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A Day to Remember

When Lacey Farabee talks about her last day of in-patient treatment for leukemia, a wide smile spreads across her face.

While most patients would be thrilled to simply be done with four rounds of rigorous chemotherapy, Lacey has extra reasons to always remember her last day in the hospital. The 21-year-old Sioux Falls woman, who was born with Down Syndrome, got a special send off – an appropriate ending to treatment for someone who inspires everyone around her with her strong spirit and her drive to get well.

“It was the best day,” says Lacey, proudly displaying the Sioux Falls Stampede Jersey signed for her by a group of players who came up to celebrate with her in the Sanford oncology ward where she had been a patient for weeks at a time over about five months. “I have to wear it to all the games.”

This celebration was organized by members of the Sanford Oncology nursing staff, who learned over the months that they cared for Lacey that she had a passion for boy bands and sports, especially hockey. Nurse Ardis Hovendes, whose family serves as a host for one of Lacey’s favorite Stampede players, said she was pleased to organize something special for the young woman who quickly made her personality known to everyone throughout the unit.

“This was really tough what she went through and a lot of adult patients don’t handle it as well as she did,” Hovendes said. “She’s such a trooper.”

A challenging life

Over the years, Lacey has had some other health issues. She was treated for a series of heart issues as an infant and had her first pacemaker put in at age 9, says her mother Misty Farabee. Her family didn’t realize there was a new health concern until last spring, when her supervisors at her volunteer jobs started saying that she seemed to be having trouble getting her work done.

“It wasn’t really like her at all,” Misty said. “Her work was inconsistent and she just seemed to be really tired. I thought we’d check it out.”

After several doctor’s appointments, lab tests showed that Lacey had acute myelogenous leukemia,a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Her case was far enough advanced that their hematologist called the family and said that they needed to admit Lacey yet that day to the hospital to begin chemotherapy.

Lacey was insistent that she go to the adult cancer unit and not get her treatment at the Sanford Children’s Hospital, Misty said. Her family knew that her hospital stay and her treatment, consolidated chemotherapy, a type of high-dose intensive chemotherapy, would be challenging wherever she stayed.

“She’s not a kid, but she was one of the youngest patients they had,” her mother said. “She doesn’t always think she’s being funny, but she really is. One of her favorites was, ‘not going to happen.’”

Not your usual patient

Hovendes said that the staff quickly learned that Lacey would be livelier than most of their patients, who are often older and very quiet. They sometimes had to coax her into doing some things and learned to appeal to her sense of humor. For example, Lacey decided that she didn’t want to work with nursing staff who came in her room wearing pink. The nurses adjusted their wardrobes.

“You realized that she was a little bit more special than the regular adult patient,” Hovendes said. “Everybody took on a different air when they went into the room and approached things in a different way.”

Over the four treatments, the staff made Lacey’s stay easier in a lot of little ways, her mother said. When she was disappointed about being in the hospital on the Fourth of July, they moved her into a different room where she had a great view of the fireworks exploding over a nearby park. One nurse would sing her favorite pop songs every time he entered the room. Even Misty’s co-workers tried to help, with two different people contacting the Jimmie Johnson Foundation for materials for Lacy, a NASCAR fan who had signs up all over her hospital room door about racing.

A special celebration

Lacey had her final round of chemotherapy in November and got to go home for good shortly before Thanksgiving. After meeting her at the hospital, the Stampede players invited her to come to the locker room after their next home game. Several players even joined Lacey and her family at a restaurant after the game. Since then, Lacey and Misty have made it to nearly every home game and watched the rest online.

“You should see her smile – it looks like a thousand watt light bulb lighting up,” says Misty. “I don’t think she’ll ever forget it.”

For the staff at Sanford Oncology, being able to give a little bit of a joy to a patient, is worth the time and effort, says Hovendes. All of the staff members are always on the lookout for something that can help ease the pain of battling cancer.

“I was so glad to have the resources to be able to do this,” Hovendes said. “Sometimes doing that little bit more is a healing thing for us too.”

Posted Date: April 2011