Aggie Merker, Inpatient Clinical Specialist at Memorial Regional Hospital, considers her 2008 lung cancer diagnosis a blessing in disguise. The experiences born of the disease informed her sense of empathy and duties as a caregiver like nothing else could. And she’s grateful.
In the summer of 2008, Aggie underwent a lumpectomy of her left breast. The tissue showed atypical hypoplasia, which prompted further testing. The subsequent MRI revealed not breast cancer, but a mass in the upper right lobe of her lung. She’d had no symptoms nor any inkling of what her body was harboring, so the unexpected discovery likely saved her life.
“Having to face the diagnosis of lung cancer was one of the most challenging but also most rewarding life experiences. It forced me to pause, reflect, reexamine my existence and appreciate the things that matter most,” says Aggie. “Even though it was a difficult experience, it was probably one of the best gifts I ever had, because it did put things in perspective and gave me a greater appreciation for what is truly important.”
“I had a right lobectomy in April of ’09. Dr. Block (Mark I. Block, MD, Chief of Thoracic Surgery) performed my surgery and saved my life. He is amazing,” Aggie says. “I was in the hospital for 10 days post-operatively. Out of all the things I remember about that hospitalization, it was the caring connection, the human touch that helped me heal. That’s how I try to practice and go forward. I am proud to work for a healthcare system that embraces “healing the body, mind and spirit of those we touch.”
Aggie has been with Memorial since 1999 when she was hired as an organizational development specialist at Memorial Hospital West. She has also worked as the director of education at Memorial Hospital Miramar, and in 2006, she moved to Memorial Regional Hospital, where she’s been a clinical specialist in multiple areas.
At the time of her diagnosis, Aggie was a clinical specialist in surgical trauma. She’d had no previous experience with lung cancer patients, and she had no plans to shift focus until her own story began to unfold.
Today Aggie is the clinical specialist in charge of education training on the unit that cares for cardiac as well as Dr. Block’s post-op patients. She is the liaison between physicians and nurses, ensuring that everyone is up to date on best practices. She says she loves her job because it allows her to interact with patients and family members while educating the nursing staff at bedside: “It’s the best of both worlds.”
"It was only years after I was diagnosed and treated that I ended up in this position in this unit, and it makes sense,” she says. “It’s said that everything happens for a reason. My diagnosis and treatment of cancer has allowed me to look at my life, connect the dots of my life experiences and see the purpose behind the events. Now when I am at the bedside speaking to patients, I am able to relate to them on a level that would have never been possible before. I can honestly tell them, ‘I understand how difficult this is because I’ve been there.’ I can also instill hope by sharing my diagnosis, surgery and the fact that today I stand in front of them, cancer free."