Breast cancer is a diagnosis no woman ever wants to hear, but patients with the disease might consider themselves lucky to have Janice Templemire as their nurse.
Templemire, who treats breast cancer patients daily at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, jokes that she’s taken empathy “to a whole new level.” She knows firsthand what it means to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I had to be like every other patient and start over ’cause once you hear the words ‘you have cancer,’ your whole life changes,” Templemire said.
Since its opening almost three years ago, the Mulligan Breast Health Center at Ellis Fischel has aided many women in Columbia and the surrounding areas. The center offers women a highly trained staff and state-of-the-art technology.
While the center offers many of the things you’d expect in a respected hospital, Templemire’s experience with breast cancer gives her a chance to offer something more to her patients.
She began working at Ellis Fischel in the intensive care unit in early 2006. In October 2006, Templemire decided to have a routine mammogram as part of breast cancer awareness month. Doctors found a mass in her breast, which turned out to be malignant.
“I had no risk factors, no family history, no reason except that I’m one in eight women,” Templemire said. “I didn’t hear, ‘You have cancer.’ I heard, ‘You are dead.’”
With radiation and chemotherapy to follow, Templemire wanted to receive treatment at Ellis Fischel. Although she was embarrassed by the thought of co-workers seeing her breast, Templemire made the choice to receive treatment in her work environment and to be cared for by her colleagues.
“It’s hard for me to be a patient because I’m a nurse first,” Templemire said.
In order to maintain a positive attitude about her illness, Templemire decided to take her treatment one step at a time, beginning with surgery followed by chemotherapy and ending with radiation.
Jeanne Shellabarger is a co-worker and friend of Templemire’s. She, too, understands the challenges patients face on a daily basis. Shellabarger said Templemire is an inspiration.
“She really was kind of a source of strength for us in a way to see her go through it,” Shellabarger said. “She didn’t miss a day of work, and she kind of hung in there. I really admire her for what she went through.”
Although she had the option of taking time off from work, Templemire said that maintaining a normal schedule kept her grounded and prevented her from becoming idle. Even when she was ill from chemotherapy and suffering from radiation burns, she still tried to maintain a normal life.
“I decided up front that I was not going to let cancer make me sick, and I was not going to let it take away my spirit,” she said.
It was important to Templemire that she maintain control of anything she could, no matter how trivial the act seemed.
Like many other women facing cancer treatment, Templemire was anxious and scared about losing her hair. Instead of waiting for it to fall out completely, Templemire took action. She called a local barbershop and explained her situation.
“She got me in a little area that was away from everyone else, and she put a little furniture there,” Templemire said. “I took four friends and my son and daughter, and we went and got my head military cut.”
Having her closest friends and her children with her made the experience less devastating and more empowering.
“I thought that I would be hysterical crying. Everyone brought me a box of tissues and a baseball cap, but I had the most fun getting my hair cut,” she said.
A generous and anonymous donation from a church member provided her with a wig that was so realistic that some people at work never knew she had cancer until she decided to go without it. Templemire removed her wig for her last chemotherapy treatment and received a round of applause from a group of nearby cancer survivors.
“She is a vibrant, very smart woman who has had to deal with a lot in her lifetime and always seems to plod through it with a great spirit,” said Sue Sinele, a co-worker and close friend. Fellow employees agreed that Templemire has set a great example for both patients and staff because of how she has handled her treatment process.
Really reaching out
In May 2007, Templemire’s mammogram showed no signs of cancer.
Throughout her experience, Templemire has discovered a new kind of care she can offer patients in the Breast Center.
“When I talk to women now, I know what I’m talking about,” she said. “I’ve been there, I’ve felt the same things. Women will call me and say, ‘I think I’m going crazy, this and this.’ No. That’s perfectly normal. (A year ago), I probably would have just gone through the motions, giving them information. Well, now I have real information to give.”
Breast cancer has also influenced how she views patients who return to the center for continued treatment.
“It’s hard now, still, when people come back in with reoccurrence or metastasis because I’m thinking, ‘That could be me,’” she said. “I love what I’m doing. I think I’ve got a little special knowledge — little tricks that I learned — but sometimes it’s very difficult to not think, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me tomorrow.’”
In addition to patient interactions, Templemire’s illness allowed time for personal reflection.
“When you are given what is potentially a death sentence or at least an illness you are going to have to go through, I think that’s a time that you learn a lot about yourself and other people,” she said. “There were a couple of things I learned in the time I was quiet that I didn’t like about myself, and that I’m working on to change. I think it’s a good time for reflection and to realize what is important.”