There are times when a diagnosis of a crippling and even fatal disease sends a person into a state of despair, where all hope is lost. One 27-year-old cancer patient turned her despair into a bright future by accepting a job at the hospital where she was treated for stage 2B breast cancer. At such a relatively young age, the last thing Samantha Mergen expected to find was a lump on her breast.
After scheduling a mammogram at UW Carbone Cancer Center, Mergen received news that rocked both her own faith and her husband’s right before their one-year wedding anniversary. The tumor was malignant, she told LiftBump; she had breast cancer.
The diagnosis came as a surprise to the otherwise-healthy newlywed. “I have no family history, I’m healthy and active, and it just didn’t line up especially being 27 at the time,” she said.
Mergen opted for a mastectomy, but later discovered that her cancer had already traveled to her lymph nodes. It began her journey with radiation and chemotherapy, but not before she and her husband chose to undergo in vitro fertilization to save their embryos in case they chose to expand their family in the future. The procedure was costly, but with the help of family, friends, and the community, the couple was able to raise $16,000 to cover the costs. Even strangers stepped up to help when they heard about the newlyweds’ quest to secure their future family.
Mergen said she was hopeful that she would beat the cancer and continued to focus on the future. She opted to shave her head and shopped for wigs with her husband, Elliott. Her outlook was positive. “I’m just gonna go with it … bald, beautiful and proud,” she told WMTV.
“I’m just gonna go with it… bald, beautiful and proud.”
Her future was shaped by the experience of undergoing radiation and chemotherapy at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. While she was going through her treatments, Mergen decided that she needed to find a way to give back to the community and provide others with the support she received while battling cancer.
In March 2013, Mergen was declared cancer-free, and weeks before her last reconstructive surgery, she accepted a position as the clinical research coordinator at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. She wasn’t ready to end her time at the center.
It was a position that allowed Mergen to help others who were enduring the same diagnosis and treatment she had just battled. “I’m able to let them know that there is hope, that this can get better.” She credits her experience with the staff at the UW Carbone Cancer Center with helping her change her attitude about cancer and develop a hopeful outlook. She wants to do the same for future patients.
Two years after her journey with cancer began, the cancer center welcomed one of its patients as a staff member. Mergen currently works with gastrointestinal cancer patients who participate in the center’s clinical trials and shares her firsthand knowledge and experience as a cancer survivor. It can be discouraging to be diagnosed with a debilitating disease, especially when there is no warning and no potential cure.
Many patients lose hope, expect the worst, and lose faith in their ability to carry on. With the support of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, Mergen was able to change her outlook, seek out support and in return, find a future career helping others who are now where she was two years ago. You, too, can make a difference by volunteering your time with hospital patients, caring for elders and doting on the sick to ease the pain of a devastating condition.