif Community Cancer Center’s Family Care Program. “We had a great time. Cameron is outgoing—one of the things I love about him—and he had a long conversation with my social worker, Nancy. Later she told me how much Cameron loves me. As a parent, it means so much to hear that.”
Nancy Yeisley notes the holiday season brings special challenges to those facing cancer—whether their own or a loved one’s. She encourages patients and caregivers to reserve their energy for the things that really matter. “When you go through something like cancer, it makes you look at what is important in your life,” says Yeisley. “Cherish the moments you have with the people you love.”
Both the Family Care Program and Nassif Community Cancer Center’s Spirit Fund helped Ross through that first Christmas. Made possible by the generosity of donors and staff, these programs provide needed financial assistance for cancer patients and their families. Ross remembers crying when she saw the gift cards she received. “My son said don’t open the mail any more. Every time you do, you cry,” recalls Ross. “I still cry when I think about it. They really helped me.”
Now Ross is determined to help others. Even while going through treatment, she started volunteering for Gems of Hope—a nonprofit that provides gifts of jewelry on inspirational cards for cancer patients. She also donates to the Spirit Fund to help other patients in need. Christina Ross adds, “Whenever I see patients with this disease, I stop and cheer them on. I say stay strong, you can do it.”
“I know, because I’m doing it.”
Special thanks to the Aiming for a Cure Foundation for helping to establish the Family Care Program. You can keep up with news on cancer care and support services for cancer patients and their families through our free Care Connections newsletter. Subscribe online by clicking here or call (319) 558-4876.