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FROM THE VAULT: Area women find hope after cancer (2011)

FROM THE VAULT: Area women find hope after cancer (2011)

Living With Cancer and Beyond

Self love, trust, surrender, appreciation, faith...those are just some of the gifts that cancer can leave in its wake. Ask Stephanie, for whom breast cancer came out of the blue.

"I was 42 years old with virtually no risk factors," she said. "This just wasn't supposed to be happening to me." She had no symptoms and right up until the moment she got the news, she never even suspected she might have cancer.

"I decided right from the start that I wanted to maintain as much normalcy as possible," Stephanie explained. "This was a bump in the road - no more than that. I needed to find a path that would take me from A to B and get past it."

Although it wasn't easy, Stephanie appreciated her blessings. "Everything was in my favor - I was young and in good physical condition, I had my faith, supportive friends and family, great doctors - and health insurance," she said.

Diagnosed on May 24, Stephanie completed her last radiation treatment on Christmas Eve, December 24 that year. "Christmas was quite a celebration that year," said Stephanie.

"You forget how good it feels to feel like yourself again," Stephanie explained. "And yet, you're changed - physically, mentally, and spiritually. It made me realize more deeply and on a much more personal level, the power of faith and prayer. It also gave me a greater sense of compassion and empathy for others going through it."

Four years later, Stephanie is still cancer free. "It's always there in the back of your mind. I don't focus on it, but it's there. I know there's always the possibility. So every year I'm excited to hear my doctor say I'm cancer free and every year I announce the good news to all my friends and family," she says.

Announcing that she had cancer was the most difficult part of having leukemia for Trish. "My husband and I were the only ones who knew for about a month after I was diagnosed," she recalls. "My parents were out of town at the time and I knew telling them would be tough. I wanted to wait until I had all the information."

Trish hadn't had any symptoms. It was a soccer injury that inadvertently led to the discovery of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia: cancer of the bone marrow and blood. She was just 40 years old at the time. She was told that her leukemia was treatable, not curable. A positive outcome is remission. Treatment is a daily medication that she would take the rest of her life.

"Initially there were a lot of tests - bone marrow testing, weekly blood tests, and every six months a FISH test to monitor my progress," said Trish. "My family and my faith got me through it."

After six months of treatment, on Christmas Eve, Trish got the good news that 98% of the cancer cells were gone - a very good outcome. But for Trish, the rejoicing was short-lived. In early February she began feeling extremely tired and nauseas. Then her skin and her eyes began turning yellow. By February 12, Trish was hospitalized with permanent liver failure. She was in and out of a coma.
"Everyone rallied to my support, people I knew and people I had never met," recalled Trish. "I saw that when things get rough, you can count on the support of others."

Fortunately, just a few days later, a donor organ was found. Trish had the surgery and everything went far better than expected.

"The surgeon told us the transplant surgery would take 8 hours. He was done in 4 hours," said Trish. "He told my husband that he had never had a liver transplant go so quickly, or so smoothly. The liver pinked up the minute it was implanted and because I was so fit there was less fat to cut through and everything went faster. Being in shape saved my life - twice."

Once Trish recovered from the surgery, she was placed on a newer drug to treat her leukemia and she is still on that medication today.

"I've been in complete remission for one year now and I never take a day for granted," says Trish. "I feel that it's my duty to live my life to the fullest and to respect and appreciate this gift of life I've been given. It's not that little things don't sometimes annoy me, but then I stop and think about the big picture and I find appreciation again."

When Trish talks about how she got through the last two years and how she manages day-to-day now, she never fails to mention the support of her husband. "My husband was - and still is, my rock," said Trish.

Although the experience of having cancer, living through it, and moving on with your life is different for everyone, there are some things that appear to be pretty common threads. Acceptance stands out as one of them. It's releasing a sense of resistance and surrendering not to defeat, but to the experience itself. It's allowing yourself to go through it in whatever way works for you. It's allowing others to assist you and appreciating the blessings - in whatever form they take. And then it's moving forward, staying present, and enjoying each new day you're given.

By: Lisa M. Mayers