Photo of the Week: Sister Victoria Dalesandro, OP, Honored for Ministry with Breast Cancer Patients

Sister Victoria Dalesandro, OP, right, receives the 2020 Croc a Mile in Our Shoes Award from Sherry Alexis, Development Manager for Susan G. Komen in Nevada.
Photo by Sister Kathleen McGrail, OP

November 6, 2020, Henderson, NV – Sister Victoria Dalesandro, OP, received the 2020 “Croc a Mile in Our Shoes” Award recently from Susan G. Komen Nevada and Dignity Health Wellness Centers for her “continued superior service to breast cancer patients and the embodiment of the values and guiding principles of Dignity Health Wellness Centers.” These include compassion, inclusion, integrity, excellence, and collaboration.

Susan G. Komen Nevada is an affiliate of the national nonprofit organization, which “is dedicated to combating breast cancer on every front.”  

“I was so surprised,” Sister Vicki said. While she no longer works exclusively with breast cancer patients, she became involved about four years ago with Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals’ Responsible Early Detection (RED) Rose Program. Begun in the early 2000s, the program provides detection, diagnosis, treatment, and, at times, financial assistance to uninsured, underinsured, and undocumented women facing breast cancer.

In her years of service in the RED Rose program, Sister Vicki said, she worked primarily with undocumented women, helping them to get the detection they needed through mammograms and biopsies provided for free through the hospital. “It has really saved a lot of people’s lives,” she said.

Through grants from organizations such as Susan G. Komen, RED Rose also assists the women with food, gasoline, and utility bills if they need the financial help. “Sometimes they can keep working but sometimes they can’t” during their breast cancer treatment, Sister Vicki explained. She gave the example of servers at the casinos in Las Vegas, who often can no longer carry the heavy trays because of their treatment. 

“The ladies I worked with mostly spoke Spanish and wanted to get the help that they needed,” Sister Vicki said. “Some were in Stage 4 when they got the diagnosis, which means they may not live long and will need ongoing treatment.

Sister Vicki also worked with women in a breast cancer support group at St. Rose. “You learn from other women and what they’re going through,” she said. “You learn from each person.” Group members included a woman who suffered with seven types of cancer, as well as a young mother who was going through liver cancer as well as breast cancer.

Sister Vicki also learned much about breast cancer the hard way: from experiencing it herself. Her first bout occurred at age 33, when she had a mastectomy but did not need chemo. 

The next time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, in 2011, she needed both chemo and radiation and after surgery at St. Rose Dominican received her treatment at a nearby cancer center. “There was a class for us before chemo and then another class on how to eat when you’re on chemo,” she said. “Your body can’t handle some things.”

But she found radiation even more difficult, partly because no classes were offered to prepare her for it. “They do the initial mapping and tattoo you,” marking the area that they’re going to radiate, she explained. “They can never radiate in that area again.” The radiation took away much of her energy, forcing her to work four days a week rather than five.

Now, Sister Vicki sees an advantage in having gone through breast cancer herself. “I always tell people I’m a survivor because they know I can understand what they might be going through as well as about chemo” and other treatments, she said.

Currently, Sister Vicki ministers at another outreach program offered by St. Rose Dominican Hospitals. She works with Senior Peer Counselors, who are volunteers, at least 50 years of age, who receive 51 hours of intensive training to prepare them to offer informal counseling to seniors suffering from a variety of challenges. “Often they’re lonely because their husband died, or they moved and can’t find friends,” Sister Vicki said. 

Her ministry involves training and coordinating the peer counselors with clients who need their help, as well as working with Sister Judy Nelson, OP, Ph.D., the clinical supervisor, and Sister Kathleen McGrail, OP, to offer the peer counselors regular supervision. “They’re not professionals, but they can work with people suffering from depression, anxiety, loneliness, at times financial stress” and other difficulties.  

Watch the video of the Croc a Mile in My Shoes award presentation.