The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

World travel for work brings survivor joy


October 31, 2020

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Fern Malila visits the Great wall of China. This was just one of the many interesting and exotic places she has visited in her job and in other travels.


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Ontonagon - Fern Malila traveled  around the world in her position with an electronic medical records company, but that world was turned upside down in 2011 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fern is a Registered Nurse and lived in Virginia, working for Cerner Corporation and traveling  to clients inside and outside the U.S. for medical software sales, development and support.

Since she could be called by the company to travel anytime, Fern always scheduled her yearly mammograms around New Years when the company was not so busy. In 2011, that test was Jan. 3. She was informed by her doctor that there was concern about a "very small" area in the left breast. 

A CAT scan and biopsy could not be scheduled for a week, so she made a business trip to the Middle East. She flew back to Virginia from Dubai for the procedures only to find that two small spots, so tiny that a mammogram could not see them, involved the right breast as well.

She had the lumpectomy, and her oncologist said she would benefit with chemotherapy. The result was 18 weeks of chemo sessions.

Fern had worked for Cerner for 15 years and had the support of the company to work from home as well as a good sick leave and health policy and received full pay.

Fern said it was a "very scary" time. "I would wake up at night and lost a lot of sleep." During that time she said her life was driven by other peoples availability for tests and appointments.

Although she was considered cancer free at the end of the chemo treatments she followed doctor's recommendations for five weeks of radiation.

Fern said the daily worry about her cancer  ended when she woke up one day in the summer of 2012,  "I realized I had not  thought about cancer for 24 hours. I knew then it was over."

She passes on to others some advice she received during her trials. "If you are looking on the internet or elsewhere, only pay attention to the information that is useful to you for today. If the information concerns a year or five years in the future, ignore it."

Another piece of advice came from a good friend. "Treat cancer like a mom with a newborn. Do what you can a few minutes at a time. Look in small inches, just what has to be done in that little bit of time."

Fern retired and returned to Ontonagon to live in 2016. She remains active in the community. She volunteers with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services doing contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a Medicare Counselor for Ontonagon County, is actively involved in St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Mass City, serves with the Victims Services Unit, which is an arm of the Ontonagon County Sheriff's Department, volunteers with the historical society and community and church groups. And she still loves to travel.

Fern reminds women no matter where they live, where they travel or what they do for a living to "get that mammogram, and follow your doctor's orders."


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