Cindy Menzies is a breast cancer survivor. She is also an oncology nurse who never expected to walk into her own office as a patient.
But there is a silver lining to the two surgeries, seven weeks of radiation and five years of Tamoxifen that Menzies endured, and her father was the first to recognize it.
"My dad is the ultimate optimist," said Menzies, who lives and works in Oakland County. "When I told him I had breast cancer, the first thing he said was, 'Wow, you're going to be such a better nurse from this.'
"And you know what? It's so true."
'I was sure I had cancer'
As an inpatient oncology nurse at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, Menzies saw cancer and its effects daily. When she was having trouble swallowing, she went to her doctor; she remembers being "sure" she had esophagus cancer.
While at her doctor's office getting examined, the doctor asked if she wanted to get a mammogram also. Since Menzies was only 36 at the time, insurance would not cover the x-ray exam of her breast — most insurance companies do not pay for mammograms until age 40. But she said yes.
Menzies' difficulty with swallowing turned out to be acid reflux.
The mammogram results showed a spot.
Is that like being 'a little pregnant?'
Because of the location of the spot in Menzies' breast it could not be biopsied. Menzies made an appointment with a surgeon, one she worked with regularly.
The surgeon recommended they wait six months to see if the spot would grow.
"I told him that I wasn't good with that, that I wanted it out," Menzies said.
Not only that, she told him she had already scheduled her own surgery with him for 7 a.m. the next day.
The surgery took place on a Thursday. On the following Monday the surgeon called to tell her she had "a little cancer."
"I asked him if that was like being 'a little pregnant,'" Menzies said. "And I don't remember a thing he said after that. It was surreal, like an out-of-body experience."
Menzies had a second surgery that same week.
"The worst part, worse than anything physical, was trying to protect my kids. My mother-in-law died of breast cancer. I was petrified to tell my husband. I couldn't let them see how scared I was," Menzies said.
Next came radiation and five years of Tamoxifin, a drug that blocks the actions of estrogen which can cause certain kinds of breast cancer to grow.
And now, seven years later, Menzies is still cancer-free.
Menzies could not work her 12-hour shifts while undergoing radiation treatments, but she returned to her job as soon as she was able. She knew she could now encourage her patients in a way she never could before.
"When I say to my patients that I understand, I really do," Menzies said. "I try to help them find hope."
Menzies, who lives in Clarkston, works with outpatients at St. Joseph's. She tells them what a cancer survivor told her: "Some day your cancer will no longer be the first thing you think of in the morning nor the last thing you think of at the end of each day."
And she's found another silver lining.
"One good thing is it zaps life into perspective. There was a time I would have freaked out about something like dirty windows," she said. "Now we have to laugh about it."