Oncology nurse Michele Crossin has a special connection to the patients she cares for at Carle–Danville on Vermilion.
She is a cancer survivor herself.
Crossin, who has been part of the oncology team at Carle–Danville on Vermilion for a year after spending eight years at Carle in Urbana, said her breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 45 took her by complete surprise, especially when there had been no prior history of the disease in her family.
A routine mammogram detected her cancer three years ago, and Crossin vividly remembers her feelings that day of the initial diagnosis.
“It was a total surprise,” she recalled. “You’re kind of in denial. You’re in a different reality.
“You don’t know what stage you’re at or what to expect,” she said.
Being an informed health professional didn’t help to ease her worries, either.
“When you’re a nurse, you have to know a lot about the treatment options, side effects and the outcomes,” she said. “It’s almost like you know too much.
“I was very fortunate that it was caught early and that I was able to have surgery,” she said. “I am a huge advocate of having women make sure they have their annual mammogram.”
Crossin decided the best option for her was to have a double mastectomy. The option allowed her to skip chemotherapy, although she does take Tamoxifen orally.
“I was very head strong,” she said of choosing a double mastectomy. “I told myself, ‘I don’t want to deal with this ever again.’”
Her dedication to the nursing profession and the patients she comes in contact with also helped guide her decision.
“I was worried about being ill (from chemotherapy) and not being able to do my job,” she said.
Her experience has given Crossin a unique perspective when she sees female patients who are about to embark on that same journey.
“It’s more of a passion to make their journey a little smoother,” she said. “I am able to share my experience and talk them through it with my journey.
“It helps them to see someone at a comfortable point because there’s always a fear of things coming back,” she added.
At Carle–Danville on Vermilion, Crossin mostly sees female patients who are going through chemotherapy.
“It’s so hard to go through chemo; you feel terrible,” she empathized. “It’s a roller coaster. I tell them if you’ve got to cry today, it’s okay to cry.
“If they’re moms and they have kids, I tell them they have to stop and take care of you. You have to take care of you first.
“I pray a lot, and I hope I move the right words to help them,” she added.
Crossin also shares with her patients the little things – humor and words of encouragement – that make her own journey a little bit easier.
“Humor is huge for me to help me get through,” she said. “My mom always said, ‘This too shall pass.’ I find myself telling them that, and I hope that it helps them.”
Deciding on the best treatment option depends on the type of breast cancer and in consultation with the patient’s oncologist.
“There’s so much verbiage that it can be confusing, but there are so many choices for women,” she said.
Crossin said the oncology team she is a part of at Carle–Danville on Vermilion makes a chart of all the patient’s treatment options “so you can see what your options are when you’re given the diagnosis.”
Reflecting on her own journey, Crossin said she had the best possible experience she could have hoped for with her Carle oncology team.
“I couldn’t be happier with my team,” she said. “I loved them. They’re my team, and they saved my life.”