Getting Back to the Barn
Dehne puts her trust in Bliss Cancer Center team after cancer diagnosis
For the better part of three decades, there was literally nothing that could keep Pam Dehne from tending to her horses. Through wild weather and jam-packed work schedules to illnesses, injuries and a variety of curveballs commonplace on the farm and in the barn, Pam was there day-in and day-out to feed, brush and tend to her horses.
It wasn’t until a cancer diagnosis that Pam had to put the horses on the backburner.
In December 2019, Pam was diagnosed with an “exceptionally large lymphoma” in her abdomen. Wrapped around an artery in her stomach, the ominous diagnosis took Pam by surprise. She remembers being a little quicker to tire in carrying out her chores prior to the diagnosis, but there was little else that indicated she may have been facing something so serious.
“The only reason I went to the doctor at all,” Pam recalls, “is that I was noticing that I was perhaps tiring a little easier, and I noticed when I was in bed one night that I could feel a heartbeat in my lower abdomen. Over the course of about a week, the heartbeat got stronger, and I could feel a lump."
Worried it was a hernia or an aneurysm she visited her primary care provider, Michael Bird, M.D., of McFarland Clinic Family Medicine. Within 24 hours of her initial appointment, she was diagnosed and referred to medical oncologist Venkatesh Rudrapatna, M.D., at the William R. Bliss Cancer Center.
“I’ll be honest, I had a lot of people ask me why I didn’t go to Mayo Clinic or to another cancer center in a big city,” says Pam, who worked for more than 30 years as a physical therapist at Mary Greeley Medical Center. “I said, ‘What for?’ I told them that the care I needed was available at Bliss Cancer Center. I am sincere when I say it is one of the best cancer centers around.”
Complex Care Delivered with Compassion
Pam’s cancer was complex and required an aggressive course of chemotherapy followed by radiation therapy. Throughout, she took an analytical approach to her treatment. She says it was invaluable to have the team at the Cancer Resource Center available to help her process each bit of information she was provided along her journey.
“I am very self-directed but having a navigator through the Cancer Resource Center was incredibly valuable to me,” Pam says. She was primarily served by navigator Angela Long, RN, during her treatment. “Angela helped me to determine which provider was best for my personality, how to approach my various treatments, and just provided me support whenever I needed it throughout my treatment and recovery.”
Pam was admitted to Mary Greeley Medical Center for her first chemotherapy session on December 31. An admitted “light weight” when it comes to medications, Pam faced the heavy course of chemo like a champ. She had a reaction to the treatment during her first session, but the care team made a quick adjustment and Pam was able to receive five additional infusions without any significant issues.
Upon completing her course of chemotherapy in mid-April, Pam moved on to radiation oncology. She had 17 total radiation treatments and says she tolerated them “just fine.”
A Return to Chores
Reflecting on the journey, Pam says getting back to her beloved horses and watching her grandchildren ride is what gave her the motivation to keep moving through chemotherapy, radiation therapy and more.
“They told me right away that I couldn’t be out in the barn,” Pam says. She and husband Ernie currently have 11 horses, a few of which their grandchildren ride in barrel races and other riding competitions throughout the region. “The barn is my spiritual sanctuary and my physical gym. Being grounded from the barn was my low point.”
Ernie and the grandkids regularly brought the horses to Pam, which brightened her days, but it was the motivation of getting back to throwing hay, spreading feed and getting the horses out of the pen that kept Pam going.
“Throughout that time, I was forcing myself to stay in shape by walking up and down the stairs in our old farmhouse,” Pam says. “I wanted to be ready to go back to my regular routine of spending an hour or two doing chores each morning as soon as I was cleared.”
Now back to her regular routine, Pam says she is grateful to have received such effective and compassionate care so close to home.
“The entire experience was remarkable, from my physicians and nurses to those in the Cancer Resource Center who walked the journey with me,” Pam says. “They all put me at the center of care. I was never pigeonholed or treated like a number. I always felt like I was their only patient. And they approached everything with such clarity and professionalism. I wasn’t just getting pushed through the system. I was being cared for by every single person I encountered.”