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Ringing in a New Life After Cancer

May 9, 2010

Because cancer runs in her family, 54-year-old Lisa Facer had always been diligent about getting annual mammograms. But in 2006, she missed her mammogram as she and her sister cared for her dying mother in Hawaii. In 2007, the company where she was a corporate bond trader was in turmoil — so she missed her mammogram again. In May 2008, Facer lost her job. So with time on her hands, she finally went for a mammogram. On D-Day – June 6 – she got the news she dreaded: breast cancer.

 

While she began her treatment elsewhere, within two weeks she was at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

 

“I had HER2-positive breast cancer and needed to find someone who specialized in this,” Facer says. “So I went to the Siteman Web site and found Dr. Ron Bose. It was the best decision I made. Dr. Bose is not only an outstanding researcher and oncologist, but he truly cares about you as a patient and a person.”

 

Ron Bose, MD, PhD, is a Washington University medical oncologist at Siteman. He made Facer aware of a clinical trial for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. “I’m a huge supporter of clinical trials so I was happy to participate,” Facer says. “There wouldn’t be new drugs without them.”

 

HER2-positive breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer that stems from a gene mutation. It has a tendency to spread and to recur. However, research is developing promising new drug combinations in the fight against this form of breast cancer.

 

Arts Program Creates An Important Friendship

 

Part of Facer’s treatment included four-hour chemotherapy treatments, which she received at Siteman’s satellite facility at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. During that time, Sarah Colby, program coordinator of the Arts + Healthcare program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, began an arts program for cancer patients at the facility. The program is funded through the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation.

 

“Art therapy has been such a godsend,” Facer says. “It gave me a reason to think about something other than cancer. All of the chemotherapy patients and family members would talk and laugh together while we did various art projects. We have developed a valuable support system through this program.” It also launched a strong friendship between Facer and Colby that now impacts other cancer patients every day at Siteman.

 

The Bells of Siteman

 

On Dec. 19, 2008, Facer rang a bell at Siteman’s west county facility signifying her last day of chemotherapy, continuing a celebratory tradition found in cancer centers around the country. “I rang the bell not just once but three times!” she says. “It was a wonderful, liberating feeling. You’re so tired but you’re still strong enough to ring the bell. Ringing the bell represents a huge step toward a new life.”

 

After she was done with chemotherapy, Facer faced radiation therapy five days a week at Siteman’s campus at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. But when she completed her radiation treatment after nearly seven weeks, there was no bell to ring. She immediately set out to change that for all the patients who came behind her.

 

“I thought it was so important to have a bell in radiation oncology because radiation is a tough part of treatment,” Facer says. “I told Sarah I wanted to sponsor bells in honor of my parents who both died of cancer. Sarah recognized how important it was for cancer patients and took on the project with such persistence and tenacity. Sarah is a gift to Siteman and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She is so wonderful with patients who have cancer.”

 

Thanks to Facer’s charitable gift to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation and Colby’s help, bells have been added in the radiation oncology area and the chemotherapy treatment area at the main Siteman facility, and in the radiation oncology area at the west county facility.

 

Knowing the bells are in place gives Facer great satisfaction.

 

“Recently, I was at the Siteman Cancer Center and heard the bell ringing from the radiation oncology department below,” Facer says. “It brought tears to my eyes because I knew just how that patient felt.” With an unstoppable attitude and an infectious laugh, Facer enjoys making a difference in other patients’ lives. She continues to volunteer at Siteman’s west county facility in the chemotherapy area and in the arts program with Colby. She’s also very active in other breast cancer events and projects through Siteman.

 

“Life is in the living,” she says.

 

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