In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 28, 2018

After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Standardized Patient Becomes Real Patient

By In the Loop

Cat Thisius is used to simulating patient ailments and complaints. That art form, however, quickly turned to real life after Cat was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Several years ago, Catherine Thisius' husband was hired as a "standardized patient" for Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. The new gig meant he would act out various patient complaints and ailments for medical students and care providers training at Mayo's Multidisciplinary Simulation Center. Catherine, or Cat as she likes to be called, was intrigued. "It sounded like a very interesting job," she tells us. "And it's flexible enough that he can fit it into his regular work schedule."Cat soon found herself applying to join her husband and the group of about 100 other "actors" who, according to the Sim Center's website, describe their "conditions" and answer questions in character. Then they get out of character and provide feedback to learners in debriefing scenarios.

Cat was hired and soon found that the job included acting out some pretty interesting patient scenarios. "My favorite was playing an injured Romanian trapeze artist," she tells us. And then there was the mass casualty event that Cat and others helped simulate for staff in the Emergency Department in Rochester. "I was moulaged [made up] to look like a burn victim," Cat tells us. "I was then carried 'unconscious' through the ED by other actors and ultimately did not survive due to my injuries." Most of her roles, however, mimic common, everyday complaints "meant to help medical students learn how to best take medical histories and do physical exams," she tells us. "It's a great feeling to know our roles as standardized patients are helping medical students become better doctors."

More recently, Cat has played the role of a real patient, as the Rochester Post-Bulletin and Rochester Magazine report. A mammogram this past January revealed that Cat had stage 0, grade 1 ductal carcinoma in situ, a noninvasive early form of breast cancer. According to our friends at, this type of cancer "has a low risk of becoming invasive." Still, Cat was shaken by the diagnosis. She was thankful, though, that doctors caught her cancer early and treatment was close by.

The six months since her diagnosis have been full of more twists and turns than Cat could have imagined. But after a successful double mastectomy and the continued care and support of her care team at Mayo's Breast Clinic, Cat is now cancer-free and back to living her multi-dimensional life as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, teacher and medical actor. And in her spare time, blocker for the MedCity Mafia Roller Derby team under the menacing persona of "The Mad Catter."

"Derby is one of the most challenging things I've done in my life," Cat tells the P-B, adding, "It was the most challenging, until cancer came along."

Of her transition from standardized patient to real patient, Cat says, "The care I've received from the time of my initial diagnosis throughout all of my post-op appointments has been incredible. My doctors and nurses have been phenomenal, and everyone at the Breast Clinic has been so supportive and has given me the information I've needed to make informed decisions throughout my treatment. I really can't thank them enough."

You can read more about Cat's cancer journey and her return to the roller derby here and here. Then give us something to read by sharing your comments below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.



Tags: Breast Cancer, Breast Clinic, ductal carcinoma in situ, Emergency Department, mastectomy, Multidisciplinary Simulation Center, Patient Stories

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