Marnie Christensen remembers what helped her through breast cancer diagnosis
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Marnie Christensen remembers the day perfectly.
It was the Friday before Memorial Day in 2016. She was living in Fort Collins at the time but was in town visiting her husband Cory Christensen, who had just been named Steamboat Springs Police Department chief.
The two had just gotten out of a movie and were driving home when she saw a voicemail from her doctor telling her to call him back as soon she could. Marnie wasn’t nervous, as she and her doctor were close friends, and he preferred communicating over phone calls. But she knew there was a small chance of bad news, and she hoped her worst fears were wrong.
As soon as she called him back, pulled over on the side of the road with Cory listening on speaker, the fear was confirmed.
“For me it was a fight or flight response and my reaction was to fight,” she said. Her next thought was “how do we deal with this, how do we fight this?”
While she was in “fight mode” Marnie remembers looking at her husband and seeing tears flow down his face.
“Your heart stops for a second because that’s not information that you ever want to hear about your loved one,” Cory said.
The doctor reminded the couple to take deep breaths and said they caught the cancer early enough that Marnie’s chances of survival were high.
While cancer does not run in her family, she did frequent self-checks and felt a lump on her left breast, so she went in for a mammogram, which came back as cancerous.
Three weeks after receiving the news, she went in for surgery at the UCHealth Cancer Center-Harmony Campus in Fort Collins. About a month after surgery, her scars healed, and she began radiation therapy, which she did three times a week, sometimes completing double doses of treatment.
“God gave me a cure,” she remembers thinking after completing radiation and being declared cancer-free.
After completing her last radiation session, staff gave her a bell to ring in celebration and handed her a slice of chocolate cake with white frosting and a pink breast cancer ribbon.
While her battle with cancer was “easy compared to many,” she said, “the radiation, as it accumulates, it becomes kind of draining,” and she was in the process of selling her Fort Collins house and working as a detective in the Fort Collins Police Department.
Marnie Christensen did not want to tell anyone she was battling cancer, but remembers little things irritating her in ways they would not normally have.
What helped her through
When she first began telling family and close friends about her diagnosis, a friend suggested she start a journal, both for her diagnosis paperwork, but also for feelings and personal experiences around the process.
The journal had every document the doctors gave her with various medical details, as a way for her to keep them organized without being at the forefront of her mind all the time.
“I didn’t want to focus on that, I wanted to focus on getting healthy,” she said. “It’s my notebook, so I can do whatever I want with it.”
In the spirit of making it her notebook, Marnie printed out a picture of one of her favorite characters from World of Warcraft, her favorite game, and pasted it into the first page, right next to a picture of a female police officer kneeling in armor.
“Every time I opened the notebook, that was the first picture I saw,” she said, which was exactly the point.
While going through treatment, she and Cory still saw each other nearly every weekend, with her coming to Steamboat frequently.
“I was a little stressed that she has to go on that journey without me,” Cory said about his wife being a three-hour drive away from him while going through cancer treatment.
While Cory said he worried for her because of breast cancer’s mortality rate, he always felt proud of her for fighting hard and taking care of her health enough to catch the cancer early.
“One of the things I’ve always been proud of my wife is her dedication to her health,” he said. This could’ve been much, much worse if she weren’t so diligent about managing her health.”
Though she knew virtually no one in Steamboat while going through treatment in Fort Collins, Marnie said her husband’s colleagues made her feel loved and taken care of.
Between her diagnosis and surgery, she drove up to Steamboat one day and visited her husband at the police station. She was unaware the officers knew she was coming, but when she arrived, they were all standing in a circle, many crying.
As she walked in, an officer she barely knew walked up to her and wrapped her in a bear hug.
“These are big tough police officers, and we’re all choking up,” she said.
Officers frequently asked her how they could help and her response was always the same: take care of her husband.
“You’re all he has up here,” she remembers telling them.
While her cancer was still serious, Marnie said she often feels bad talking about it due to the mild nature of her cancer compared to the experiences of many others.
“If you have to get breast cancer, I got the best one you can get,” she said.
Marnie takes daily medications to keep the cancer from coming back and will know next spring if she has to continue taking them or not. She works as a program director at Advocates of Routt County and has held that position since 2017.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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