On October 7, 2012, Stacy Tackett of Gurnee, Ill. ran her fourth marathon less than five months after undergoing a double mastectomy at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, achieving a personal record by six minutes and twenty seconds. Amazed and ecstatic about what she had achieved, she returned to Northwestern Lake Forest to present her marathon medal to her nurse navigator, Cathy Spagnoli, who had guided her throughout her cancer journey.
“I had so much support through my cancer experience and during my training for the marathon -- from my sister and my family, from friends and from my running clubs in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Libertyville,” said Stacy, when describing how she had the mental and physical stamina to run the marathon. “I dedicated the race to all those who have made the cancer journey, and because my nurse Cathy is dedicated to helping patients through that journey, I thought it was fitting that she have my completion medal.”
“Stacy went through an intense physical and mental challenge, and for her to compare what I did for her to her marathon experience is just so humbling for me,” said Cathy Spagnoli, RN, BS, CBCN, CBPN-IC and nurse navigator at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. “As nurse navigators, our goal is to help patients understand their treatment and aftercare and to be a resource and support for them throughout the treatment and beyond. It truly can become a lifelong connection.”
The Posy Krehbiel Breast Care Center at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital takes a holistic approach to managing breast cancer patients’ care, beginning with a nurse navigator who, in conjunction with the breast imaging radiologist, provides patients their biopsy results, then coordinates their further tests and appointments, and then follows them through their treatment and aftercare to provide information, resources, support and advice. The nurse navigator is part of an inter-disciplinary team of mammographers, radiation oncologists, breast surgeons and oncology social workers who work together to ensure patients receive the best care possible with the support they need emotionally and physically during treatment and aftercare.
A physical education teacher in Waukegan, Stacy had signed up for the Twin Cities marathon last January and then received her cancer diagnosis in early May at the Northwestern Grayslake Cancer Center. She completed a half-marathon after her diagnosis and two weeks before her surgery, and she wondered if she would be able to run more than that for some time, if ever. Fortunately, her cancer had been caught early, meaning she wouldn’t need chemotherapy after her surgery. And because she decided against reconstructive surgery, her primary focus after the mastectomy was on a full recovery to regain her stamina and strength.
“I watched my sister go through chemotherapy for breast cancer and so I knew how fortunate I was that it was caught early,” said Stacy. “Cancer is a terrible thing, and yet I ended this process so grateful for my support system and for the wonderfully kind and gentle doctors, nurses and staff at the Breast Care Center at Northwestern Lake Forest. Every step of the way I have felt blessed to have a second chance at life.”
Stacey started running again 10 days after her surgery. She was unable to run a
half-mile the first day she ran and for a few weeks after. She felt defeated and disappointed, but conversations with Cathy and others helped her understand the toll the surgery had taken on her body and to have patience with herself. She changed up her training, adding biking and running fewer days but with longer runs, and she quickly improved her strength and distance. She felt ready for a 5K on the 4th of July, only to have to walk at the second mile. Despite her frustration she kept training and kept a positive outlook about her recovery.
By the beginning of August she completed the Rally for Autism 5K run in Libertyville and won her age group. With this emotional boost she went on to complete three races in the next six weeks with a personal best in all of them, giving her confidence that she could complete a marathon.
“Breast cancer has given me a new perspective that life can change at any time. Life is all about new challenges that can make or break you, and I have found that when you surround yourself with positive, caring and supportive people, you can accept the challenges and you overcome them,” said Stacy. “I’m so fortunate to have had Cathy as my guide and supporter through my diagnosis, surgery and recovery. She is an angel with pink wings.”