By Barbara J. Woerner
Virginian-Pilot correspondent
© May 8, 2015

As an 18-year veteran of the Chesapeake Police Department, she's had to break bad news to others. But in April of 2014, Sgt. Diana Thorpe found herself on the receiving end. That's when she learned she had stage-four breast cancer.
It's been a ride-along program Thorpe never thought she'd be a part of.

"I just had to embrace the situation as it was and deal with it," she said. "I found out after I had a mammogram, and by June (2014) I had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery."

Next came six rounds of chemotherapy. Thorpe took the treatments at Cancer Specialists of Tidewater/Riverside Cancer Infusion Center in Chesapeake. There she found the back-up needed for this particular journey
.
"I've had lots of support from co-workers, friends and others and I appreciate it all," Thorpe said. "But the nurses there are the greatest that God ever put on this earth."

Thorpe wanted to bring attention to the important work performed by these health care professionals during National Nurses Week, celebrated May 6 to 12.

"I'll tell you, I'm a cop and I'd take a bullet for them," Thorpe said. "You can't help but feel lifted up when you're in there."

But talk to the four staff nurses - Mary Lashendock, Amanda Westrick, Coleen Crawford, and Amanda Grinels - and they'll tell you they're the ones that gain from serving patients.

"We're in (oncology) because we want to be," said Lashendock who is from Virginia Beach. "The patients give us so much back and we feel like family to each other."

She said more than anything, the nursing staff wants a positive outcome for each patient and tries its best to achieve success.

"I've spent time talking to so many and I've prayed with those who request it," she added.

The four nurses consider their profession a calling. Lashendock became a nurse after helping care for her father, who had multiple sclerosis.

"I used to come home from school and find him unresponsive, and I never felt like I could help him but I tried," she said.

Crawford has been a nurse for 44 years.

"Ever since I got my tonsils out, I knew this is what I wanted to do," she said.

And Crawford has a complete understanding of what her patients are experiencing because she also is a breast cancer survivor.

"I do love our patients here, and I wouldn't want to work anywhere else," she said.

Grinels, a Chesapeake native who attended Indian River High School, saw her life take a turn when she took a human anatomy class.

"I became fascinated with (the class), but I wasn't that great at math," she said with a laugh.

But perseverance helped Grinels conquer the challenges of nursing school and she's never regretted it.

"Working here is part of who I am and it doesn't feel like a job," she said. "(The patients) don't realize how much they inspire us.

"They fill up our tanks daily."

Westrick said she learned to be a caretaker early on, when her younger brother and sister, who were born prematurely, came into the family.

"I just knew somehow I'd be caring for others," she said.

Westrick also spent time with hospice patients while she was in college at Ohio State University.

"Here we try to make our patients as comfortable as possible during a tragic time," she said. "They make me realize that sometimes I'm making mountains out of molehills in my own life and that time is just too short for that."

Comfort, in many forms, is part of the treatment prescribed at the center. The walls are painted with tropical beach scenes. Flat screen TV's are within viewing and the reclining chairs are comfortable. Snacks, drinks and a table and chairs give the place a café feel. Everyone takes time to talk and hug.

Thorpe admits she'll miss the staff when she rings the bell on the wall after her final treatment, but she won't miss the treatments. Her rounds of chemotherapy are finished and she is currently getting infusions of Trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody that strengthens cells and helps stop new cancer from forming.

"They wait on us hand and foot here," Thorpe said. "They place a warm blanket of comfort around you. You can't help but get better in here."

For more information check Riverside Cancer Infusion Center, 110 Wimbledon Square, Suite E1 or call 436-2995
Barbara J. Woerner,
bjwzcool@yahoo.com

Published: May 12, 2015