Flores has worked at Stanford since she was 19, almost half her life
now. Her grandmother was a healer, she said, "and I really
empathize with people who are sick. I want to do everything I can to
help them. After I met Sharon, thoughts of her were constantly in my
mind, and I fervently hoped that she would follow up with me."
And Flores knows that Stanford's neurosurgeons work on all sorts of tumors.
Rather than months of waiting, Tong's trajectory to Stanford took
minutes. She sent her email to Flores at 2:38 pm; one minute later,
Flores forwarded it on to Alison Kerr, director of business
development for Stanford's Department of Neurosciences. Three minutes
later, Tong received an email from Kerr saying she was forwarding Tong
on to neurosurgeon Steven Chang,
MD, director of Stanford's Neuromolecular Innovation program. The
first thing the very next morning, Chang's nurse coordinator called
Tong to offer her an appointment with Chang at noon that same
Tong, the mother of five children under 11, and her husband needed a
few more days to arrange to make the trip to Stanford from their home
in Paradise, a small town in the Sierra foothills about four hours'
drive from the Bay Area. So, it was 10 days after her accidental
meeting with Flores that Tong sat down with Chang. "He was so
kind and so gracious," Tong said. "He just laid out the
information without pushing me to do anything. He was very
compassionate." That Chang would see her so soon, and during the
lunch hour, still makes Tong choke up at that kindness.
Even though the tumor was not immediately life-threatening, Chang
said he would not recommend just leaving it alone because her symptoms
would gradually increase in severity. She might lose her vision, he
said, or her ability to walk. "I don't want you to come in
worse," he said.
Chang, co-director of Stanford's
CyberKnife program, told Tong that she could choose either
radiation with the CyberKnife or surgery. Tong chose the latter.
"I wanted my tumor to be tested to determine if it was cancerous
or benign," she said. "And, I just wanted to get it all
done," she said. "I didn't want it lingering in the back of
my head. As a nurse, I wasn't afraid of surgery and I trusted Dr.
Another 10 days later, Chang removed the 1.6 cm tumor in a four-hour
surgery. It proved to be benign. Two days later, Tong
"A whole bunch of things had to line
up," Tong said, "getting tickets to the 49ers camp, meeting
Rosie Flores, having a compassionate surgeon who reads an email.
People at Stanford went above and beyond to give me exemplary
care—care and compassion and emotional support at every
All of those lucky connections, from one person to another, are the
sort of serendipities that keep Tong's faith strong, and make her
believe that some things just don't happen by chance.
Recently, Stanford asked Tong to be a co-moderator of a new
meningioma support group at Stanford. Its first meeting is Sept. 1.
For more information, email Jackei Lo at JLo@stanfordmed.org or visit stanfordhospital.org/meningiomasupport.
By Sara Wykes