Cancer, community and coconut cake

Karen Trewin, Blog Author

I found myself in the back of an ambulance speeding up Highway 52 on a snowy day in December of 1999. I had just spent the morning in the emergency department at the hospital in Decorah, Iowa, where doctors were puzzled about what they were seeing on an ultrasound of my 4 year-old son’s liver. We had taken him to the hospital in the early hours of the morning with an acute stomachache. We thought it might be the flu, or even appendicitis. We were shocked when our family doctor came to us and said, “We think this may be serious. We need to send you to Mayo.”

In many ways, we were fortunate. We lived just over an hour from Rochester. The cancer my son had was rare, but Mayo Clinic oncologists had him diagnosed and in his first round of chemotherapy within 30 hours. He is now 17, and today, you would never guess there was ever anything wrong with him. Our experience at Mayo led me to want to work here, and eventually drove my decision to be part of the Destination Medical Center team.

Still, the 10 months of treatment wasn’t an easy time for us. Our son’s treatment was grueling, and it required long periods of hospitalization with short trips home in between. He was frequently put in isolation because of the risk of infection. My daily outing was to cross Second Street to have a meal at the Canadian Honker. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and craved scrambled eggs, rye toast and grape jelly. The servers got to know me quite well, and frequently put my order in if they saw me headed across the street.

After his initial round of treatment, my son’s blood counts were not bouncing back to the levels needed to start treatment again. This was scary, because the doctors told us the cancer could come raging back if treatment wasn’t started again in a timely manner.  Finally, we got word that we could start again. My husband and I headed over to the Canadian Honker and shared a piece of their famous coconut cake- a practice we would continue whenever there was a milestone to celebrate.

Enough time has gone by that many of the experiences we went through are fuzzy. But I’ll always remember the hospitality at the Canadian Honker and how good that coconut cake tasted – especially as part of a victory celebration.

DMC is a strategy designed, in part, to offer the optimal experience to patients, families, visitors and community members. This isn’t just the right thing to do – we also know that a positive experience improves health outcomes and keeps bringing people back. This is good for patients and it’s good for us.

I have learned in the 7 years I have worked in Rochester that everyone has a great experience story. As we plan the future of health care in Rochester and in Minnesota, we’d like to hear your experience stories and why you feel they’re important. Please comment on this post or send your story to me at [email protected].