When cancer comes close

10/18/2017  By HealthNews

October 18, 2017

The colors of fall aren't limited to the changing leaves. Over 25 years ago, pink was added to the season's palette. These days, the October parade of ribbons and poignant messages from cancer survivors is impossible to ignore.

And with good reason.

Currently, twelve percent of the female population in the U.S. is projected to develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. It's a safe bet that all of us know someone who has or will battle the disease.

Caring for neighbors
Michele Wurl would agree. She and her family live in Quincy, a town small enough that "everyone generally knows each other." So when a fellow resident and former colleague was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year, cancer hit home for Wurl in more ways than one. (Photo: Michele's rally sign for her friend Sunshine at an Eastern Eagles game.)

"I wanted to do whatever I could to help," she says, including undergoing bone marrow testing to see if she was a match for her friend. "There's no cancer in my immediate family," she adds quietly and knocks on her desk - not out of superstition but gratitude and an awareness that the future is unknown.

Caring for communities
As director for The Foundation at KVH, Wurl oversees annual fundraising efforts for Tough Enough To Wear Pink, in partnership with the Ellensburg Rodeo. Although 'Tough Enough' is a national campaign, the Ellensburg organizers ensure that funds raised locally are spent locally. And while a portion of the monies raised go to awareness efforts, they also provide free mammography services for disadvantaged patients.

In 2016, The Foundation launched a campaign to bring digital mammography to Kittitas County. Hundreds of donors responded with generous gifts. As of October 2017, that goal has become a reality, with a new digital machine now installed in a remodeled mammography suite.

"I come to work every day with a sense of mission. We all do."

Wurl's pre-KVH history includes twelve years at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where people from all walks of life - from scientists to baristas - band together to fight cancer. "Pretty much everyone at Fred Hutch knows it's more than a job, that the work is important."

She brought that sense of awareness with her into the world rural healthcare.

Family - what matters most. Michele with son Tyler, daughter Emily, and husband Todd.

Her own cancer scare
Two years ago, Wurl was at the one-year mark as a KVH employee, when she received some troubling news of her own. During a routine exam, her provider saw something in her medical history that needed a closer look. A follow up scan revealed concerning polyps in her thyroid gland. She underwent three stressful months of testing, each result "inconclusive."

"There's no way to really be prepared for that conversation with your provider. 'Oh, by the way, you might have cancer,'" says Wurl. While not a hypochondriac, she admits to some dark thinking during her three month waiting period. "When I hear things like, 'The five year survival rate for people with thyroid cancer is 98%,' I think 'Why wouldn't I be in that other two percent?'"

Fortunately, the wife and mom in her won the battle with anxiety. She confesses, "It's all about the kids. That's where my mind goes. I need to be here to take care of them." Wurl is grateful for her good health but her experience helps her not take anything for granted. It's given her a new level of empathy for those who do battle with serious diseases, and it's helped reaffirm her fundraising work.

"I come to work every day with a sense of mission. We all do," says Wurl of her KVH colleagues. "Whatever our role, we have a chance to positively impact the health of our community, and that's something worth striving for."

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.