Breast Cancer Journey Walked with Friends

Shelley Taylor (left) and Patti DeRouin share a moment in the hospital prior to having surgery for breast cancer. The two friends were diagnosed at the same time six years ago.

Imagine getting the phone call that changes your life – that you have breast cancer. Then, imagine getting a phone call from two of your best friends in that same month who have the same diagnosis, and will be going through the cancer journey with you.

“I remember it like yesterday – It was October 15, 2015, when I got the call,” said Patti DeRouin. “It started in September of 2015 with a lump. They originally said there was nothing on the mammogram, but I felt something. I went in for a biopsy on October 13. They called two days later, and said, ‘Is someone with you?’ and I knew that they were going to say that I had breast cancer. Everything was a blur after that.”

DeRouin’s two best friends, Shelley Taylor – and Lori Jacobson-Hesse – were both diagnosed with breast cancer around that same time.

“Shelley and I were both scared to tell each other. Finally, I called her and told her, and she said she had it too. We ended up going through much of the cancer journey together,” said DeRouin. “We were in the hospital the same day for surgery. There was a curtain between us, but we had the same doctor and everything. The doctor actually came in the room and said, ‘What are you doing laying in bed with her,’ and I told her it was my best friend and we were in this together.”

DeRouin had lumpectomy surgery in November 2015 when her lymph nodes were also removed and were shown to be negative for cancer.

“The Mercy Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center in Muskegon is absolutely wonderful for women,” said DeRouin. “They gave me a book that has been my Bible. You have so many questions when you’re given this diagnosis, and then you’re assigned a nurse navigator you can call anytime, 24/7. The people at Mercy Health were so kind and caring.”

Patti’s daughter, Amy DeRouin-Simmons, who was pregnant at the time, was driving in from the east side of the state to accompany her mother to her appointments. She recalled the Mercy Health staff’s care and compassion in the most turbulent time in her mom’s life.

“I truly felt like she got top notch care. I went with my mom to a lot of the oncologist and radiologist appointments. I kind of prepared myself for a ‘deposition’ and had my questions ready,” said DeRouin-Simmons. “I sat and listened to the doctors before I asked questions and the doctors were great — they answered every single one. Sometimes when you’re the patient you’re not listening because your mind is all over the place and you’re in a fog.”

“I was impressed with Dr. Nina Johnson at the Mercy Health Johnson Family Cancer Center,” said DeRouin-Simmons. “We went on a weekend day and Dr. Johnson was there working. She took the time to answer all my mom’s questions while her kids were out seeing Santa with her husband. That was impressive. To have small children and take time out of her weekend with a smile on her face, guiding my mom through her questions about her cancer – just meant the world to me.”

DeRouin started radiation in December of 2015 and told her Mercy Comprehensive Breast Center team in Muskegon that she had to finish by early February because she had a grandson on the way.

“I finished the last of 39 bouts of radiation on February 3, 2016, and my grandson Henrik was born on February 8,” said DeRouin. “It gave me something to fight for. I would go in first thing in the morning, get the radiation done and go on with the day. I had to keep fighting.”  

Unfortunately, DeRouin’s friends both lost their fights. Lori Hesse lost her battle in September of 2017, and Shelley Taylor passed away in February of 2018.

“In the beginning it made it easier to have them both going through the cancer journey with me,” said DeRouin. “They both had their cancer come back with a vengeance and it made it tougher. They were both beautiful, happy, wonderful girlfriends and I miss them both dearly. I celebrated my 60th birthday a couple years ago without my two friends there, but they were there in spirit.”

November 2021 will mark six years that DeRouin has been in remission. She stays on top of her mammograms and check-ups. If she doesn’t – her two children, Amy and Chad – who are both attorneys – are there to remind her.

“It helps to have kids who are attorneys because they ask all the right questions, but then sometimes I have to tell them, ‘This is not a cross-examination,’ and then they remember I’m the patient,” Patti said with a laugh.

As for her future? DeRouin has her passport ready and is anxious to get out and enjoy all that the world has to offer with her husband of 43 years, Jerry, a bladder cancer survivor of 12 years.

“We have our bucket list of travel for in 2022. We are going to visit Florida and Rome, and travel Europe for a few days,” said DeRouin. “Then we are doing Route 66, then Alaska for a cruise with the family. That’s what we want to do now that we’re feeling good. I told Jerry we need to do it while we can. We know life is too short – from what we’ve seen with our dear friends. One day when we have to sit, we can sit in our rocking chairs and talk about all of the fun memories we made together and remember the people who we shared those memories with.”

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