Sam's Story

Sam's Story

A cancer diagnosis is perhaps one of life’s most difficult pieces of news to receive. Although survival rates are improving for many forms of the disease, cancer is still a serious illness that may consume your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual—as well as your financial—attention for quite some time. Your overall healthcare journey may be changed forever, and it can be difficult to know just where to start or what to do next.

Mayo Clinic recommends finding someone to talk to about your hopes and fears as one coping tactic. It could be a friend or family member, a clergy member, a counselor, a medical social worker or a cancer support group. Parrish Medical Center’s Cancer Program includes Brevard County’s only certified cancer navigator service—and the service is free.

A Parrish cancer navigator is a certified oncology registered nurse who is not only knowledgeable about your disease, but also will help you navigate the integrated healthcare system. Parrish navigators are certified in chemotherapy and biotherapy through the Oncology Nursing Society. Parrish also has a certified breast patient navigator, who is certified through the National Consortium of Breast Centers.

A Survivor’s Story

Samantha Fender was 29 years old and expecting her second child in just a few weeks, when she noticed unusual changes in her breasts. Thinking it was nothing more than the pregnancy, she nevertheless talked to her doctor about it at her next regular visit.

The tests revealed an awful truth. Samantha had an aggressive form of breast cancer. She recalls her mind racing with what this could mean for her toddler daughter, her husband, Paul, and their unborn child. To be carrying new life while having a disease that could take hers seemed impossible.

“When the doctor told us the lump in her breast was cancerous, I felt my heart drop,” Paul recalls. “Sam was young and expecting our second baby. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

With overwhelming concern for her family, Samantha was determined to meet cancer head-on and literally began the fight of her life. Shortly after giving birth, she began the difficult treatment of a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.

Invaluable Support

The support of family and friends carried her through the most frightening times and allowed her to focus on getting better. “Not only did they care for me, they took care of my children when I couldn’t,” Samantha said. “It means the world to me.”

During her treatment, Samantha also had the support of Parrish Cancer Center’s nationally certified breast cancer navigators, Marsha Richardson and Shannon Luker. “It was wonderful to have Marsha and Shannon as my navigators,” Samantha says. “They were always there for me, even in the middle of the night.”

After Samantha's husband, Paul, shaved Samantha's head at home, where they could laugh and cry together, Richardson and Luker fitted Samantha with a wig from Parrish Medical Center's Cancer Boutique.

Samantha and Paul found solace in their shared faith to get through the tough times. “We were never sure what the day may bring,” Paul said. “We took them one at a time and just kept swimming, as Sam likes to say.”

New Perspective

Happily, Samantha is now cancer-free. She says the experience made her a better, more empathetic person. Today she spends time helping others by making gift bags full of comfort items for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

Paul says cancer truly changed their perspective. “It made us realize what is really important in life.”