Emergency responders are, by design, caring professionals who help people in a time of dire need as required by their jobs. But when one of their own was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, National EMS employees found themselves responding to a very different and very personal emergency.
On her birthday earlier this year, National EMS, EMT Angela Wade knew, just as all women who do when they turn 40, that having a mammogram would become a part of her yearly health care requirements. But that appointment came much sooner than expected after she found a lump in her breast in February.
Still recovering from her December hysterectomy, Wade scheduled a follow-up visit with her doctor the day after she found the lump. She knew it had not been there in December when she was examined prior to surgery, but she would quickly learn her breast cancer was a very aggressive type that would require aggressive treatment. In fact, it was growing so rapidly that the lump doubled in size within three weeks of being discovered.
"I was more worried about my family and my job," Wade said when reflecting on the diagnosis. "I was going to school, so I was kind of mad. Without my work, my friends and my family, I could not have made it — they were amazing."
Following a lumpectomy and a round of what she refers to as "large" chemotherapy treatments, the mother of two teenage daughters was out of commission for six months. It was during that time she realized the power of support and compassion. Her coworkers at National EMS donated their sick days to her and held a fundraiser to help with her medical bills. That explains why she was so eager to return to work even though she is still going through both chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"I love my job – that is what keeps me going," Wade said. Some days, she goes for radiation and then heads straight to work for a 12 or 24-hour shift. She is loyal to the company that supported her and promised her that she could return to the same position working with the same people when she was healthy enough to work again.
Wade admits the radiation makes her exhausted and weak and said she is most grateful to her husband of 12 years, Adam, for the support he has given her throughout her fight with cancer. He has been to every doctor appointment and treatment with her and even ordered 100 "Angela Pink Warrior" bracelets as an outward display of support for her recovery.
"He has been my rock," Wade said. "He did so much research trying to figure out how to act for me." She is strong when talking about her battle with cancer and her love for her career, but it is when she talks about her family's love that tears appear.
Coincidentally, her daughters lost their father, Wade’s ex-husband, to cancer just one and one-half years before Wade was diagnosed. Wade said while she briefly considered the "what ifs" that naturally appear when the word cancer is pronounced, she knew it was important to stay positive and strong for her husband, children and friends. The reward is returning to a job she loves with a company that loves her.
National EMS Director of Operations Huey Atkins said his company has long history of supporting breast cancer awareness and rallied around Wade, who had been employed with National EMS for six years.
"Cancer patients are close to our hearts," Atkins said. "It was just unimaginable when Angela came to us and announced that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a company we told her we would be there 100 percent for her and we would do that for any of our employees."
"Angela is so well liked and respected by her peers, it was just a rallying point," he said. "She is a ray of sunshine to all of us here. It gives a renewed meaning to friendship and to family and we are all really glad that she is back."
Even though her scars have healed and her hair is growing back, her fight will continue with radiation treatments five days a week for a total of 33 treatments. Being a breast cancer survivor, she will now have a mammogram every six months, which she has accepted with a "do what you have to do" attitude.
"It makes you stop and think, and you are thankful for every day now." Wade said. "I don’t take anything for granted now."