Katie Lorenz

She Believed She Could

"I have nothing but amazing feelings for everyone at the Cancer Center. Everyone was supportive of my journey. They knew my name from day one."

Frohna, Mo., resident Katie Lorenz took a deep breath and placed a smooth grey stone in the serene garden at Southeast Cancer Center. On one side of the stone, she had written, “She believed she could.” On the other side, she wrote, “So she did.” The quote by author R.S. Grey symbolized her journey from her cancer diagnosis to the end of her radiation treatments.

“I found the saying as I was going through chemotherapy,” Katie says softly. “I thought it really said a lot about everything I had gone through and the fact that I told myself from the beginning that, with everyone’s help here at the Cancer Center, I was going to beat this.”

Katie, just 27 years old, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma in November 2014. It was found quite accidently, while she was taking a shower. “I wasn’t great at doing self-breast checks,” she admits. “But one night, I was in the shower and I felt something, so I talked to my mom about it. She told me that if I thought it was something, I should see my gynecologist. I didn’t expect it to be cancer. There’s no family history of cancer in my family.”

At her gynecologist’s office, the nurse practitioner suggested an ultrasound just to be sure it wasn’t anything serious. “I got the ultrasound on Friday and by Monday, she called me back and said it was cancer. I was so shocked that I didn’t hear anything else after that.”

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Although it was caught early, Katie was told it was an aggressive type of cancer. Within weeks of her diagnosis and after carefully weighing her options with her husband Jon, she underwent a double mastectomy, but not before her cancer had rapidly spread from one breast to several lymph nodes. Breast Surgeon Jonathan Foley, MD, of Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic also found a second tumor. Genetic testing later found that Katie carried a BRCA gene mutation, which put her at higher risk for developing cancer.

“The BRCA gene mutation is the most common genetic mutation-associated hereditary breast cancer syndromes,” says SoutheastHEALTH Hematologist/Oncologist Andrew Moore, MD. “That is the same genetic mutation that actress Angelina Jolie announced that she carried a few years ago. For women who are carriers of this genetic mutation, there is a 70 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and approximately a 40 percent lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer. We typically recommend prophylactic mastectomy of the unaffected breast and discuss prophylactic removal of the ovaries too.”

With the guidance of Dr. Moore, Katie went through eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by 25 radiation treatments at Southeast Cancer Center. Her journey from surgery to completion of radiation treatments took more than six months.

“The number of radiation treatments for breast cancer patients depends upon the type of surgical treatment they have received,” says SoutheastHEALTH Radiation Oncologist Joseph Miller, MD. “Patients with a mastectomy usually receive 25 treatments, while those that have undergone a lumpectomy for breast conservation usually are planned for 30 treatments. In cases like Katie’s, there are certain types of breast cancers that benefit from both chemotherapy and radiation.”

Dr. Miller, who has been treating cancer patients at SoutheastHEALTH for more than 25 years, firmly believes in a personalized approach to taking care of adults who are diagnosed with cancer. Three-dimensional mapping prior to each treatment helps to pinpoint the exact location for radiation beams, allowing radiation oncologists to spare healthy tissue while allowing the maximum dose of radiation to reach and kill cancer cells.

The Southeast Experience

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Through it all, friends and family supported Katie. In her hometown of Frohna, just outside of Perryville, Mo., the entire community rallied behind her, holding a fish fry fundraiser to help with medical expenses and to show support for the young couple. “It was so crazy and wonderful at the same time,” she says. “Jon and I grew up here and were high school sweethearts too. Hundreds of people came. Living in a small rural community like that, that’s just what we do for each other. We were so grateful for all of the support.”

She also says that the doctors, nurses and staff at the Southeast Cancer Center are now her “adopted” family. “I have nothing but amazing feelings towards everyone there,” she says. “From my first chemotherapy appointment until the end of radiation treatments, everyone was supportive of my journey. They knew my name from day one and told me where to go and what to expect. No question was trivial and they really understood all of the emotional ups and downs that come with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

“There’s no doubt that the mental aspect of battling cancer is so vitally important,” agrees Dr. Moore. “It’s life-altering to go through this and I am so very proud of all of the staff at the Cancer Center because they really understand the critical need to create a soothing environment in which to heal and in the importance of truly connecting and supporting our cancer patients.”

Since it opened in 2011, the Southeast Cancer Center has focused not only on excellent care, but also on creating a peaceful environment. From the artwork and serene colors on the walls, to the abundance of windows which bring sunlight and nature indoors, to the music that softly plays in the atrium, the Cancer Center creates an almost spiritual atmosphere in which to receive cancer care.

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“Southeast Cancer Center is a state-of-the-art building with the best equipment and best medicine. In addition to that level of cancer care, you will find on the inside of this place extraordinary people who are specially trained to take care of the whole person,” says Lori Bronenkant, experience manager for the Cancer Center. “We help each person who comes through our doors feel as comfortable as possible. We do that by ensuring we are treating them as a person. Not as a cancer patient. Not as a number. We get to know them on a personal level, helping each person focus on their life.” “It’s not like a sterile environment,” says Katie. “It’s soothing. You don’t feel like you are at the doctor’s office. And because the people were so nice and projected a feeling of confidence, I was never stressed or anxious about having to go to my treatments.”

The serene garden in the middle of the Cancer Center epitomizes the closeness of nature. Completed in summer 2011, the garden features a kinetic sculpture and places to sit. In the reflecting pool, hundreds of patients as well as caregivers and family members have taken the time to write names or messages on the grey stones in the garden.

“When a patient has reached a milestone on their cancer journey, we invite them to mark a stone as a symbol of the imprint they have left here in this place,” says Lori Bronenkant. “We invite them to leave a message of hope for fellow patients, for caregivers, even for our staff. It’s really a celebration of the patient’s journey and a celebration of the imprint they left with us. We do not preserve the writing on these stones. The stones weather the storms, just as our patients do and eventually the marks fade away. It’s intentional.”

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Called Stones and Souls Endure, the opportunity to leave a message was especially meaningful to Katie, who has a 3-year-old son Mason. “I thought I was young to be going through cancer treatments and I didn’t really know anyone going through the same thing,” recalls Katie. “But when I was in the garden, I looked at all of the stones and saw that there were so many other people who had gone through treatments. I realized right then that I could relate to all of them because we experienced similar journeys. I realized too that I wasn’t so isolated after all. That’s why I marked my stone the way I did – to show others who come after me that you can get through this.”

Katie, now back as a lead teacher at the University School for Young Children in Cape Girardeau, Mo., laughs in delight as she reaches for her son while playing on the floor. Almost a year after her diagnosis flipped her world around, Katie relished in the thought of Christmas 2015 being a joyful day. Recent follow-up tests found no signs of any more cancer. “I can say to all of the doctors and staff at Southeast that you gave me the best Christmas present ever,” she says as she hugs her son.

“I believed I could… and so I did.”