“I could not have been happier with my treatment at Sentara. It is nice to know that Sentara employs people that are sympathetic to the fight that its patients are engaged in, especially in a situation like this.”
Big smiles greet Catie Coleson as she walks into work.
“You look great, Catie!”
“Glad to have you back. I love your hair!”
Catie smiles as she runs her fingers through her razored bob. “It does look nice, doesn’t it?”
Today is Catie’s first day back to work since her third and final cancer surgery.
She is an event manager for a wholesale club, managing all of the sales advisors and overseeing their daily demonstrations. She strolls through the store with her head held high, her bright blue eyes taking in her familiar surroundings.
“I’m just glad to be back at work,” she says. On June 24, 2009, Catie was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer
which spreads to the lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels. She had just given birth to a beautiful 9-pound baby boy.
“He was healthy, and my life was great,” she says. “All I kept thinking was ‘what is going on?’ I just had a baby. This isn’t right.”
Never in a million years did she expect to be giving herself injections with Interferon three nights a week for 11 months. Nor did she think she would have three surgeries in eight months while caring for a baby. While explaining cancer to her children was hard, it was just as difficult to tell her own parents that she had cancer.
Catie’s first two surgeries, a Wide Excision and Sentinel Node Biopsy, as well as an Axillary Dissection, were performed at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
by surgical oncologist Dr. Eric Feliberti of Eastern Virginia Medical School Health Services. Her thigh was used as the harvest site for a skin graft to her forearm.
Catie also had a plastic surgery procedure performed at Sentara Princess Anne health campus
as the final step in her surgery journey. This was followed by Interferon treatments, which were managed by her medical oncologist, Dr. Michael E. Lee with Virginia Oncology Associates.
Despite her life changing diagnosis and treatment, Catie is determined and courageous. She returned to work in less than a month after her third surgery.
Today, Catie has called a quick motivational huddle with her sales advisors before they begin daily tasks. In shiny silver jewelry and a shirt to match her eyes, she looks ready to take on the day. Her winning approach to work and life seems to be well-respected by her employees, who are happy to have her back in action.
For Catie, the thought of giving in to cancer was never an option. Quite a few of her co-workers have relatives or significant others who have cancer. For those and others battling the disease, her advice is always the same.
“Don’t think of your self as a victim. Stand up to cancer and fight. We cannot let cancer win. We have to win.”