It was a rescue dog.
One of three border collies had found out abandoned in the road — a gift from a co-worker in the clinical laboratory at Carson Valley Medical Center in Gardnerville.
When Lindsey Strazi took the dog — Mellie — home, she never could have imagined it would wind up rescuing her. And she never could’ve anticipated how much more she’d receive from her co-workers in the months that followed.
“I was reading a lot about training border collies,” Strazi said. “I read this story about a border collie being about to detect cancer.”
The next day, as she was changing shirts, Mellie jumped up and bit her in the chest.
After overcoming the surprise of the moment, Strazi — then 36 — couldn’t escape the story she’d read the night prior.
“I started thinking when was the last time I’d checked for anything,” she said. “So I did, and I found a lump.”
The lump led to her first mammogram, where another lump was found.
What followed from the moment she was informed she had breast cancer was a whirlwind.
Numerous calls from the surgeon’s office and oncology led to surgery at CVMC. The surgeon installed a chemotherapy port in preparation for eight rounds of chemotherapy at CVMC’s infusion center. Then back to the operating room six months later for a mastectomy, followed by a year of targeted therapy.
All performed within a 20-yard radius of where she’d worked every day for 10 years.
“Being a patient changes your perspective about the people you work with,” she said. “It’s one thing to know them as nice and completely different to be on the receiving end of their care. You become a priority to them, where you are their focus.”
“Everyone spoiled me. All the girls in our infusion center, everyone in imaging, everyone in surgery, Dr. DeMar, Dr. Silk, Dr. Mocherla. (Registered Nurse) Lori Salvador in Infusion took time to help me find an oncologist and was just such a wonderful resource to me.”
“It’s something I say so often now — why go to Carson when you can drive five minutes and get the same thing done here close to home? When you are sick, you don’t want to go anywhere else. To me, the less you have to be in the car when you’re facing something like that, the better.”
Eight months it went on, with co-workers organizing fundraisers to help cover the costs of her treatments.
Her department became her haven.
“If I needed to laugh, they’d joke with me,” she said. “If I wanted to cry, they’d cry with me. I’m extremely grateful to have been with the people I work with. The job itself kind of kept me sane. My perspective toward the patients changed. There was always someone facing something harder than I was facing. It kept me in check, from feeling sorry for myself. If I was having a hard day, I’d wait 20 minutes because someone would inevitably walk through the door that needed help. ”
During her fight, Strazi connected with a new friend, Sarah, who was fighting her own battle with cancer.
“You share a whole different world,” Strazi said. “When you meet someone who is going through the same thing, or who has gone through the same thing. Sarah was my savior through chemo. We called each other “breasties” because we were fighting the same fight.”
“It’s horrible. All you can do is crack jokes. One of our running jokes was ‘all the things they don’t teach you in Chemo Class.’ You had to turn it into a funny, otherwise it was just too hard.”
Sarah’s cancer continued to progress over the past year and she passed away in August.
“She was so special to so many people,” Strazi said. “When you lose your right arm, it’s hard to get going again. I was so used to having this sounding board, and she’s not here now. I feel this burden to start to become that for others.”
“We had a breakfast club together, a safe place where we’d meet and talk about what we were going through. That’s something I have started again. To get another group of girls together and be those sounding boards for each other.”
The breakfast club will meet Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. Interested survivors & fighters under 50 can contact Strazi via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strazi is now cancer free, but is on a 10-year cycle of an estrogen blocker. The bills continue to cycle in.
In the time since Strazi’s battle, the Carson Valley Medical Center Hospital Foundation has created The Pink Fund, benefitting local patients facing a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“The cycle of bills is so financially and emotionally draining,” she said. “There are not enough programs out there to help people who wind up in this situation. Programs like this can mean so much to someone, to a family.”
The fund is supported by a pair of events hosted by The Pink House in Genoa — this year a Watercolor & Wine event at Genoa Town Hall on Friday, Oct. 12, and the Tickled Pink Dinner at the Pink House on Oct. 27. Call 775-392-4279 for more information on the events.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Carson Valley Medical Center is also offering $50 screening mammograms through the month of October. Call 775-782-1533 to make an appointment.
For more information on the Pink Fund or screening mammograms, visit www.cvmchospital.org/pink.