Katy Lartz, both a patient and an employee at the Leonard C. Ferguson Cancer Center, is surrounded by her supportive co-workers and caregivers.
It came out of nowhere. With no family history of cancer, no risk factors, and nothing but time on her side, Katy Lartz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 at age 30.
Her eyes still fill with tears when she talks about it: "I felt a lump in the shower, and since I was so young, I didn't think it was a problem," she explains. "I was a busy mother, working in the FHN Gastrointestinal Lab, studying for my BSN, and helping my husband on the farm. When the lump didn't go away, I knew I had to be checked. An ultrasound showed 8-10 suspicious lesions, which turned out to be hormone-negative, HER2-positive cancer – an aggressive type. My family and co-workers were comforting and supportive, but I was obviously shaken."
Because of Katy's age, she wanted reconstructive breast surgery and was referred to the University of Wisconsin - Madison. (At the time, FHN did not offer this capability. It is now available here, thanks to Spyridon Theodorakis MD, FACS.)
She had chemotherapy, followed by a bilateral mastectomy, and returned to the Leonard C. Ferguson Cancer Center at FHN Memorial Hospital in Freeport for radiation therapy. According to Katy, "Everyone was wonderful and I was lucky. The treatment worked well and didn't make me feel sick."
Perhaps it was her good experience at the Cancer Center that led Katy to her calling. "I kept writing papers and doing research in the oncology field as I continued my education," Katy says, " and when a job became available at the Cancer Center after my radiation was complete, I felt compelled to apply. It was emotional leaving the GI team I loved so much, but I was thrilled to get the chance to work with cancer patients. It was one of the best decisions I ever made."
For several years, Katy followed her dreams. She received her BSN and felt fulfilled by her work at the Cancer Center. But in 2015, more bad news came Katy's way. She started having partial seizures, and an MRI done through FHN's Imaging Services showed that Katy's cancer had spread to her brain. She again went to UW Madison, this time for brain surgery.
The prognosis wasn't good, but Katy wasn't done fighting. Neither were her friends and mentors at the Cancer Center. Katy states, "I decided to come back to Freeport for treatment, and Dr. (Arshad) Shaikh has been the best advocate. He said we would go on offense and attack the cancer aggressively, and that is exactly what we did. I started a chemotherapy pill along with immunotherapy infusions every three weeks. Right now, scans show no signs of cancer. With the help of these incredibly smart and welltrained people, I feel good... and happy that I get to continue working beside them every day to help other cancer patients."
When asked if being a patient has made her a better nurse, Katy pauses. "I suppose there are a few things I can empathize with that other people cannot totally understand," she says, "and I hope the experience has made me more compassionate. But all of my teammates are sympathetic and compassionate too - truly world-class. We all work hard to provide professional treatment and support. From the perspective of both a nurse and a patient, I believe FHN gives some of the greatest care around. The staff is second-to-none."
Along with her close-knit work environment, Katy also credits her faith and her family for helping her get through the difficult times. "My trust in God provides peace and hope amidst all the questions," she shares, "and my husband, Levi - along with my children Shanna, Weston, and Parker - give me all the incentive I need to keep fighting."