"The old me took life for granted. But the new me cherishes every moment."

Visitors to Baton Rouge General’s hospital campuses and outpatient care clinics find no shortage of friendly faces among staff. At the Bluebonnet campus, one of the best known is Sadé Wilson, a dedicated member of the housekeeping team. On a given day, Sadé can be found on any floor of the hospital, sharing her warm smile and positive attitude with everyone she meets. “I try to make sure every patient I meet feels loved and comfortable, even if it’s just one patient a day.”

Sadé’s commitment to serving Baton Rouge General’s patients comes from a special place—not long ago, before she was an employee, she was a patient. In early 2018, shortly after turning 27, Sadé began experiencing pain in her abdomen. A vibrant young woman who prided herself on her work ethic, Sadé decided to visit a doctor when the pain caused her to call out sick from her job twice. After being told the pain was probably acid reflux, Sadé tried to forget it. If the doctor didn’t seem concerned by her symptoms, why should she worry?

Weeks passed, but Sadé’s pain didn’t subside. In fact it intensified so greatly that she could no longer ignore it, so in February she and her grandmother visited the emergency room at Baton Rouge General. Doctors heard Sadé’s story and administered a comprehensive series of tests. After a nerve wracking wait, Dr. Byron Jesper delivered crushing news: the tests revealed cancer in Sadé’s ovaries, and she needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately.

“When he said I had cancer, I got up out of bed and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was laughing, but I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘No! I have to go to work!’” Sadé was admitted, helped into a wheelchair, and transported to the elevator, but it didn’t feel real until she arrived at the sixth floor—the Pennington Cancer Center inpatient unit. “When we got off the elevator and I saw the word ‘cancer’ on a banner, that’s when it set in. I cried on the way to my room.’” Sadé and her grandmother were met by Dr. Gerald Miletello, whom they refer to as their family oncologist. Sadé’s family history of cancer was significant. A beloved aunt lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2014, and a cousin succumbed to leukemia in 2016, but Sadé never thought she’d be next to be diagnosed. “In my mind, they’d caught it early. I didn’t want to hear what stage it was. But my grandmother said, ‘Let’s cut to the chase. What stage is it?’” At 27 years old, Sadé was suffering from stage four ovarian cancer.

Inpatient chemotherapy was the only viable treatment for a case so advanced. Dr. Miletello and his team aimed to destroy enough of Sadé’s cancer to allow them to surgically remove the rest. The grueling schedule forced Sadé to leave her job. Her boyfriend abandoned her. She moved out of her apartment and into her grandmother’s house despite her landlord’s offer to hold off on collecting rent. During her treatment, Sadé was placed on three different chemotherapy drugs that affected her physically and emotionally. “I felt like an independent young adult who had lost everything.”

Though Sadé’s life completely changed, her identity remained. Doctors and nurses affectionately called her the “goof troop” because she loved to laugh and joke around and “the baby of the sixth floor” because she was their youngest patient. Sadé kept a journal in which she recorded her experiences and emotions, and her care team referenced it to know when she was feeling lighthearted versus having a rough time. Sadé developed close relationships with the Pennington Cancer Center team, and cited registered nurse Baley and physical therapist Sadie as two of the many people who made her inpatient stays feel more like staying with family than staying at a hospital.

In August 2018, Sadé experienced numbness in her legs that impaired her ability to walk, and it was off to the General again for what would become an inpatient stay of more than three weeks. This neuropathy, a common side effect of chemotherapy, wouldn’t go away, and doctors recommended that Sadé be moved to Baton Rouge General’s Mid City campus to receive intensive physical therapy. This wasn’t acceptable to Sadé, who spent the night before her scheduled transfer praying, “I know I’m not a perfect person, but please help me. Please help me walk again.” The next morning, when Sadé awoke, she was able to get out of bed and walk to the nurses’ station, to her own surprise and to the astonishment of Baton Rouge General staff. “I was so happy that I just kept walking back and forth!”

Right before Christmas 2018, doctors informed Sadé that the chemotherapy had mitigated enough of her cancer that surgery was possible, and they scheduled her operation for the following January. Doctors removed all the cancerous tissue, but doing so required a total hysterectomy. For Sadé, this was one of the hardest losses to overcome. “I love kids, and now I can’t have children. Sometimes I still feel emotional about it, especially around holidays and events, but I know I can help kids in other ways. I can adopt. It gets better.”

Sadé entered remission after surgery, and Dr. Miletello recommended that she consider applying for a job at the hospital. After being hired, she reached out to everyone who had cared for her. “I wanted to thank them because I appreciated them so much. They could’ve given up on me, but they took their time and treated me like their own daughter.”

Today, Sadé makes a point to say hello to patients who don’t receive many visitors, and shares her story with those who are struggling. “Now, to work here, it’s emotional. I get flashbacks. But I can make patients comfortable and help them to not be scared.” Sadé’s goal is to keep patients smiling, and she encourages everyone to never stop fighting.

When asked about how her journey changed her, Sadé reflected, “I love myself more now. I learned to care for myself and check on myself. I won’t say I’m glad it happened to me, but it was an eye opener. The old me took life for granted. But the new me cherishes every moment.”

Sadé is writing a book about her experiences that she looks forward to completing soon.

November 19, 2019