Lisa Cave, a 5th grade Educational Assistant at Burgess Elementary School in Sturbridge, Mass., was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2015. Over April vacation, in the midst of chemotherapy, she lost her hair. She returned to work the following Monday wearing a scarf around her head.
That Tuesday, she walked into homeroom to see almost every student in her two classes wearing a scarf or hat in support.
“It was a beautiful moment,” says Cave. “They didn’t have any help from the other teachers. They thought of it all on their own and rallied together. I never missed a day of work while I was going through treatment, and the compassion of those kids was a huge reason why.”
Cave, a Sturbridge resident, also attributes being able to go in to work every day throughout her cancer journey to the locality of Harrington’s Cancer Center in Southbridge.
“People thought I was crazy for working,” remembers Cave. “Even my oncologist warned against it because my immune system was so low, but I wanted to keep my family close, and I couldn’t have done that if I was going far away. There is a lot to be said when you can keep your life as normal as possible while going through a really difficult, scary time.”
Cave went to radiation in the Cancer Center every morning at 7:30 before school started. After Cave’s diagnosis, she had the lump in her breast removed in February, which was the first surgery she ever received in her life. Then she began eight rounds of chemotherapy with six weeks of radiation to follow.
Her family members and friends questioned why she wasn’t going to a more world-renowned cancer treatment center, like Dana Farber in Boston, but Cave defended the high quality of care at Harrington.
“I remember some days, I would drive up to the parking lot and think, ‘I can’t believe I have to do this again,’ just anticipating how I would feel after. Then I would walk in and everyone from the people at the front desk to the nurses to the techs were so nice. They were so empathetic, but not in a pity way, in a very human way. They don’t make you feel like a cancer patient, but just a person who they want to feel better.”
The mother of three teenagers has been a patient with Harrington since she moved to Sturbridge with her husband 24 years ago. She delivered all of her children in Harrington’s Birthing Center and came to Harrington Physician Services for her annual physicals, appointments, and mammograms.
Aside from bringing her kids to the emergency room for stitches over the years, Cave had only come to Harrington for standard, preventative checkups. She was devastated when she was first told that she had breast cancer, especially with no family history of the disease whatsoever.
“It’s devastating when you get that kind of news. It was like getting hit in head by a two-by-four piece of wood,” says Cave. “You have to be positive. When I first got diagnosed, I didn’t understand that, but everyone at the Cancer Center is so positive. It’s hard not to be positive when you have five people smiling at you, asking what they can get for you to make you more comfortable. Their positivity rubs off on you.”
Lisa Cave finished up her last week of radiation just in time for October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She plans to take this October to recuperate, but hopes to participate in pink ribbon events in the years to come. She recalls her 10-month battle with cancer and the beautiful moments she was still able to experience along the way, like watching her oldest son graduate high school, attending her 16-year-old son’s soccer games, and watching her 13-year-old daughter go horseback riding.
“I’ll never look at each day the way that I used to,” she says. “This October, I will be thankful that my outcome was so good, but also think of those who are going through it alone or under different circumstances. My appreciation for life is so different now. I usually tend to be a more private person. After going through something like this, I feel like I need to share it.”