Margaret Roark spent her adult life in northern Virginia, leading a consulting firm and leading a very busy — and generally healthy — life. When it was time to slow down a bit and “retire,” she and her husband Lance moved to the Shenandoah Valley, just south of Staunton — beautiful scenery, great neighbors and time to enjoy life. But then the unforeseeable occurred.
About six months after her move, she underwent a mammogram, which was scheduled by her new primary care physician, Cara Goodell, MD. The mammogram led to a CT, then an MRI and then a biopsy that resulted in a diagnosis in January 2017 that no woman wants to hear: breast cancer.
In addition to surgery, there would be both chemotherapy and radiation. “That was the hardest day,” Roark recalls.
While admitting she was initially thrown by the diagnosis — she had always been a healthy person — she then approached her illness in the same way she had approached every project throughout her professional and personal life: Do the research and learn all you can. Ask the experts and follow their advice. Keep a positive attitude; get through it and look forward.
The strategy worked. She read everything she could and kept a journal of meticulous notes that included everything from “tips and tricks” to her reactions and experiences after each treatment, each appointment and each session. As the next cycle of treatments arrived, she would look back at her notes from the previous cycle and incorporate what she’d learned to make it easier.
Resources were important, but she quickly adds, “Your support system is everything. I was fortunate to have two support systems: my family and neighbors, and my family at Augusta Health.”
Her family included her daughter from Philadelphia who came in for chemotherapy sessions and cooked for her, and her sister who drove in from Tennessee to provide emotional support, she notes. “The folks at Augusta Health were my second support system,” she says. “They were my experts who provided me with as much information as I asked for. They were my source for the ‘tips and tricks’ in my journal. We went through this together. I wasn’t just a patient or a case. I knew them and they knew me.”
The feelings are mutual at the Cancer Center, where Roark experienced almost every area of care.
“During her treatments, Margaret energized every room she walked into with her upbeat and positive attitude,” comments Donna Bordeaux, RN, BSN, a breast cancer navigator, who provided Roark information and support on her cancer journey.
Others have the same impression of Roark. “She was always looking forward; she didn’t dwell on the problems of today,” says Jesse Rohrer, RT (R) (T), who, along with Maria Wallace, RT (R) (T), performed Roark’s radiation treatments.
Various members of the staff note how well-informed Roark was about her treatments. “I could tell she’d done her ‘prep work’ before we began our conversation,” points out Donna Markey, MSN, RN, ANCP-cs, nurse practitioner of Cancer and Infusion Services at Augusta Health. “It reinforced to me that this is a collaborative journey that we take with our patients. We help evaluate options and then support her in whatever decision she makes. Margaret was especially self-empowered because she was well-informed.”
Among the information Roark gathered along the way was to eat more protein and push herself to exercise prior to the chemo treatments “to build up energy and stamina to get through it. I knew the first and second days would be OK, but days seven and eight would be worse. When I knew what to expect, it was easier.”
Roark has now finished her treatments and transitioned into anti-estrogen therapy. But she hasn’t left the Augusta Health Cancer Center. She’s back as a volunteer.
“I want to give back to those girls who helped me so much,” Roark says. “I can take lunch orders and get drinks. I can clean. I can sit and talk with patients. I can do whatever they need me to do so it’s easier for the caregivers to concentrate on giving the care.”
And that meticulously kept journal that she kept? She’s given it to another woman with cancer to help her get through her journey.
Learn more about the Augusta Health Cancer Center. Visit augustahealth.com/cancer-center or call the front desk at (540) 332-5960.