In front of Liz Yochum’s house is a fountain humble enough to nearly be overlooked. Water bubbles from the source and flows over the smooth granite surface, producing a gentle, calming sound. A purple light flickers, representative of a burning candle, creating an atmosphere of
stillness, healing and comfort.
After eleven years of ongoing cancer treatment, the comfort of the Healing Waters fountain is just what Liz’s practitioners at Mayo Clinic wanted to give her. Ann Weydert, one of Liz’s nurses at the Rochester Mayo Clinic Cancer Treatment Unit, views Liz as the embodiment of constancy.
“She is always kind, steady and patient,” says Ann. “Liz is an inspirational woman who has endured a difficult breast cancer journey with phenomenal grace. Seeing and appreciating her virtues makes us better people.”
To Liz, however, the nomination for the Healing Waters fountain came as a complete surprise. She humbly denied that she was worthy of such a gift, claiming that neither she nor her journey are unique—no more than any other woman who deals with breast cancer every day.
“I never dreamed I’d get it,” says Liz, “but I did, and I’m very thankful I did.”
Liz was first diagnosed with breast cancer in April of 2001. She elected to have a bilateral mastectomy despite cancer being detected in only one breast. Doctors did not immediately agree that it was the right thing to do, but her wishes were carried out. During the surgery, her debated decision became a blessing, as cancer was found in the other breast. “I thank God every day for
that decision,” says Liz.
After the surgery, Liz was told she had a two to three percent chance that
the cancer would return.
“I wanted to grab onto those words,” she recalls. “But the thing about cancer is there are no guarantees anywhere. When it comes, you better be prepared for the journey.”
In December of 2005, an MRI showed that the cancer had metastasized to Liz’s spine. She scheduled her surgery for 6 p.m. the next day. “I hadn’t told anyone about it,” she recalls. “I certainly had some calling to do.”
When asked if she was nervous for the operation, Liz responded with a laugh, “I didn’t know enough about it to be afraid. It was no piece of cake, don’t misunderstand me. But once you know, you want it to be done. There’s no point to waiting.”
Even as Liz spoke of her years of struggling with cancer, numerous rounds of chemo and the radiation that was added to her treatment after her spine surgery, Liz’s message is filled with hope: “Every bump I’ve hit,” she says, “I’ve been fortunate enough to make it over.”
Despite the fact she is nearly home-bound with many physical limitations, Liz speaks with optimism and humor and continually steers away from talking about herself and moves on to praise her surgeons and all the medical personnel that she calls the wonderful part of her journey: “The nurses in chemo are the best you will find and have been a Godsend in my life. They are very caring and competent and have made the unpleasant experiences that much more tolerable.”
The Nomination and the Fountain
“I have to tell you,” Liz says about the Healing Waters nomination, “it’s such good luck. I had no idea what I was getting, and it never occurred to me that I might be the recipient.”
Mike Otte, owner of Whitewater Gardens, began the Healing Waters project as a gift to a dear friend. “The gift to me is in giving and connecting with the women we’ve done this with,” says Mike.
He custom-designed and installed the feature for Liz, making sure to build it just outside her window where she could benefit most from its presence.
The fountain reflects several of Liz’s own qualities: big-hearted, humble and unpretentious.
“The presence of water gives us encouragement, serenity, companionship and the ability to re-connect with nature,” says Mike.
Liz certainly agrees. The fountain allows her access to the outdoors she might not otherwise get and connects her to the pleasant sounds of nature.
“I now have a nice remembrance of this time,” says Liz. “When the weather is warm I can open the window and listen to it. This is really the best placement for it, where I can hear it from my chair and from my room while I am sleeping. It is not ostentatious at all, not out there. It is more like, ‘isn’t this neat?’ That’s all I wanted. I can’t say enough how lucky I am.”
Sadly, Liz passed away on August 11, 2012, shortly after this article was written, from complications with breast cancer. Our sincerest condolences to her friends and family and to all those who have lost a loved one to cancer.
Our special thanks to the Healing Waters contributors:
• Michael Otte, Whitewater Gardens, designed and built fountain with no chemicals and minimal upkeep, whitewatergardens.com
• Reinders supplied materials, reinders.com
• Christine’s Landscape Design designed, donated and installed the plants.
Find out how you can nominate a special breast cancer survivor for the “Healing Waters” project in the March/April 2013 issue of RochesterWomen.