Since becoming a nurse in 1989 at what would become Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Juliann Johannsen has seen a little bit of everything and met lots of good folks. "I've worked in multiple units and have always worked full-time," she says, "and I've met a lot of awesome people. "
Beginning in May 2013, Juliann would see another side of the medical center (and her co-workers) after she became a patient herself. "I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the right side in May of 2013," she says. It was a diagnosis that, naturally, was hard to come to terms with for someone who'd spent the past 26 years taking care of others. "The first time you say 'I have cancer,' and you have to use the 'C' word, it's hard," Juliann tells Eau Claire's WQOW News.
What wasn't hard, Juliann says, was putting her care in the hands of folks she'd worked with for years. "I knew everybody and knew what they were doing," she says. "I was more worried that I would make them uncomfortable because it's always harder taking care of somebody you know." Yes, even as a patient, this nurse couldn't help but be concerned that everyone else was comfortable.
After completing a treatment plan that included 20 rounds of radiation, as well as surgery, it looked like Juliann's cancer scare was over. But a year later, a follow-up ultrasound and biopsy confirmed that Juliann also had cancer in her left breast. This time, in addition to chemo and radiation, Juliann also underwent a full mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery.
As she went through a second course of treatment, her co-workers doubled-down on the care and support they'd showed. "They covered my shifts, they covered my positions, they supported me with money and food and emotional support — they were just awesome," she says. They held a silent auction for her and took turns bringing her meals (and keeping her "in the loop with things"). And Juliann says her nursing colleagues "took up a collection" for a wig fund to ease her worries about losing her hair a second time. "They used the money to buy me my first wig," she says. "Both of my wigs were paid for by my coworkers."
Juliann says it's that kind of support that has her excited about returning to work on Dec. 1. And she'll come back with a new perspective. "I'm excited to get back," she says. "I love being a nurse, and I hope this whole process had made me a more empathetic nurse." Juliann says her experience as a cancer patient has also given her a new understanding of the importance of early detection. "You can't beat or fight what you don't know you have," she says. "Find it so you know what you're dealing with, and then get rid of it."
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