"The St. Charles Cancer Center is one of the places I feel most safe in this world. Where the hugs, smiles and support come with a tragic and compassionate understanding of this type of life. In their eyes I experience the power of living in the moment."
- Cricket Campbell in her CaringBridge journal, Dec. 1, 2019
Cricket Campbell could tell the news wasn’t good before anyone even spoke a word.
“I got a mammogram and I remember these long faces coming in,” she said. “They said, ‘We need to get you in for an ultrasound right away. Like, today.’ And I was like, ‘Oh. OK.’ And so that day, I had the ultrasound, and they said, ‘We see something here.’”
That was in late August of 2019. Within days, Campbell had a diagnosis: invasive ductal carcinoma — breast cancer, which had also spread to her lymph nodes. After visiting with a series of doctors, her treatment plan was set: four months of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy and, if necessary, daily radiation treatments.
“The ball was rolling pretty much out of control from that point forward,” said Campbell, a single mother of two teenaged boys. “And I don’t know how I got connected but somebody connected me with Michele (Halligan), who was my saving grace throughout my treatments.”
Halligan is a nurse navigator, which means it’s her job to meet patients when they arrive at the Cancer Center and to try to ascertain how they can help the patient on their journey toward recovery. Each patient is different, of course, but each initially receives a kit with educational materials, local resources and product samples. The kits are paid for by Sara’s Project, a St. Charles Foundation charitable fund that promotes women’s health through education, outreach, research and more.
“There are some useful things in there,” Halligan said, “but mostly they’re a way to let these people know that they are not alone, that others have gone through this before them and that we’re going to be there right beside them along the way.”
As one of her first steps, Halligan suggested Campbell visit the Cancer Center’s Integrative Therapies department, which provides patients with massage, acupuncture and Reiki, a technique that uses touch to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes. Campbell had never experienced acupuncture or Reiki, but — willing to try anything that would make her feel better — she embraced them.
"I am ready and have done everything I think I possibly could have emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically to get here. I am ready to get any remaining cancer OUT OF ME! … I expect it to all go very well and have been working on the recovery in my mind and heart. My Reiki session last week was the gift I needed for the next phase of this journey."
- Cricket Campbell in her CaringBridge journal, Feb. 25, 2020
From mid-September of 2019 through the end of February 2020, Campbell endured a grueling 20-week course of chemotherapy treatment, which she calls “a very special kind of hell.” She buoyed herself with Reiki and massage, which are funded in part by Sara’s Project.
“Really, Integrative Therapies became my lifeline,” she said. “While chemo was killing me, Integrative Therapies was helping me hold on to myself and hold on to hope.”
Campbell didn’t stop there. When she started struggling to stay balanced, she attended physical therapy sessions. To sharpen her mental and emotional facilities, she took yoga and meditation classes. After her surgery, she strengthened her body through the Ascent wellness program and participated in mindful eating exercises. Along the way, she joined a survivors’ book club that read Dr. Kelly Turner’s “Radical Remission” together, and she nourished her mind by checking books out of the Cancer Center’s library. All are funded entirely or in part by money from Sara’s Project.
“All of it is as much a piece of the puzzle as the conventional treatments,” she said. “When I talk to people about this, I tell them, ‘Get yourself aligned with someone like St. Charles because of these programs.’”
Halligan agrees. She credits the caregivers who perform Integrative Therapies with providing “an additional layer of compassion, love and support” for patients, which leads to better outcomes and healthier survivors. Campbell is clear proof of that, she said.
“She came up on the other side of this very, very strong, and now she wants to serve as a support for other women who are going through what she’s gone through,” Halligan said. “It’s very fulfilling to see her build on the courage and strength that she acquired during this process. She definitely is not the same person she was prior to her treatment.”
"I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know that I am alive today due to hard work and phenomenal care and compassion of those on my team who surrounded me during my treatments and still to this day."
- Cricket Campbell in an email to St. Charles, March 31, 2021
Since her double mastectomy and radiation treatment in 2020, Campbell has poured herself into giving back and moving forward. She started a local Facebook group for women who’ve chosen not to have breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy. She received Reiki training and hopes to volunteer at the Integrative Therapies center in the future. And as a way to fulfill a longtime desire to participate in the Rubbish Renewed recycled-item fashion show held annually in Bend, she has turned a bunch of items from her visits to the Cancer Center — her chemo port, hospital bracelets, post-radiation cooling pads and so on — into a variety of wearable garments.
“I have a cape made from all the cards and encouragement and letters of support I received on my journey,” she said. “It hangs on my bedroom wall now to remind me of how loved I am.”
Next week, she will participate in the 2021 Heaven Can Wait 5K run/walk, her first as a survivor. The event is a major fundraiser for Sara’s Project, and with cancer now in her rearview mirror, Campbell said she can’t miss an opportunity to support a program that has provided her with so much support over the past two years.
“I feel like I can be a better champion for Sara’s Project, having experienced so many of the good things that it makes possible. I can really share that with people now,” she said. “Those services are absolutely invaluable because they help the whole person. Because we are whole people. We are not just cells that get radiated by a radiologist. We are whole people, which includes body, mind, spirit and soul, and Sara’s Project helps ensure those essential pieces get the attention they deserve.”
NOTE: St. Charles Foundation's 2021 Heaven Can Wait 5K run/walk will be held virtually June 6-13. To register (and support Sara’s Project), click here.