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 day.
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. Chang."
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 went home.
"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 step."
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