On the Road to Recovery

On the Road to Recovery

After a bout with cancer, Nancy Baker helps students fighting disease

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

If there's one thing that Health Services Associate Director Nancy Baker misses the most these days, it's pizza.


Health Services Associate Director Nancy Baker with Matt Elfeldt '03, member of a newly formed support group for students who have battled cancer. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Baker, who is recovering from a half-year battle with breast cancer, has been trying hard to stick to an organic diet, free of processed and fast foods. Pizza, she says, doesn't make it onto her menu anymore.

"I have to stay away from foods like that now," she said. "Considering some of the things I've been through, changing my diet hasn't been all that hard."

Baker added, with a grin, "But you have to live, so sometimes I'll give in."

Altering her diet is just one of many transformations Baker has undergone in the past year. A 12-year veteran of Boston College Health Services, she was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer last May. She underwent surgery to remove the tumor late last spring and spent the summer and fall undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

"I am happy to tell you that I'm now cancer-free," said Baker. She says the experience has changed her. Since her return to Boston College in October she has worked more closely with students who are dealing with cancer or other life-changing illnesses.

"I now have an understanding I'd never had before about patients and students who are dealing with these kinds of issues," she said.
Last month, Baker put her new-found empathy to work by organizing, along with Kristy Devine '05, a new support group for students who have battled cancer.

While a similar support group for BC faculty and staff has been in place for about five years, Baker said it is important for students to have their own group because of more common shared experiences.

"One of the hardest parts about having cancer is the isolation you feel," said Baker. "Through a group of people your own age you realize that you're not alone.
"There are so many different issues for students as they are still developing in so many ways," she said. "I really admire them for their strength."

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and one in eight women will experience some form of breast cancer in their lifetime.

Although she was well-acquainted with health guidelines, including the suggestion that woman over age 40 have a breast exam once a year, Baker said that her healthy lifestyle and family history led her to believe that she was not at risk for breast cancer.

"I will be the first to admit that I waited too long between exams," said Baker. "It's ironic in that I would have given myself better medical advice if I were my patient.

"If there's any message that comes out of my experience I hope that women will realize they have to have their screenings annually," she said.

Baker said she found a lump while conducting a self-exam, which set in motion a harrowing couple of weeks that included a doctor's appointment and biopsy, followed by the diagnosis.

"When you realize you have something like this the hardest part is not knowing," said Baker, who is married to Dining Services Assistant Manager Richard Baker. They are the parents of four children, including Matthew, a BC senior.

Baker had a lumpectomy on June 11 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Her dime-sized tumor was removed successfully and the cancer had not spread. She said the procedure was relatively simple.

"In a way, I was lucky," said Baker. "The first thing the surgeon told me was that this was beatable - and it was."

Because of the danger that some cancerous cells could have broken off into her bloodstream, Baker had to undergo chemotherapy until September. She was then required to have radiation treatments in the area of the tumor to prevent a reoccurrence.

"The whole ordeal has made me more conscience of taking care of myself," she said.

Throughout the experience Baker found herself amazed at the outpouring of support from Boston College. She was especially grateful for the August 20 Mass of Healing held in St. Joseph's Chapel.

"It really was very gratifying and enriching," she said. "It was overwhelming. It really does boost your spirit."

Baker said the sickness caused by chemotherapy is exhausting and renders cancer patients with little energy to engage in any activities.

"I'm grateful that I've got the chance to be busy again," she said. "I feel 100 percent back now, like I'm new and improved."
Baker says she has brought that renewal to Health Services.

"It's not been a totally negative experience," said Baker. "I think it's increased my credibility as a health care provider."

The next meeting for the Student Cancer Support Group will be held Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. in Cushing 102.

"We hope that more students whose lives have been touched by cancer will join us," said Baker. "Who knows? Maybe we'll even have pizza."

For more information on either the Student Cancer Support Group or the Faculty-Staff Cancer Support Group, contact Nancy Baker at ext.2-3226.

 

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