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Patient treasures German heritage; Appreciates Simon Cancer Center Care

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Patient treasures German heritage; Appreciates Simon Cancer Center Care

She was born and raised in Germany. Love brought her to the United States. Now, the specialists at IU Health Simon Cancer Center comfort this Indiana resident.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

This is a love story connecting two continents, two countries. She was in her early 20s when Katja Broughton moved from her Frankfurt, Germany homeland to the United States.

“I had no money – just the clothes on my back. I followed this man into a strange place,” said Broughton, 50. That “strange man” was serving the military stationed in Germany. They were married on Feb. 24, 1991 – the same year Broughton’s first daughter was born. A year later, they welcomed a second daughter.

As Broughton shares her story resting in her infusion bed at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, her nurse, Chloe Bonham, comes in to check her medication. The two share a common bond. Bonham too was born outside the United States. Her roots are in France.

There’s a calm that comes over the room as the two chat and Broughton receives her cancer treatments. There’s another commonality too – Broughton also worked as a nurse in her native homeland.

She started nursing school at the age of 16 and lived in a dorm in a Catholic hospital.

“Nursing school is different there. You learn in six week blocks and then work in the hospital for six weeks,” said Broughton. Her rotations included med-surg, urology, and oncology.

“I chose nursing because it was expected of me,” said Broughton. “I was born in the 70s as a post-war child. My mom was a nurse who took care of my father when he was dying, and took care of my grandmother who died when I was in the second grade. I was to follow in her footsteps and take care of my family members and neighbors,” she said.

Her dad wasn’t even 40 when he died of cancer. Her grandparents also died of complications from cancer. Broughton never saw herself as a patient with cancer. But in 2018 she was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva. Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that makes up about 90 percent of vulvar cancers; however cancer of the vulva is rare. An estimated 0.6 percent of all cancers in women are vulvar.

The American Cancer Society reports that women with cervical cancer also have a higher risk of vulvar cancer. During the month of January, healthcare providers want to increase awareness of cervical cancer and all types of female reproductive cancers. About 13,000 women in the United States are treated annually for cervical cancer. Healthcare providers encourage women to get regular gynecological checkups including pap smears and HIV screenings.

“I don’t know the exact reason, but there were only 26 in my graduating class and several of my classmates have been diagnosed with some form of aggressive reproductive cancer,” said Broughton. Her childhood was unlike many.

She remembers receiving daily iodine pills. The thought was that the iodine offered some protection against radioactive materials. Some regions of Germany were believed to be exposed to clouds of radioactive fallout after the April 26, 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in the Soviet Union.

Since her 2018 diagnosis, Broughton had surgery to remove several lymph nodes and is undergoing chemotherapy. She is in the care of IU Health gynecological oncologist Dr. Sharon Robertson.

“Dr. Robertson has a great bedside manner and has this way that she can adapt to how she responds to you,” said Broughton. “I think I come at things from a different way with my medical background and my upbringing. I ask different questions than someone else might and she adjusts to my level and answers questions honestly giving me the data that she knows.”

As she talks about her care, Broughton’s husband, Steve, comes into the room bringing lunch. He accompanies her to her hours-long treatments. He shares the early influences in Broughton’s life that made her a strong woman.

Her parents were raised during wartime. As a child, Broughton remembers learning in elementary school how to react if stepping on a landmine.

“There was so much residual from the war that many American children do not even think about. Many buildings were bombed and when men came home traumatized, women were part the rebuilding process. I’ve heard stories about my grandmother being taken in the middle of the night, shoved on a train and protecting her children,” said Broughton. She remembers her father talking about his fears of air raid sirens and his anxiety of being buried in collapsed buildings.

So, when she fell in love with someone in the military, Broughton said she was drawn to the security. She was also drawn to her husband’s blonde hair and blue eyes.

They were friends for two years and then married in the courthouse in Freiburg, Germany – four days before her husband’s birthday. They first moved to his hometown for Corydon, Ind. When they moved to Indianapolis Broughton used her native language and her nursing to work as an interpreter for clinical trials. She has not returned to her homeland since.

“I’ve had an interesting life and I never saw myself here, in a hospital bed receiving chemotherapy,” said Broughton. “But I do believe I’m getting the best care possible.”



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