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.

Mary Wall has spent a better part of her 71 years in hospitals, but when she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, she got a fresh perspective on the care process she was so familiar with.

The former Vice President of Nursing and Chief Nursing Officer for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Mary graduated from nursing school in 1965 and started her career at Penrose Hospital, 2222 N. Nevada Avenue, at age 28, moving her way up through the ranks during a time when, traditionally, only nuns were allowed to serve in management positions. “I loved everything I did in nursing, it was truly my calling,” she said. “The sisters mentored me and guided me along the paths that I took.”

Mary retired in 1996 and has spent her golden years traveling with her husband Richard Wall, MD. The two met at Penrose Hospital, where Richard served as the hospital’s first emergency room physician. He also retired in 2004.

The Walls had planned a cruise to Croatia for Spring 2011, but after receiving Mary’s aggressive breast cancer diagnosis in September 2010, Richard wanted to cancel the trip. “I said ‘Don’t you dare, I’m going to be on that ship,’” Mary said. “It was my goal, my motivation – I think that’s so important to have.”

Mary opted to have a bilateral mastectomy and immediately began the breast reconstruction process. “I did chemotherapy from October to February, then radiation from March to the end of April. My last day of radiation was April 28, and I was on the cruise ship May 5. It was a huge victory for me,” she said. “My husband and sister were both key supports, especially during my therapy and recovery, along with the entire oncology staff at Penrose.”

“I cannot say enough about the Penrose-St. Francis Breast Care Center,” Mary said. “When you sit there in the chemo chair and receive the care, the respect, the dignity those nurses and doctors give every single day, it’s incredible. They certainly made my journey much easier. I didn’t dread going in because I knew they’d be there and take good care of me.” Penrose Cancer Center is part of the Centura Health Cancer Network, delivering advanced, integrated cancer care across Colorado and western Kansas.

On September 23, Mary celebrated five years since her diagnosis and is cancer free. “It’s been a tough road, I won’t deny it,” she said. “It’s given me a different perspective on life and the importance of early detection. So much is treatable when caught early.”

Mary now does private hospice and medical consulting around the country and volunteers with breast cancer support groups through Penrose-St. Francis. “Life is so precious, and we’re here to give, that’s one thing I’ve learned.”

Pikes Peak Newspapers, Editor

Hannah Blick has lived in the Pikes Peak region for six years. She studied journalism at Kansas State University and enjoys biking, skiing and hiking in the Rockies.

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