My mother, Louise Schleich, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 at age 78. The lump was detected during a routine mammogram. Mom made the decision to undergo a lumpectomy. Surgery was followed by a course of radiation of 20 treatments over five weeks.
Almost a decade later, Mom was approached by Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, about helping fund a women’s health clinic that would bear her name. I asked Mom what inspired her to do so, thinking it was her own cancer diagnosis. Mom expressed a different sentiment: “I knew too many women were dying of breast cancer in their 40s and 50s. My volunteer work with St. Elizabeth told me this endeavor could help save more women’s lives.” And so the Louise D. Schleich Women’s Health Center was dedicated in March 2023.
The clinic at St. Elizabeth Hospital provides state-of-the-art equipment and a collaborative approach to treating women’s cancer, which surprisingly, is not typical. For women diagnosed with cancer, the medical team administering the treatments and monitoring progress would meets with the patient, their oncologist, primary care physicians, radiologists and others to develop a treatment plan best suited to their needs. The approach of doctors and specialists working together to coordinate treatment should be a norm. However, this center is one of only two in Nebraska that takes this approach.
A Brighter Future
Mom is very proud of the women’s health center and its goal of saving women’s lives. The dedication event was both inspiring and emotional as a standing-room-only crowd turned out to recognize her contribution to the community. Four women whom my mother didn’t know but are breast cancer survivors themselves, came to thank you for helping make the center possible. Many of our family members were present, as were neighbors and members of Mom’s church. She was overwhelmed by the community outpouring of love and gratitude.
The Louise Schleich Women’s Health Center is Mom’s greatest legacy. But for her what truly matters is that the center will serve as a model for more promising cancer treatments for women across the U.S. As we celebrate Women’s History Month I also pay tribute to the compassion and generosity of my mother.