Five years ago, Rachel Krueger was wheeled into an operating room at Mayo Clinic to have a brain tumor removed. Doctors thought the tumor was benign. But a week after surgery, Rachel received a call with news that left her numb.
"They'd tested the tumor, and it was malignant," she says. "I was devastated."
Her interactions with Mayo Clinic staff after that diagnosis would shape how she approached life thereafter and how she would use her voice to support those who gave her hope.
Encouraging words from her surgeon, Fredric Meyer, M.D., a neurosurgeon and Waugh Executive Dean of Education at Mayo Clinic, gave Rachel reason to hope from the start.
"My doctor told me they'd gotten all of the tumor," Rachel says. "He said, 'You HAD cancer. We got it all out.'"
Still, Rachel would need regular scans to check for cancer's return.
"For the first few years, I had MRIs every four months," she says. "Now, I'm down to every six months. I always get really nervous right before a scan and while waiting for the results."
Those waits have been made easier for Rachel by knowing who would be delivering the results — good or bad: physician assistant Alison Sadowy.
"She is absolutely wonderful, caring, personable, and empathic," Rachel says.
And so far, the news Sadowy has delivered has been good. That's something Rachel doesn't take for granted.
"When you get a diagnosis like that, you reevaluate life," Rachel says. "I used to have no work/life balance. Suddenly I was worried about whether I'd live to see my kids get married. It changed my priorities."
Eventually, Rachel says her life settled into a "new normal." It came with a new perspective, and a desire to find a way to use her experience to help others — including the health care professionals who have cared for her over the years.
It didn't take long for her to figure out how to do that.
Before her diagnosis, Rachel had been accepted to the University of Wisconsin–Stout's Doctor of Education in Career and Technical Education Leadership program. She began the program just a couple of months after surgery and quickly decided that she'd focus her dissertation on a topic that could help nurses.
"I realized that I could make an impact with my research," Rachel says. As the wife and daughter-in-law of nurses, she knew about the joys of the profession. And about its challenges.
Rachel's dissertation, "Managing the Healthcare Crisis: The Career Narratives of Nurses," investigates what draws nurses to the profession and what keeps them there.
It's dedicated to health care workers, including, she notes: "the doctors and nurses who provided me support and the best treatment plan possible against my winning battle against brain cancer. Without your compassion and amazing care, I would not be here today."
Five years after her diagnosis, Rachel's "new normal" also includes working as a program mentor in the College of Business at Western Governors University. It's a job that allows her to draw on her experiences as a patient, as well as her time in graduate school.
"The students I advise are adult learners who are juggling jobs and school and their families," Rachel says. "When students are wanting to give up, I share my own experiences with them. I tell them if I can do it, you can do it. I want to make sure they don't give up on themselves or their dreams. I think having gone through what I have makes me a better educator. I've been able to take what was a bad situation and turn it into a positive."
That's a lesson worth passing on.