Every day, people receive cancer care in the Albert J. and Judith A. Dunlap Cancer Center at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. While administering chemo, radiation or preparing a patient for surgery, the care team is quick to provide a listening ear, warm hugs, blankets and caring smiles for patients. In July, the care team happily took on another task: a surprise wedding shower for a special patient, Thresa Pattee.
Thresa traveled over 1,000 miles from her home in Bozeman, Montana, to receive care at Mayo Clinic Health System. In 2021, a tumor on her back was discovered, and she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones. Her local health care team recommended that she seek specialized care for her rare cancer. Thresa knew where she wanted to go.
"We chose Mayo because they are at the forefront of cancer care in general, and my type of cancer in particular," she says. "My family decided to relocate to Wisconsin for as long as necessary for my treatment."
Thresa settled into the summer home of her mother and stepfather in Mosinee, Wisconsin, and began treatments under the guidance of Scott Okuno, M.D., an oncologist and osteosarcoma specialist. She was accompanied by her mother, stepfather and fiancé, Aron Gliko. She had surgery to remove the tumor in her back, proton beam radiation therapy at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and chemotherapy in Eau Claire.
Because she spent so much time within the hospital walls — by her count 160 days over 15 months — Thresa forged special connections with members of her care team.
"Everyone has been so wonderful. The nurses in the hospital and Cancer Center were my angels," she says. "They treated me like a person, not just a patient. When I walked in, it felt like I was going to hang out with friends. Their humanity is exceptional."
The feeling, as they say, is mutual.
"Thresa's personality is out-of-this-world amazing," says Karen Schreiter, a Cancer Center nurse. "She has a such a bubbly personality, and it was fun to see her face when she walked into the treatment room."
Which is why it was only natural for the care team, with help from Thresa's mother, to plan a surprise wedding shower at the Cancer Center during one of her last treatments in Eau Claire, says Karen. Thresa is returning to her hometown to continue chemotherapy therapy under the guidance of her Mayo Clinic Health System team.
"This move is our attempt to have as much normalcy as possible," she says. "My circumstances are unusual before a wedding. I am returning home only one month before our wedding in September. I couldn't go on a wild, or non-wild, bachelorette party with girlfriends. A shower wasn't something that I was thinking about."
The morning of the shower, the Cancer Center team decorated a treatment room with balloons and flowers and brought in chocolates and treats for Thresa and her mother to enjoy. When she arrived, they pulled the curtain back to reveal the surprise. The entire staff circled through to wish her well and share a hug and smile.
"I was so surprised and shocked," she says. "It was so thoughtful and kind. There hasn't been a lot of random fun in my life lately. So, to have a group of people to care for me in this way was very, very special."
"There is no one more deserving to be celebrated than Thresa. She is part of our family here at the Cancer Center," says Karen. "The meaningful relationships that we get to forge with our patients are beautiful. It was such a wonderful and fun time that we had during her bridal shower. The team thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this very special event for her."
Thresa and Aron are looking forward to their small, backyard wedding ceremony in September and will be thinking of the friends they met while in Wisconsin.
"I've had a lovely time, and the state has been good to me," Thresa says. "So many of the nurses and other staff have treated us exceptionally. I've spent a lot of time with them, and this journey has been as easy as something this hard could be."
For the safety of our patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a non-patient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.