Rockford resident Erin Cizauskas, 37, recalls unforgettable moments in her life that shaped her into the person she is today. The day she married her husband Ken, her daughter Veronica’s birth, and the moment she found out she had breast cancer as a young mother. Her battle began in early 2020. She arrived at Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan (CHCWM) hoping to find answers.
Oncologist Dr. Amy Vander Woude began a treatment plan supporting Erin with her life-changing news. “I remember being overwhelmed at all the news. My husband and I were stressed out, but Dr. Vander Woude turned to me and said, ‘let’s take care of you.’ I felt better knowing there was a plan for me.” Erin said.
After Erin’s double mastectomy, she began chemo on March 17th, 2020. “I was ready to show up in my green for St. Paddy’s Day to make the best of it. It ended up being the day we all went into lockdown for COVID-19.” Her spirit was even more crushed, knowing she could not have her family with her at appointments. “They called themselves Erin’s Army.” She said.
Erin’s Army grew from being family and friends to the staff at CHCWM that she became close with during her journey. “Stacy Curtis was my nurse. But she wasn’t just my nurse. She became my friend during treatment. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for Stacy, I don’t think I would have made it through treatment. There she was pushing me when I wanted to quit and cheering me on along the way.” Erin said. “I wanted to give up in the beginning, but I made a choice. I told myself I would show my daughter that no matter what, I could do it. I can face COVID and cancer in the same year.”
On top of her treatment journey, the year 2020 faced many difficulties for Erin, including losing essential family members to cancer. One was her favorite sidekick and best friend, Gizmo. A spunky, sweet, and beloved Maltese dog. Erin smiled, reminiscing on his memories, and said, “Gizmo was diagnosed with cancer when I was. Every day I got better, he got worse. It felt like he was taking it away from me. When he passed away, he looked up at me, and I think if dogs could talk, he would have said, ‘Mom, I’ve had a good life, and I’m gonna take this from you; I’ll take cancer away.’ He died of what I had. It was literally like he took it from me. He was so important to me during my treatment.”
Once chemotherapy treatments were in her rearview mirror, Erin decided it was time to go back to work. She pushed herself to fit in with the real world of the workforce but felt lost. Determined to now find a job that gave her meaning, she soon discovered job openings at the very place she was at all along. “I saw a job posting at CHCWM and realized I have something that most people don’t. I would understand first hand what these patients are going through.”
Erin quickly took on a new role as a Scheduling Coordinator at CHCWM and claimed she felt her purpose and happiness blossom immediately. “I have never loved a job like I love this job. I get to tell our patients, ‘You got this! If I can do it, you can do it.’ My purpose now feels like I’m here to let people know they are more than cancer. We’re going to be right here for you.”
“The day I got my diagnosis to when I started working here, I was lost. I feel like the people that work here have brought me back to my old self.” Erin lovingly said about her CHCWM family.
When Erin isn’t bringing smiles to patients at CHCWM, she loves being a mother to her daughter Veronica. She and her husband Ken live for the weekends when the whole family can go out riding in their side by side. She said being outside, kayaking, and spending time with her dog Thor, friends, and family is her happy place.
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