Breast cancer survivor finds beauty of hope

“Catching this at an early stage makes the world of difference."

By: Kay Todd .

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Rochelle Friesen stood in front of her bathroom mirror with dog clippers in hand. A few days earlier her hair had started coming out in clumps.

“I thought, ‘I just can’t do this anymore,’” Friesen said. “I shaved it, and I almost felt a sense of relief that it was done with.”

A few months earlier, Friesen was lying on the couch with her little rescue dog when she felt a lump above her left breast. At first, the 49-year-old thought it was nothing, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what it could be.

“I was one of those people who say, ‘It’s not gonna happen to me. I won’t get cancer,’” Friesen said. “I wasn’t doing my breast self-examinations or my yearly mammogram.”

The next Monday, Friesen went in for a mammogram — her first in more than two years — at the Edith Sanford Breast Center in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her radiologist saw something unusual and performed a biopsy.

‘I just lost it’

Friesen learned of her breast cancer diagnosis while on her way to Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, the same place she’s been coming to work since she was 17 years old.

“I sat down in my little cubicle, and I just lost it,” Friesen said. “I thought that cancer was going to get me. I really did. I thought it was the end of me.”

Luckily, her cancer was caught early, at stage 1. Her Sanford Health care team recommended a lumpectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Friesen could complete her treatment just 7 miles from her home in Bemidji, a community she’s called home her entire life.

“Sanford is an exceptional facility that will help you get through your treatments,” Friesen said. “They’re standing behind the state‑of‑the‑art technology. They have your heart in mind and just want you to get through this.”

With support from her husband, Paul, two daughters, Brooke and Brittany, family, friends, co-workers and her care team at Sanford Health, Friesen made it through her treatment.

“Every time I had those moments where I thought I’m giving up, I would listen back to my loved ones and my caregivers at Sanford,” said Friesen. “Everyone was telling me I could get through this.”

Thanks to supporters of the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota, nearly 300 mammograms were provided to local women who lacked adequate insurance between July 2017 and June 2018.

Today, Friesen encourages all women to perform self-examinations and prioritize yearly mammograms.

“Catching this at an early stage makes the world of difference,” she said. “By the grace of God, I felt the lump that was on my chest.”

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Posted In Cancer, Foundation, Women's