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Back in the Saddle with Care and Compassion by the Oncology Team at St. John’s Health

  • Category: Cancer Care
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  • Written By: St. John's Health
Back in the Saddle with Care and Compassion by the Oncology Team at St. John’s Health

On a bright December day, Priscilla Marden waves warmly as she pulls into the driveway in front of a picture-perfect red barn at the Diamondfly Ranch, where she operates equine facilitated training programs. Two horses and a burly pony stand along the rails, calmly swishing their tails, as the rest of Priscilla’s twenty-five horses roam the aspen-dotted pasture behind a fence. One of her students at the Ranch, a smiling girl on holiday break from her elementary school, is brushing the tallest horse. She waves, too.

Priscilla quickly shepherds two more visiting children towards the horses, introducing them and showing them how to greet and brush the horses. Though the kids seem tiny compared to their new equine friends, she deftly guides them with confidence and compassion. Priscilla is the founder of a nonprofit which empowers children, adults and families to grow and heal through relationships with horses, writing and art. She’s effortlessly in her element here, planting the seeds and nurturing the growth of confidence and connection between young souls and animals.

This time last year, Priscilla thought that she may be facing the final holiday season with her family. She had no idea whether she would be alive now, let alone teaching more little hands to fearlessly greet her beloved herd.

“Having the amazing oncology department here at St. John’s Health was incredible,” she says, reflecting on her treatment. “Not only the clinical piece, but the Survivorship Program and all of the resources that it offered.” In addition to receiving local treatment at St. John’s Health, patients and caregivers have access to an expansive list of holistic services ranging from acupuncture and massage to mental health counseling and physical therapy.

“Each and every one of the nurses was so genuinely caring and supportive,” Priscilla says. “They would call me to check in, and at first, my instinct was to say ‘oh yeah, I’m doing fine.’ But they didn’t take that at face value and were always there to hear how I really felt, what side effects I had, all of it. They genuinely cared,” she said. “And even now, I feel like they still do.”

With the expertise and support of St. John’s Health Cancer Care and its Survivorship Program — and no small dose of her own grit and resilience — Priscilla beat her breast cancer and is back to doing the things that she loves most.

When Priscilla and her non-profit launched a program for cancer survivors years ago, she had no idea that she would one day herself be facing the diagnosis.

She has since seen firsthand the challenges that came with a cancer diagnosis and treatment -- the complex emotions, the looming uncertainty, the weight of concern on family and friends. But, she said, when she faced her own breast cancer diagnosis in 2022, nothing could have prepared her for the journey that lay ahead.

At first, she was uncertain of the path she wanted to take. She defines herself as a “fixer,” and navigates the world with determination and resilience. “But you can’t be an expert on everything,” she says, reflecting on her early days of the diagnosis. She was grateful to find that the caregivers at St. John’s Health — in collaboration with experts at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City — were able to not simply tell her what to do but, rather, help her come to an understanding and confidence around the next steps in conquering cancer.

In a demonstration of her gratitude to the St. John’s Health oncology staff, Priscilla welcomed them for a special day at the Diamondfly Ranch last summer, to immerse themselves in the magic and healing power of horses. “We had such a wonderful day, and it meant so much to share an experience with them that was filled with joy and fun.”

It’s clear, watching her as she teaches a young girl to steer a full-grown mustang up and down a winding path of cones, Priscilla is evidence that medicine is an extraordinary tool for treating cancer — especially in the hands of doctors and nurses like those at St. John’s Health — but the intangible forces that support a patient are equally as important. Being able to receive exemplary treatment in her own community, enjoying the companionship of her friends, family and animals, and to remain inspired by her dreams and passions unequivocally helped, too.

Now that SJH has a full-time medical oncologist on staff in Dr. Melissa Cohen, it is poised to move forward, supported by the St. John’s Health Foundation and community philanthropy, with an exciting and much needed expansion of clinical space and offerings. With the recently approved Strategic Plan as a guidepost, highlighting oncology as a priority, the future for cancer care in the Jackson Hole region has never been brighter.