Why do I work in the HFM Cancer Center?

Vicki Schiesl-Petska,
Physical Therapist Assistant

I have worked for Holy Family Memorial for 23 years. In 2011, I was invited to a meeting to collaborate services for rehabilitation and cancer patients. Survivorship and rehabilitation programs were quickly growing among cancer centers throughout the United States. HFM gave the opportunity to 25 physical, occupational, speech therapists and assistants, radiation therapists, nurses and support staff to become certified Survivorship and Rehab clinicians. I was one of those 25! We went through four months of extensive training and were up and running March 1, 2012. We were the first program in the entire state of Wisconsin! It was a great opportunity for our organization.

When the opportunity was discussed with me, I never had any reservations. It made perfect sense to the philosophy I follow each day with all my patients: Treat the person, not the diagnosis. I realized early on in my career, that when you step away from the chart, the notes, the computer, and just listen you can learn a lot from a patient on what underlying symptom may be causing their ailment and it is then that you can take the necessary steps to help them improve and return to their daily activities with ease.

Why do I work in the cancer center? Isn’t it depressing people will ask. No way! It’s amazingly satisfying, but that work cannot describe what I encounter on any given day in the HFM Cancer Center. A patient with a diagnosis of cancer has had their world completely turned upside down, they are trying to process everything going on, as well as maintaining their role within their jobs, homes and personal lives. This can be very overwhelming for them as they are attempting to find a new normal while processing their feelings and those that they are close to. As therapists we spend a great deal of time one on one with a patient throughout their journey. We are the neutral party, the safe person, to allow them to think out loud without fear of hurting those they love the most as they work through everything that is happening in their lives. We are part of their entire journey. We may hold therapy at different intervals as it can begin at any time, whether it be preparing their body for the upcoming surgery, keeping their strength and giving them tips for energy conservation during their treatments or regaining strength and function after they have completed their chemo and radiation treatments. Everyone at the HFM Cancer Center is considered part of the team, everyone’s opinion and knowledge matter in providing the best care for our patients.

Not every story or journey is successful, and the process is different for everyone. However, each individual works through the process their own way. I have learned something from each patient. To say every day is easy would be a lie, I have cried in the stairwells. Some of these have been the ugly cry, the choking sobbing cry as you never know the effect a patient’s bad news will have on you. However, you stop, you get it together and move forward, because that patient needs you for support and there is another patient in a room waiting for you to walk in smiling.

Our patients and their families often thank us, but in all reality, we should be thanking them. Each patient reminds us not to dwell on matters we cannot control, try to be and give our best each day, and enjoy the little day to day moments. Most of all, they remind us that God has a plan for all of us and we need to put our trust in him.