UT Southwestern's Simmons Cancer Center has been good to D'Sheedra (Dee) Bender – she works there, she (re-)met her husband there, and, twice, she was a breast cancer patient there.
Originally from Dallas, Dee, 36, attended a magnet high school for health professions, where she began a career path that has led to employment at UT Southwestern. The school was also where she met Todd Bender, now her husband. The two lost contact after graduation but reconnected years later on the UT Southwestern campus.
Love at First Sight
Recalls Dee, "I was walking out of my building to pick my daughter, Sierra, up from school – she was sick – and I walked past him to get to my car. He was waiting on a friend of his and when we recognized each other, we exchanged numbers and that was that. We were married a year later."
Dee and Todd have been married for 6 1/2 years and the couple has three children – Sierra Stafford, 16; Tyler Bender, 13; and Landon Bender, 5.
As a finance counselor for UT Southwestern's Simmons Cancer Center, Dee helps patients, nurses, and doctors with questions about insurance, billing, payments, and cost estimations. In December 2009, she became a patient herself. Her family practice doctor noticed a disconcerting lump during an examination and referred Dee to the Simmons Cancer Center.
Dee had an MRI the same day of her first appointment, followed immediately by a visit with a genetic counselor. Every physician and staff member involved in Dee's diagnosis and treatment impressed her with their compassion, generosity, and positive outlook. For instance, during her sonogram and biopsy, the nervous Dee began to shake. Dr. Phil Evans, the radiologist who performed the tests, set her at ease by describing every step of the process. The med tech, Amanda Frierson, held Dee's hand the entire time, which was comforting, as was the discussion that followed with Dr. Evans. Dee says, "The way he talked was not 'I am giving you a death sentence,' but rather an assuring, 'I've already got you in with Dr. [Roshni] Rao and she's going to take care of you.'"
Dr. [Roshni] Rao was so thorough, informative, and kind. She gave me hope in our first meeting, answered every question, and reassured me that she was going to do all she could to rid me of breast cancer.– Dee Bender
At that point, Dr. Roshni Rao and the rest of Dee's co-workers became her caregivers, and the whole Simmons team, as they do for every patient, acted quickly. Recalls Dee, "Dr. Rao was so thorough, informative, and kind. She gave me hope in our first meeting, answered every question, and reassured me that she was going to help me."
When Dee's cancer returned in October 2011, Dee never stopped looking forward. She knew she was in good hands.
There's No "I" in Team
Dr. Rao, Dee's surgeon, says, "Our team approach is one thing that differentiates the Simmons Center. I see these people – Dr. [Barbara] Haley [Dee's medical oncologist], Dr. Mike Saint-Cyr, [Dee's reconstructive plastic surgeon], and many others – all the time, and we're all part of a truly multidisciplinary team – free to be creative, to dissent, to have and explain our own opinions."
Dee recalls, "Before I even saw [Dr. Haley] the first time, Dr. Rao had already called and talked to her about my case. With the team approach, I feel like I have my own personal team of doctors," which can provide peace of mind. "They worked together," says Dee, "to build the best plan of treatment catered to me."
Making a Difference
Dee, the breast cancer patient, continues to make progress and improve, while Dee, the financial counselor, continues to help new patients with billing processes and benefits information. But Dee's experience at UT Southwestern's Simmons Cancer Center – as both a patient and an employee – has her targeting a new goal: to become a registered nurse, a course of study she will begin soon. She says, "I have seen the impact that a nurse's bedside manner can have on a patient – being there to answer questions, whatever. It makes such a big difference."
She's making a difference already. Now, when a breast cancer patient enters Dee's office, the first thing they see is a bright pink neon breast cancer symbol that her husband, who owns a sign company, made for her. "You can see the look on their faces, like they want to ask me 'are you a survivor?'" Dee says. "When I see that I reach out my hands to comfort them and say, 'You are in good hands. With my faith and the wonderful doctors here, I beat breast cancer and you can, too.'"