MidState staffers chop off their hair to support one of their own

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Judy Johansen was at work as a patient service coordinator at MidState Medical Center in May 2014 when news that would change her life forever arrived on the office fax machine.

A suspicious lump from her breast had been biopsied and because she works in the offices of Drs. Zeb Ali and Peter Leff at MidState, the pathologist offered to fax over the results.

“My co-workers and I stood around the fax machine praying for negative results,” said Johansen. But the paper that slid through the fax machine slot had dreaded news: breast cancer. “I remember I was about to cry, but Dr. Ali walked in and explained everything to me before I had time to think the worst.”

The chemotherapy and radiation that beat back Johansen’s cancer left her with permanent hair loss. She knew it was a small price to pay for her health, but it bothered her.

Fortunately, the colleagues that supported her through her diagnosis and treatment, Linda Mercuri, Jamie DiLorenzo, Jennifer Speeg, Shirley Ruiz and Melissa Parkes, were still by her side.

Johansen’s co-workers knew she was having a hard time finding a wig made from real hair, which can be very expensive. After an upsetting experience with a local wig supplier, her co-workers grew out their hair and after each haircut, brought in their donations.

“One of my co-workers had just had her hair cut and she said she had a present for me — she held up her ponytail and I was speechless,” said Johansen. “I started to cry. These girls have been right by my side through diagnosis, chemo and radiation, every step of the way.”

She said her co-workers’ empathy and compassion, and support from Drs. Ali and Leff, carried her through her breast cancer diagnosis and still buoy her today. She said her office is more like a family.

“All of us are from different backgrounds and a wide range of ages,” she said, “yet we have this unbreakable bond through sharing our life challenges and this was a big one that we were able to overcome. We work together solving daily issues both professional and personal.”

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