Tag Archives: cancer survivor

5 Lessons From An Ovarian Cancer Survivor

This is a guest blog post by MyLifeLine founder, Marcia Donziger.

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marcia-photoIn 1997 I was 27, happy, free, and traveling the world as a flight attendant. Newly married and ready to have a baby, I felt strong and invincible. My future was unfolding just as I expected it to. Until the symptoms appeared ever so subtly. Squeezing cramps around my waist. It hurt to pee. After a few weeks, I marched my invincible self into my doctor’s office, told her I diagnosed my own bladder infection, and may I please have antibiotics.

She decided to investigate a little further. After an ultrasound, she discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor growing on my left ovary. “Could it be cancer?” I asked. “No,” my doctor assured me, “you’re too young to have cancer.”

Surgery was scheduled to remove my “benign tumor.” I was excited to get it over with, so I could go on with my life and have babies. After 5 hours of surgery, I woke up in the recovery room, my body uncontrollably thrashing in pain. My doctor hovered over me and broke the news, “I’m sorry. You have ovarian cancer. You’ve had a complete hysterectomy. We took everything out.”

What I heard loud and clear was “Cancer. You can’t have children.”

The diagnosis came as a shock. Stage IIIC ovarian cancer had taken over my abdomen, resulting in an emergency hysterectomy that I was not prepared for. The intense grief hit immediately. The loss of my fertility was most crushing. I had always wanted to be a mom.

Halfway through chemo treatments, I celebrated my 28th birthday, but there wasn’t much to celebrate. My marriage was dying. Cancer puts tremendous stress on a couple. Some couples can handle it together like champs. We didn’t. We divorced 1 year from the date of my diagnosis.

After treatment ended, I looked in the mirror to see what was left. I was 28 years old, ravaged physically and emotionally, divorced, and scared to date as a woman unable to have children.

Who would love me now?

Now, almost 20 years later, I feel strong again (although not invincible).

With the benefit of time and perspective, I’ve distilled that traumatic cancer experience into 5 life lessons:

  1. Trust grandma’s reassurance, “This too shall pass.” As an ovarian cancer survivor herself, my grandma is living proof of this timeless wisdom. Stressful events don’t have to be permanent. We don’t have to be victims. Although cancer is extremely painful and unwelcome, the bright spot is we are forced to build character traits such as resiliency, emotional courage, and grit.
  2. Create your own joy in the midst of crisis. There are ways to uplift yourself during the chaos of cancer treatment. For example, I took a pottery class throughout my chemo months to find solace in distraction and art, which helped soothe my soul and ease the journey. What would make you happy? Do something just for you.
  3. Stop doing what you don’t want to do. If you were doing too much out of obligation beforehand, try to change that. You are only obligated to make yourself happy. No one else can do that for you. The key is to use this wisdom to prioritize your time and honor yourself, so you can be healthy for others. Drop what doesn’t serve you. Drop the guilt. Life will go on.
  4. Connect with others. The emotional trauma is hard to measure in a medical test, but it’s real. Anxiety and depression can go hand-in-hand after cancer–it did for me. In response to the emotional challenges I experienced, years later I founded MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation to ease the burden for others facing cancer. MyLifeLine.org is a cancer-specific social platform designed to connect you with your own family and friends to ease the stress, anxiety, and isolation. Gather your tribe on MyLifeLine. You are not alone.
  5. You are lovable after cancer. No matter what body parts you are missing, you deserve love just as you are. Cancer tore down my self-esteem, and it took significant effort to build it back up. I am dedicated to personal and professional growth now. Look into your heart, your mind, your spirit. Try fine-tuning your best character traits, like generosity or compassion. Never stop growing and learning. We are not defined by the body.

To wrap up my story–I learned that when one door closes, another opens. Today I am the proud, grateful mother of 11-year-old twin boys. Born with the help of a surrogate mom and an egg donor, my dream finally came true of becoming a parent. Where there is a will, there is a way. Never give up on your dreams!

Looking Good When Your Body Doesn’t Feel It – A Survivor’s Story

This is a guest blog post by Heather Von St. James, a Mesothelioma survivor.

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The beauty business can be wonderful, hard, lovely, and shallow all at once. But this was the career I had chosen, and I loved it. I specialized in cutting and color, but could do pretty much any salon service from pedicures to brow waxing. I had even done a body treatment or two when we were in a pinch.

I loved my job. I loved taking care of people and making them look and feel their best. I had a passion about my career that was contagious – and my clients loved it. I took great pride in having fun and colorful hair, on point makeup and stylish shoes. This was after all, and industry built on appearances.

I was part of this world for over 10 years when the cancer was diagnosed. I found out I had cancer just 3½ months after the birth of my only child. The pregnancy was incredibly easy. I had very little morning sickness, only gained 5 lbs. the whole time. The only problem was I was beyond tired. I had never been pregnant before and had heard fatigue was par for the course, so I didn’t think anything was amiss. Quite the opposite actually.

People always told me how good I looked. They said things like, “If I saw you from the back, I would never know you were even pregnant!” So I took it as a compliment that I hadn’t gained the weight that I thought I would. The only complication was Lily, my daughter ended up being a frank breech. I had to have an emergency C –section, but she came into the world a healthy 8 lbs., 14 oz.

After having Lily, I started losing even more weight, up to 5 lbs. a week. I chalked it up to breastfeeding and working full time. People always commented on how good I was looking, and that being a new mom sure agreed with me. I was the thinnest I had been in years! But the trouble was, I felt terrible. I was exhausted, I was having trouble sleeping, and I was having trouble breathing.

