As a nurse at North Memorial’s Northwest Family Physician’s clinic for 15 years, Deb Schlueter was accustomed to using her positive attitude to brighten the day of her patients. This same optimism served her well when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
Within a month after her diagnosis, Deb underwent a bilateral mastectomy. The surgery, however, was the easy part. Soon after the procedure, Deb developed a rare condition called Pyoderma Gangrenosum, an autoimmune disease that causes a large ulcer on the skin. To ensure that chemotherapy would not exacerbate the condition, Deb had to visit the Mayo Clinic for a special consultation. She then received chemotherapy at the Humphrey Cancer Cancer.
Through the difficult period, Deb recalls the kindness of others around her. During my stay at North Memorial, when I couldn’t sleep for a week because of the steroids, a kind, off-duty nurse sat up with me because I didn’t know what to do with my time.” Such gestures made a big impression on Deb.
But more than just an inconvenience and health challenge, Deb’s hospital stay created financial challenges for her family. With Deb in the hospital unable to work, her husband, Doug, struggled to keep up with their bread delivery business. Shortly thereafter, Deb then learned from her nurse navigator, Jean Pupkes, about the Pay It Forward Fund, which helps patients with various living expenses while they undergo cancer treatment. Deb applied and eventually received a grant. “For at least a month, I didn’t have any financial worries.”
All the while, Deb’s cheerful personality helped her develop close relationships while receiving chemotherapy from her care team at the Humphrey Cancer Center. “I always had four or five people in the room with me. Chemo isn’t fun, but we made the best of it, jamming to music and playing board games.”
Now celebrating her third year of being cancer free, Deb says the whole experience has changed her. “The things that used to stress me out, like having a spotless house when company is coming, don’t matter as much anymore. That stuff just isn’t important, especially when you go through chemo and you’re not sure there is going to be a tomorrow.” Deb is also considering getting back into nursing.
Given her experience and desire to help others and give back, Deb volunteers for several breast cancer related charities. However, she feels particularly close to the Pay It Forward Fund. “I may not have the money, but I have the time,” she says. Deb has been a consistent volunteer at the Pay It Forward Fund Casino Night, but her new favorite event is the Fillies Race for Hope held at the Canterbury race track, an event that also benefits the Pay It Forward Fund.
In addition to being a loyal volunteer at the events, Deb also volunteers as a patient coordinator. There seems no limit in how much she gives back.