Cancer Patient Stories
Lora Wingerter’s Story
Lora Wingerter’s first job outside of homemaking was driving a truck. After she tipped over eight tons of sugar beets on a back road outside of Joliet, she worked as a “tooth and gold girl” for a local dental supply company. Her next position found her taking care of people at a nursing home. “I got into nursing because I needed a job.”
The job motivated by a paycheck evolved into a life’s mission that has served many. In the spring of 2011, twenty-five years after becoming a LPN, Lora Wingerter, RN, oncology certified nurse (OCN), was honored with the Billings Clinic Friends of Nursing Alice M. Gordon Lifetime Achievement Award. The award honors a nurse who demonstrates, “dedication, commitment, and tireless efforts in maintaining the health of our patients through quality care, patient safety and personal service excellence.” Lora has worked at Billings Clinic for 23 years with 15 years dedicated to cancer care.
“When I started working in oncology, I found it was my calling and now I can’t see myself working in any other department. Cancer patients are a special group of people. They are so appreciative. They are rewarding to work with because it feels like you’re really doing something for them.”
Lora is a care navigator for patients diagnosed with colon, rectal, liver, pancreatic, or esophageal cancers, as well as sarcoma and cancer of an unknown primary origin. Upon diagnosis, she meets patients in the gastroenterology endoscopy suite, makes their appointments with the specific teams of physicians, financial counselors and social workers, and even finds out-of-towners a place to stay during treatment.
“We make sure that everything is covered. It’s like being hit over the head by a two-by-four. The patients need the extra support. After that we try to stand back and give them back their control.”
Lora speaks from personal experience. She is a three-time cancer survivor: cervical cancer in 1988, vaginal cancer in 1996, and a metastasized tumor in 2003. Multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy have provided Lora with the intimate experiences she translates to her profession. She was especially affected by the fear her illness caused her family. Lora is a mother to five children and grandmother to 12.
“I don’t think people realize that family members go through a lot because they have no control. The family does not want to let go. I’ve learned the toughest part of cancer can be the (impact on) the family. I am able to help when people are struggling -- to share that I know that it’s hard on everybody.”
Lora supports her patients from diagnosis through treatment. She said, “There are the rewarding moments -- after they’ve had treatment and come back from a PET scan or CT scan with their fingers crossed waiting to find out. When the results come back with good news you can rejoice with them.”
Remembering her own reaction to disappointing news, “Sometimes you have a ‘pity party.’ You need to let it out. My advice to those diagnosed with cancer is to have a support system--either work, church, or family. When I was going through cancer I worried about those people who didn’t have the same kind of support.”