Diagnosed with Cancer During COVID-19, Portneuf Cancer Center was Ready

Years ago, Oklahoma native, Gail D. relocated to Pocatello for a position at Idaho State University, where she was actually tasked with outfitting the walls of Portneuf Medical Center with artwork as a department chair at the school. She fell in love with the people, scenery and atmosphere; and quite literally, at the heart of it all – located in the center of the town – is her beloved Portneuf Medical Center.

Gail and her husband have been cared for at Portneuf in the past and have had wonderful experiences with the doctors, nurses and staff. In December 2020, Gail began what she describes as a “very different kind of health journey” when she found and a lump in her breast; diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was a really scary experience,” Gail said. “When you have cancer, there is an emotional element that makes you feel extremely vulnerable and upset, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Despite being rattled by the news, Gail tried to remain calm. She was in touch with her primary care provider, who she strategically picked based on their affiliation with the hospital.

“I do all my exams and tests at the hospital because of their concept of inclusiveness and it has worked out extremely well because the doctors all communicate and have access to everything through MyChart,” Gail said. “A lot of people go all over to different doctors and facilities, and go here and there, and it’s just a nightmare. My experiences are so pleasant because they keep everything together and they all work together. From the beginning, when I found out I had cancer, I had a team of doctors who care for me in a multi-disciplinary approach and I truly believe it has helped me through cancer treatments.”

Once the tumor was identified, further testing was done to identify the type and stage so the care team could outline an appropriate individualized care plan. It seemed like she was stuck in a state of fear, and she recalls crying often out of desperation, but the kindness of the hospital staff lifted her spirits.

“In the beginning, I was just frightened and scared, but every step of the way I felt even more supported because the doctors and the nurses were always so pleasant,” Gail said. “They were so careful with me. Even a part-time nurse that was just filling in because of COVID-19 said, ‘I can tell this is really upsetting to you,’ and she gave me her personal phone number in case I needed to talk some more about it and I just thought, oh wow, I have come to the right place to get through this.”

After a biopsy, Gail’s cancer was diagnosed as invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC).

“Once we identified the cancer that’s when I met my surgeon, Dr. Fritz,” Gail said. “She’s the one who got me centered around what was happening to me and how we're going to fix it and what the outcome would be. I’m a pretty shy person and pretty private, but she just made me feel so comfortable and she came to visit me many times before the surgery and just talked to me, we talked about everything and I was impressed with that because the surgeons always come to see you when you’re getting ready for surgery, just a simple visit, but she was in and out of my room all the time making sure I was comfortable.”

Despite the seriousness of her diagnosis, Dr. Fritz was able to remove the tumor quickly, and Gail received a good outcome. She still needed to undergo radiation, but she said she received the same kind of care from the Cancer Center as she received from Dr. Fritz and her team during surgery.

“Another person that I was really enchanted by was Dr. Callaghan,” Gail said. “He took such personal care of me. When we would talk, he anticipated my worries and I liked the level of interest there. During my treatment, I developed a very common rash in the center of my chest that felt like an extreme heat rash. I was given a bunch of different creams and ointments and the burning and itching persisted. So, he said to me, ‘Oh Gail, I have just the thing for you,’ and sent a nurse in to give me some cream that really did the trick. Also, because this is such a tight community, his wife actually used to be my gynecologist until she retired, and he asked my permission to tell his wife because she was worried about me and I thought, wow, she’s still thinking about me. It was a comprehensive exercise in people caring for people.”

Gail expressed that she believes the Portneuf staff is well qualified from a medical standpoint, and top-notch when it comes to personalized, community care.

“I’ve learned people in Pocatello are very self-sufficient,” Gail said. “This hospital has developed a philosophy of really helping people and penetrating the attitudes of people in this town so they’re receptive to help and treatment. I think it really works well for a lot of people out here and it certainly worked well for me. I would recommend the hospital to anyone. You’ll get treated royally by everyone from the cafeteria staff to the surgeons, they all have this inherent kindness and compassion like I’ve never seen before and I think there’s something about these doctors that really allows them to heal and care for patients above all else.”

Gail is doing well in recovery with love and support from her husband and family, as well as her entire team of doctors.

To learn more about the Portneuf Cancer Center, visit www.portneuf.org/services/cancer-center or call 208-239-1720. To reach learn more about our surgical team, visit Portneuf.org/surgery.