For most people who work in healthcare, the goal is the same: do everything possible to heal the sick, mend the wounded, and get people better. For Michelle Lasota, this was not always the case. Michelle is a registered nurse who now works with and treats cancer patients at Jefferson’s Department of Oncology, but for over a decade she had a different specialty. Driven by the sudden passing of her father, Michelle began working as a hospice nurse and caring for those who would not get better. She learned that medicines and procedures aren’t the only tools which can heal people and that patients are more than blood tests, imaging, and assessments. Her experience and expertise in providing light during the darkest hours for patients and families has proven invaluable to her new career in oncology.
During her time working in hospice, Michelle developed a passion for treating the whole patient, not just the disease afflicting him or her. Her positivity has inspired many, including renowned film-maker Sean Cunningham who produced a documentary about Michelle called The Nurse with the Purple Hair. She now brings this holistic approach to healing to those fighting against cancer at Jefferson.
Michelle knows more than anyone the stresses, hardships, and emotions a cancer diagnosis can place on someone, as well as their loved ones. Yet, where many would be too uncomfortable or not quite know what to do or say, Michelle accepts the challenge of being there for her patients when they need her the most. “I like to be the one to calm the storm,” states Michelle. “People aren’t supposed to know what to expect. There’s help out there…that’s what they need to know.”
Grateful for the support Legacy of Hope offers cancer patients in Philadelphia, Michelle and her colleagues are well aware of the challenges that accompany a diagnosis. “Insurance doesn’t pay to keep up with a household and take care of a family,” Michelle points out. “Financial toxicity is a huge piece that people don’t generally think about.”
She recalls a patient she recently cared for that faced many challenges. “I had a patient who was widowed, lost her husband to cancer, and is now battling cancer herself while caring for an adolescent son. How could she possibly plan her time? She drives from two hours away! What is Christmas going to look like for that boy?” Michelle responds the way she always does. “How can I make it better?”
This financial toxicity can rival the physical toxicity of cancer on the body in the stress it imposes, as well as creates obstacles to receiving proper treatments. Michelle wants patients to know they can ask for help, whether it is to cover rent and utility bills or to secure a reliable way to get to appointments. “Transportation is an issue. Sometimes people don’t know they can turn to us, that helping with transportation is within our realm of possibility.”
Fortunately for cancer patients and families in the Philadelphia area, both Michelle Lasota and Legacy of Hope are here to help. Michelle and other oncology nurses are able to refer patients with needs outside of the hospital to specialized social workers who keep Legacy of Hope on speed-dial. To help support these incredible individuals as they battle cancer, Michelle will be participating in the Love Run Half Marathon at the end of March as part of the Philly Runs Free program.
All proceeds from Philly Runs Free will help Legacy of Hope continue its mission to support financially-distressed cancer patients in Philadelphia while also seeking out and funding the most promising research to find new treatments and cures. Everyone is running for someone…Michelle is running for superheroes.
“Every person you meet is someone’s hero,” Michelle explains. “They become superheroes at diagnosis. No superhero fights alone. Being a superhero doesn’t mean you’re invincible…that you don’t get scared. It doesn’t mean you don’t cry.”
Michelle hopes others follow her lead and run for their superheroes at the Love Run. “[Cancer] is a battle they didn’t ask for, but one they don’t back down from.”