Samantha Duke on the ‘pillar of strength’ she found at Mayo after breast cancer diagnosis, treatment

SamanSamantha Duke with her husband, Wallace, and daughter, Adeline.

Samantha Duke, an assistant project manager in Supply Chain Management, shares her experience with breast cancer, the care she received at Mayo, and the new perspective she's gained in the work she does here.

Samantha Duke knows all too well what cancer can do to a person.

Duke, an associate project manager in Supply Chain Management at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, has been hyperaware of breast cancer in particular since a close family member was diagnosed with the disease at 56.

Duke had been vigilant about her breast health and planned to start her preventative mammograms at 40. But she found a lump in her breast when she was 37.

Within months, she felt the lump get much larger and move into her left armpit. And the lump kept growing.

"I knew then I needed to push harder for more answers and I was referred to the Breast Clinic at Mayo," Duke says.

On April 25, 2022, she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, HER2+, and began a treatment plan within a month.

Samantha Duke undergoes chemotherapy with her daughter Adeline Duke beside her.

Duke had just started her job in Supply Chain Management in 2019, but she is no stranger to Mayo Clinic having been born at the Methodist Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester.

Her diagnosis, treatment and aftercare — all at Mayo — gave her a firsthand look at the holistic ways in which Mayo Clinic approaches healing.

For my daughter to not have to sit in the same seats I have, the incredibly smart researchers need participants. 

Samantha Duke

Duke shares her experience as a patient at Mayo Clinic and how it has given her a new perspective on the work she does here.

What do you remember most about your experience at Mayo Clinic?

Samantha Duke at her first chemotherapy session at Mayo.

My care team — plain and simple, Mayo's approach to oncology care is beyond words. It's overwhelming how many groups are available for support and care 24/7/365. There is always a number I can call with questions or concerns. A phone call at 2 a.m. when I have a fever — there's an on-call oncologist. Patient Portal messages about side effects or concerns are answered over the weekend.

Before any of my treatment plans started, my surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist met in person to discuss my case, treatment plans and the next steps. They all agreed on the path, making me feel confident in what I was about to get into.

Another memory I won't forget is, as I was going through chemotherapy, my 7-year-old daughter was along for the ride. We didn't hide things from her and wanted her to feel as confident as I did about my health and future. During my third session, a nurse in the unit brought my daughter a "chemo Barbie" with colorful wigs and a shirt that said, "Strong like mom." Not only was my daughter pumped, but it created space for more conversations with her and made her feel a part of my overall plan. 

What would you like other patients who are going through a similar experience to know?

Cutting her hair short was difficult for Samantha since she had long hair for most of her life.

Cancer sucks and so do most of the treatments, but you have a phenomenal team backing you up. Keep a sense of humor and a positive outlook because your team is there to laugh and cry with you. Even when the symptoms are so embarrassing you'd rather not share, it's just another day for your team. 

Early on in my journey, I started to journal. Having a space and plan for how to deal with the roller coaster of emotions will not only help you process but allow you to feel however you need to — mad at the world, anxious about the future, scared about treatment, etc. Having just gone back and read some of the things I wrote, I see how far I have come, and it makes me proud of what I have completed.

My other advice is to sign up for all the research. For my daughter to not have to sit in the same seats I have, the incredibly smart researchers need participants. I believe I signed up for a total of nine clinical trials because it was so easy. My participation is allowing them to learn, analyze and cure this disease.

Were you already working at Mayo when you were diagnosed?

Yes, I started at Mayo in July 2019, just before COVID-19 hit. Having been in higher education and small nonprofits for decades, Mayo's stability and how they see each employee as more than just a number is what drew me in. The holistic benefits — which I didn't know how grateful I would be for them when I started — are designed to support staff through the hardest of times.

What has been your experience working at Mayo?

Coming up on five years at Mayo and in Supply Chain Management, my experience has been a ride. I was sent home to work remotely in 2020 and have been remote ever since. It almost seems serendipitous that I was able to fight through an intense treatment plan from the comfort of my own home. I really enjoy the work I get to do around change management and communication in Supply Chain. I work with incredibly smart colleagues who have my back, and I have theirs.

How does your experience as a patient influence the way you work?

I feel that my experience as a patient has offered a clear picture into Mayo's mission — the needs of the patient come first. As a lifetime patient of Mayo, I'm incredibly humbled by the support I have received. I have met many other cancer patients from across the world, and their stories are what keep me going. They are coming to the best hospital in the world, looking for answers. Life will continue to get messy, and Mayo will continue to be the pillar of strength for many generations to come.