Chemo Chronicles: Terri Finds Comfort and Strength in Her Work Family

Sep 14 2020

Having the same job and employer for more than three decades is something not many of us can claim. So, it should come as no surprise that Terri Gaines considers her colleagues at Bon Secours Upstate OBGYN, the place she has worked since 1987, to be part of her family.

“I think I’ve raised half of our physicians, who came on board when I was much older than they were,” she laughs.

However, this close relationship with her co-workers made the news of her breast cancer diagnosis even harder. After realizing a patient has cancer, the staff at the Pearlie Harris Center for Breast Health contact the patient’s referring physician to see what breast surgeon they recommend using. In this case, that physician worked at Upstate OBGYN, and Terri’s colleagues were the ones who took the call.

“We all know exactly what those calls mean,” says Kristin King, a medical assistant. She recalls having to keep this huge secret while working alongside Terri.

“I knew I couldn’t tell her the results, but I also knew that if she were to see my face for more than a few seconds, she’d know something was up. So, what do I do? I avoid her.”

Terri did notice her teammate being a little more standoffish than usual, but she didn’t think twice about it until she got a phone call from her physician, someone she’s known for decades. It was during this call she finally learned of her breast cancer diagnosis.

“That was a hard phone call for him to make and a hard phone call for me to take,” remembers Terri.

The news spread quickly from there. As expected, many shed tears with and for Terri, who had already seen several of her co-workers through tough times of their own.

“I met Terri 21 years ago, before we became co-workers. She did the ultrasounds for all three of my pregnancies. Unfortunately, my second pregnancy ended in miscarriage,” recalls Stephanie Thompson, a patient service representative at Upstate OBGYN. “As soon as I heard she had cancer, I flashed back to that day she had to tell me my baby had no heartbeat. She was so lovely and took care of me that day and during my follow-up appointments.”

Terri’s compassion for others hasn’t waned one bit since her diagnosis either.

“My father-in-law is battling metastatic kidney cancer,” says Amanda Goodman, RN. “Terri is always asking me how he is doing and praying for my family. Even when she is going through something similar, she is always thinking of others.”

Perhaps it’s this constant kindness that made it easy for Terri’s colleagues to step up upon hearing about her diagnosis. Casie Dean, a referral coordinator specialist, immediately moved into Terri’s office so she could learn her role and be able to fill in whenever she needed to be absent. Other co-workers also stepped in to help cover Casie’s role while she was filling in for Terri.

“She is not alone in her fight,” says Morgan Crisp, an ultrasonographer. “Her work family is here to do anything she ever needs, to pray for her, to cry with her and be mad with her. Terri has been a person of strength before her diagnosis for me and others, and now it’s our turn to be there for her.”

Due to her diagnosis and treatment, Terri has had to step away from her job for the time being. However, Terri’s work family says her choice to share the story of her breast cancer journey is just another way in she’s living out the mission of bringing good help to those in need.

“Her determination to face this cancer head on and share her story is simply amazing. The fact that she is using her diagnosis to touch and encourage others to get their screenings shows what an amazing advocate Terri is for all our patients,” says Mallory Bowers, CMA (AAMA).

Karen McNeace, another ultrasonographer, couldn’t agree more.

“That’s Terri’s true nature. She is always willing to help and has such a compassionate and loving spirit. She has truly embraced this diagnosis with the most positive and faith-filled attitude that anyone ever could. She is an inspiration to all who know her, and to know her is to love her.”

Read more about Terri’s chemo journey. She shares what it has been like undergoing treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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