It's been said that music soothes the soul. That was certainly the case for Traci Miller when a simple song performed spontaneously by three caring staff members in the breast imaging area at Mayo Clinic in Arizona brought Traci relief from a significant case of nerves amid a cancer diagnosis.
Traci, a financial counselor from El Paso, Texas, had first come to Mayo Clinic for the Executive Health Program. At that time, she also met with care providers in Women's Health. During her appointment, Traci told her care team that she had undergone mammograms and two breast ultrasounds in El Paso. Based on the test results, she had been advised to schedule a breast biopsy. Hearing that, Traci's Mayo physician ordered a biopsy for her.
"I was impressed with the professionalism, the speed and the holistic approach I had already experienced (at Mayo Clinic)."Traci Miller
In late March, Traci returned to Mayo for the biopsy. She admits that the procedure was uncomfortable because they were taking samples from a suspicious calcification deep in her breast.
Back home in El Paso, Traci got a call from Mayo Clinic. The news was concerning. The biopsy showed that Traci had ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, stage 0 breast cancer. Her next step would be to meet with a surgeon to discuss treatment. Her immediate plan was to return to Mayo Clinic. "I was impressed with the professionalism, the speed and the holistic approach I had already experienced," she says.
Mayo schedulers suggested the names of several Mayo Clinic surgeons who were available. One who caught Traci's attention was Richard Gray, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon who is now CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona. "I watched some of the YouTube videos that Dr. Gray was part of," Traci says. "His qualifications were off the chart, and his reputation was incredible."
On April 9, when Traci met with Dr. Gray to discuss surgery for the DCIS, she was impressed by his calmness and warm demeanor. When he conducted an additional exam, Dr. Gray encountered a small suspicious lump in Traci's breast. Dr. Gray recommended she go to the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic for an ultrasound. That ultrasound led to a breast MRI and then the need for more biopsies because the tests revealed three more areas of concern. The surgery for her DCIS was postponed at that point.
Traci's fears escalated when she realized that three more areas of concern meant three more biopsies. But although she was significantly scared, those fears were destined to be short-lived, as Traci was about to meet the three care providers she now calls her angels. They were Roxanne Lorans, M.D., a physician in Radiology, and two other Radiology staff members: Kim Dalke, a nurse, and Mary Ann McDonough, a lead technologist.
As Traci reflects on that day, she is convinced she had a panic attack. "I was shaking. I was so scared, and tears rolled down my face," she says, terrified of what the new round of biopsies would find. Traci also was concerned because she knew that the additional biopsies would result in a longer and more uncomfortable experience.
In the procedure room, which was darkened, Traci felt as if she would pass out. In an effort to calm her nerves, she asked the nurses in the room to cover her eyes with a towel. Noting Traci's obvious fear, the staff then offered to sing to her. Traci agreed. When asked what song she would like to hear, however, she says the only thing that came to her mind was a song her mother sang to her as a child: "How Much is That Doggie in the Window?"
Dalke, Dr. Lorans and McDonough stepped up to perform. That did the trick. Traci was finally able to relax and laugh as the trio sang. She was delighted that McDonough even chimed in with the "barks" that are part of the decades-old song.
"I seriously believe I could not have made it through without the amazing people at the Breast Clinic and Dr. Gray."Traci Miller
Easing tension and offering patients moments of levity is important, according to Dr. Lorans. "When patients are having a breast biopsy and they are very anxious, we dance, we sing and we tell jokes," she says. "The patient needs to feel comfortable, and we try to let them know we are totally with them."
Dr. Lorans also praises her colleagues, saying, "They are the most empathic and caring group of women, with a terrific sense of humor and deep sense of kindness." Traci was comforted by the staff members' thoughtfulness, as they not only took time to sing to her, they also chatted with her about sports when they learned she had been an accomplished basketball player.
Following the biopsies, Traci's treatment plan moved forward as Dr. Gray informed her she would need surgery to treat the breast cancer.
For the kindness she received during the difficult time of her diagnosis, Traci feels nothing but gratitude. "Had I not gone to Mayo, I'm not sure what would have happened," Traci says. "I seriously believe I could not have made it through without the amazing people at the Breast Clinic and Dr. Gray." She also praises the staff in Radiology, where she underwent treatment. "Every single person was just awesome. They are the best."
Editor's note: It is with great sorrow that we report the death of Kim Dalke on Aug. 10, following her battle with leukemia. She was beloved by her colleagues and patients, and was one of the special "angels" who helped Traci Miller with her personal cancer journey. Dr. Lorans says: "Although Kim was battling leukemia herself at the time that she met Traci, she continued to work full-heartedly to ensure the comfort of others with cancer. She touched so many lives. It was an honor to work with her. She will be dearly missed."