Renee Amundson has spent the last 15 years working tirelessly in Altru’s Environmental Services department, keeping hospital facilities spick and span for patients and staff.
In 2013, Renee noticed a suspicious lump in her breast. At 56 years old, she had never had a mammogram.
“I worried about it for a month before taking action,” admits Renee. “I didn’t tell anyone—not even my husband or daughter.”
After Renee mentioned it to her primary care provider, she quickly got in for her first and only mammogram.
At her follow-up appointment to discuss the results of her biopsy, Renee saw a small black bag with a pink ribbon. Her heart sank. “I knew it couldn’t be good.” Renee was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer on March 4.
Starting the Fight
Within a two-week timeframe, Renee found a general surgeon, an oncologist and a reconstructive surgeon.
“Things moved really fast,” she shares. “There were a lot of appointments.”
Renee’s general surgeon, Dr. Grieve, recommended a double mastectomy. Dr. Meland, a hometown friend of Renee’s originally from Northwood, North Dakota, explained reconstructive surgery.
Renee elected to go with both the double mastectomy and complete reconstruction. “Sometimes, you’ve just got to put on your big girl panties and face it,” she smiles.
Dr. Meland walked her through the process of how the implants expand over time. On Good Friday, March 29, Renee underwent her first surgery. After surgery, Renee saw Dr. Meland every two weeks to expand the implants via injection.
“None of this was easy,” shares Renee. “I was just so tired of hurting all the time.”
Despite the hard moments, Renee kept her bright smile and positive attitude.
Throughout her cancer journey, Renee’s husband, Keith, was her constant caretaker. When she was uncomfortable sleeping and had to sit up in a recliner, he slept in a recliner by her side. He kept the house running smoothly, did all the chores and prepared all the food. “He was such a good wife,” Renee smirks.
“I asked my oncologist when I would lose my hair, and he said on my second round of chemo. Sure enough, he was right. On my second round, I was brushing my hair and saw a lot of hair in my brush. I had a meltdown and called my husband at work. I asked him to shave the rest off when he came home that day.”
She continues, “My brothers and sisters-in-law, Laramie and Doni-Erin Olson and Rodney and Linda Olson, would come and visit me during my chemo treatments. They were there to help with anything. When my hair started to fall out, my brother Rodney and others shaved their heads. Also, some co-workers came by and sat with me. My adult children pitched in and took my youngest daughter prom dress shopping when I couldn’t. With all the visits and phone calls, I never went through this alone.”
Caring for the Providers
Even while she was the patient, Renee was giving back to others.
She knew Dr. Panico had a sweet tooth, and when she often saw him around 3 p.m. for appointments, she would thoughtfully bring homemade treats, such as chocolate bars or caramel popcorn, for him to enjoy with afternoon coffee. For Amanda, Renee would make her favorite—cream cheese pumpkin rolls—as well as a pink “Hope” wreath, which is still on display in Amanda’s office.
“Renee has been such a delight,” shares Amanda. “We enjoy seeing her smile and visiting with her. We also enjoy her beautiful crafts and yummy treats.”
Dr. Panico adds, “Renee had a positive attitude during and after treatment. She is always a pleasure to see in clinic!”
Renee finished her last round of treatment on August 20. By the second week of September, she was completely done with implant injections and had the port removed. Renee was cancer-free.
“All the nurses that cared for me are the best. A big thank you to everyone at Altru for all the awesome care and kindness.”
Today, Renee continues to have check-ups every six months, and she will switch to annual visits after five years, or August 2018.
Renee is back to enjoying all her favorite things. She continues to create a welcoming experience for patients, working full-time in Environmental Services at Altru Professional Center. She loves spending time with her kids and grandkids, escaping to Golden Lake with family in the summer, and cooking and baking delicious foods for loved ones whenever she can.
Numerous studies have shown that getting a mammogram and a breast exam reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer. Breast cancers found during a mammogram are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. To learn more or schedule your mammogram, please visit Altru.org/breast.