116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As infusion pumps pushed chemotherapy through her veins Thursday morning, Erica Bergfeld-Reed answered her phone.
“You are the champion, my friend, and you’ll keep on fighting till the end,” the callers sang from outside her third-story window — a slightly adapted version of the Queen song.
There, a throng of Bergfeld-Reed’s co-workers from United Fire Group Insurance held signs, waved and danced from the parking lot to support their colleague on her last day of chemotherapy before surgery next month for an aggressive breast cancer that spread to her lymph nodes.
It wasn’t their first time waving at her window — they did it once when she started chemo months ago — but it was the first time that Mercy Medical Center employees joined in for a ribbon race to encourage all patients at the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center on the hospital campus.
This time, Bergfeld-Reed was prepared to return the gratitude with signs she held back up to the window. In a selfless act of thanks, the woman vulnerable to viruses now more than ever took off her mask for a few minutes to blow kisses, form a heart with her hands and mouth “thank you.”
Getting waves and cheers through the window is a small act, but it’s one that gives her hope that someday she’ll hit the ground running again with her group of runners from work.
“It just reminds me I’m not alone. Being up in this room and hooked up to a machine that’s feeding me things that are killing cells in my body is lonely,” she said. “You can’t explain that to anybody. You can talk about chemo, you can talk about side effects, but until I went through it I didn’t know what that meant, either.”
As UFG employees coordinated the ribbon race to run laps around the Mercy campus, Bergfeld-Reed insisted that the event be about everyone else on the floor — not just her. The small acts of kindness are what has helped her through the most difficult parts of the journey, she said, but haven’t precluded her from sharing her support network with others.
With no family in the area, the corporate strategy manager, 39, relies on the employees as a support system. As she fights cancer at the same age her mother died from it, she said it’s the little things that she’s learned to ask for — a note, a message, walking the dog or dropping off some printouts from the office. But even as the chemotherapy weakened her optimism and resolve, asking for the little things proved difficult for a fiercely independent person.
As Bergfeld-Reed scheduled her last weekly chemo infusion, UFG corporate wellness manager Lindsay Olson asked what they could do to celebrate. Meanwhile, the Mercy staff took note of how much the previous support outside her window did for her.
“ (Bergfeld-Reed) mentioned how much that support meant to hear and how big of an impact it was making on her experience,” said Jordan Cummings, wellness coach for Mercy. “So (Olson) was like, ‘How can I share that experience with everyone in Hall-Perrine?’”
Though Mercy has had long-standing programs for emotional support and the Especially For You race to fund things like wigs and preventive care, Thursday's ribbon race for cancer was the first time Mercy staff joined in on laps just to encourage the patients watching them. With five ribbon colors, each participant made the laps count on a whiteboard outside for the most common types of cancer — breast, skin, prostate, colon and lung.
Cummings said the event has opened the floodgate to more encouragement-oriented events in the future, with another already in the works for October.
“It was an easy decision to lean in and support her and take time to do what’s necessary,” Olson said. “It's more important to support people around us and communities first.”
A diagnosis turned Bergfeld-Reed’s world upside down ever since she found a lump in her left breast earlier this year. Young and active, she has shared the ebbs and flows of her journey with followers online.
Though there is no easy side to cancer, she said the most difficult parts have been waiting for information and being overwhelmed when it arrives. Times like Thursday morning gave her a brief reprieve from the battles in her head by taking solace in her heart.
“It’s something I’ll never forget. … You forget sometimes how much people care about you,” she said. “Something so simple can mean so much.”
She’s not a person who usually cries, but her co-workers have managed to draw tears of joy.
Bergfeld-Reed will undergo surgery in August before six weeks of radiation therapy. But in some ways, a little waving and cheering from a parking lot has given her the most powerful medicine needed to push through the rest of her battle.
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