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Nurse navigator instrumental in survivor’s treatment, recovery

By: Leslie Massey, leslie.massey@gazette.com
October 27, 2015 Updated: March 18, 2016 at 9:59 am
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The Gazette is partnering with title sponsor Penrose-St. Francis Breast Care Center and ribbon sponsor Peak Vista Community Health Centers to bring you inspiring stories of local breast cancer survivors and a behind-the-scenes look at the care process from physicians, surgeons, nurses and volunteers throughout October.


When an unrelenting cough brought Darlene Lilja to her doctor’s office earlier this year, she never expected breast cancer to be a part of the discussion.

After she underwent an X-ray and CT scan to assess her cough, physicians detected a breast tumor and directed Lilja to get a PET scan. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and to the Penrose Cancer Center to pursue treatment and recovery options. Penrose Cancer Center is part of the Centura Health Cancer Network, delivering advanced, integrated cancer care across Colorado and western Kansas.

“At the cancer center I met with oncologists to establish a plan for treatment,” Lilja said. After undergoing a lumpectomy surgery to remove the tumor and affected breast tissue, Lilja endured ten days of chemotherapy and 20 days of radiation. At age 79, she handled the demanding treatment considerably well.

The Penrose Cancer Center staff also connected Lilja with a nurse navigator. “I am totally impressed with the extent of care I received from everyone at Penrose,” she said. “My nurse navigator was an invaluable part of every step and assisted me through the numerous appointments and was checking up on me all the time.”

Lilja said she was never afraid during her treatment. “From the beginning, I just knew that this was something that had to be taken care of,” she said. “I wasn’t worried, I just wanted to do what needed to be done.”

The mother of three has been married 58 years, and continues to recover well from her battle with breast cancer. Her oncologists feel confident that she is now cancer free, but she is ready for verification at her six-month checkup at the end of October.

“I have so many wonderful things to say about the entire team at Penrose Cancer Center,” she said. “They made my experience as relaxed as possible. The entire center is simply amazing.”

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