Imagine receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis at age 47. Now imagine calling that diagnosis "a gift." That's how Bonnie Dinneen Hedrick describes her diagnosis with stage 3 multifocal intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma in a recent profile in Rochester Magazine. "My life is the best it's ever been," she tells the magazine — and adds that she doesn't plan on leaving any time soon. "For me, 'terminal' is neutral, it's just a word," says the artist, wife and mother. "This isn't the end of the road for me. This is not the farewell tour."
She wasn't so sure of that when she received her diagnosis back in August 2015. Two weeks of concerning symptoms led her to visit her primary care provider, who ordered the tests that would eventually lead to her diagnosis. When she met with Piet de Groen, M.D., a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, the initial news was not good. The cancer was advanced, the treatment options virtually nonexistent. Bonnie spent the next few days imagining her future as a series of lasts: the last birthday parties she would plan for her kids; the last Christmas they would celebrate as a family. "You can't imagine what goes through your mind," she tells us.
That was a Friday. On Tuesday, Bonnie met with Dr. de Groen again. In the days between appointments, he'd been in touch with colleagues throughout Mayo Clinic and around the world. "When I saw him again on Tuesday, he said, 'I barely slept this weekend. I was working on your case,'" Bonnie tells Rochester Magazine. "And I just knew, when he said that, he was the doctor for me." Soon there were others working relentlessly on Bonnie's case as well, including oncologist Rahma Warsame, M.D., who Bonnie says "calls me some mornings before she goes to work just to check on me. When I'm in the hospital, she stops to visit with me on her lunch hour and on her way home."
"When I saw him again on Tuesday, he said, 'I barely slept this weekend. I was working on your case.'" - Bonnie Dinneen Hedrick
Bonnie says gestures like those assure her that her "doctors are doing everything they can" for her. "If they're willing to give up their free time, if they're up at night thinking of me, then I know I don't have to worry," she says. "I can put my faith in them."
Her family and friends are another source of comfort, Bonnie says. The outpouring of support she's received from the people in her life is "one of the gifts" to come from her diagnosis. "I've always been a do-it-yourselfer, and I don't like to ask people for help," she tells us. But leaning on her loved ones, she says, "has strengthened my relationships and brought me closer to people."
She's counting on her Mayo Clinic care team to let her continue to develop those relationships — especially with husband Nate, son Connor and daughter Eleanor. The family snapped a photo together just before Bonnie started chemotherapy. They're at Silver Bay on Lake Superior — one of Bonnie's favorite spots — and they're all smiling brightly.
She gave a copy to each of her doctors. "I asked them to please keep me in the picture," she says. "And they are."
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