A Life Vest in Rough Waters

Lahey Health 5K Carla Osberg

Sandy Macdonald cutting the ribbon at the Lahey Health 5K Cancer Walk & Run in 2014.

At first, Sandy Macdonald assumed a pain she was feeling in her inner ear and throat was caused by a bad ear infection. When the pain continued after two courses of antibiotics, Sandy reluctantly made an appointment to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. After nearly cancelling the appointment because the pain had subsided, Sandy was stunned when she learned she was suffering from Stage 1 carcinoma; a tumor was detected at the base of her tongue.

“I remember being in shock that entire day,” said Sandy. “Then the fear set in. Everyone in my family was scared.”

Her initial meetings with the physicians and nurses at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, who would guide her through the process, put Sandy at ease before she began an intensive course of radiation and chemotherapy. During one session, medical oncologist Jacob Sands, MD, shared an analogy with her: “Imagine you have been thrown from a white water raft and you need a life vest,” he said. “We, your care team, are your life vest and we will see you through to safety.”

That resonated with Sandy.

“Each time I came in for an appointment, I was welcomed with a smile, called by my first name and made to feel like I was their special patient,” Sandy said. “Everyone knew how to read me and how to say just the right things to lift my spirits.”

Macdonald is now in remission, and says she often thinks back to Dr. Sands’ analogy.

“I’m happy to say I’ve made it back to calm waters and hopefully to dry land,” she said. “I am a survivor.”