I just thought this is what postpartum was. I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so I just powered through.

Finally after 3 months of feeling worse and worse, and having more troubling symptoms, I went to see my doctor. After a series of scans and tests we had our answer: malignant pleural mesothelioma.

I was in shock. All at once, my world had come to a screeching halt. My life went from being a working mom, to medical appointments and scans. I would spend the next year fighting for my life through surgical intervention to rid my body of the cancer, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

I was sicker than I had ever been in my life. I made my mind up early, though, that even though I was sick, I was still going to do my best to take care of myself. I figured, you can take the girl out of the salon, but you can’t take the salon out of the girl! Just because I had cancer didn’t mean I was going to stop caring how I looked. I was platinum blonde when I got sick, so I decided to dye my hair a darker brown, closer to my natural color, so it would be easy to deal with over the next few months. I figured it was only a matter of time before I lost it all due to chemo anyway, so why not have fun.

I found out later, that not all chemo causes hair loss, and the type I was getting happened to be one of them, so I never did lose my hair. What was sad, was one of my former co-workers accused me of faking cancer because I didn’t lose my hair. She seriously said that I probably was making everything up because “everyone knows you lose your hair with chemo.” All I could do was laugh and shake my head.

I found that many people said some really crazy things during my cancer battle. People would ask how I felt or how I was doing, and when I said the truth, basically I felt terrible, or was the most sick as I ever had been, I always got the same response. “But you LOOK good.” It was as if looking good made everything ok. And it meant that since I “looked,” good I obviously could not feel as bad as I said.

I began to wonder what I was SUPPOSED to look like… I guess I was supposed to be bald, not wear any make up, spend all my time in pajamas, and moan aloud all the time. I honestly think that is what many people expected, and when they saw me with my hair and makeup done, and dressed in normal clothes, it surprised them. I made every effort during my treatment to make sure I took the time to do those things. The truth of the matter was it made me feel better.

Being a cancer patient, you desperately want any sense of normalcy because everything is so NOT normal… for me? Taking care of myself and my appearance made me feel better. I wore normal clothes, not sweats or pajamas, unless I was in bed. I even got dressed up to go to chemo. I Joked that even though, I might be sick, I’ll be damned if I would look that way!

I was the only person I ever knew who wore red lipstick to get a blood transfusion. My elderly mother-in-law often took me to my chemo appointments, and all the nurses assumed I was there to accompany her for an appointment, not the other way around. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the looks of surprise, replaced by pity when they realized I was the one there for the infusion.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve learned that people don’t say these things to be cruel or unkind, quite the opposite actually. I believe they are trying to encourage, not disparage. I’ve learned to let the comments roll off, and instead of getting upset I try to educate, and I’ve learned myself what not to say to others who have gone through treatment.

I still care about my appearance. I have a shocking white blonde mohawk that has become my trademark. I like to make sure I look nice when I go places, not for other people, but for myself. When I talk to people I don’t know, they are always shocked when I tell them all I’ve been through. My scars are not visible unless I show you where they are.

You can’t tell from my appearance that I have only one lung or only part of a diaphragm. I’ve gained some of the weight back I lost during treatment, so it isn’t obvious what happened to my body as a result of the cancer – which is why when people still say, “Wow! But you LOOK so good!” I just smile and say, “Thank you.”

 

Paige’s Squamous cell carcinoma story

Paige had no idea that losing her ability to speak would give her words so much more power.

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Paige, MyLifeLine.org member and Squamous cell carcinoma survivor

On the day she was diagnosed, Paige heard only some of what she was told. “I recall a few basic things the doctor said to me that day: ‘You have tongue cancer, half of your tongue will be removed, part of your arm will be harvested to make a new tongue, they will take a skin graft from your leg, you will have a neck dissection, tracheotomy, and a feeding tube.’ I am quite certain she said many other words of comfort and did not rattle those things off, but that is all I recall hearing, and I was devastated.”

The spot on her tongue that had been bothering her had already been dismissed as nothing by doctors, but once it started affecting her speech she sought another opinion. Speech had become painful, and despite being an otherwise-healthy, 35-year-old, single mother of three, Paige knew something was wrong. On March 28, 2012, Paige was diagnosed with Squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.

How would she tell her children? Her family? Her friends? Not figuratively—not what words would she choose—how, literally, would she communicate without the voice she had always taken for granted?

Facing months of silence due to invasive treatments, Paige turned to writing. She explained, “I have always been able to express myself best in written words, so I just started to write about all that was going on. I realized I had to tell my friends and family about this diagnosis and I simply could not tell everyone one by one.”

A friend of hers who had also been diagnosed with cancer had used a blog to keep everyone informed, so when she found MyLifeLine.org, Paige signed up for her own free site. She wrote about the medical treatments, the surgeries, and the medications. She wrote about the pain—both emotional and physical.

She reflected, “My site was the only way to express myself and work through all of my emotions. I think that is why it is filled with such raw emotion and why people were drawn to it.”

Throughout her journey, Paige had loving caregivers assisting her and her MyLifeLine.org site was helpful to them as well. One of Paige’s caregivers said, “Not only did her blog help me stay abreast of what was going on with her cancer, Paige included what was going on in her mind. I was able to mourn the sad news away from her to then be strong in her presence.”

MyLifeLine.org was a lifeline for me during my journey. It was my connection to the world, my connection to my own self, and a place where I could be encouraged by others. I am still using the site and will always want it and continue to share my story. Every time someone asks me about my scars I tell them a brief version of events and I hand them the web address for my site on MyLifeLine.org,” Paige said.

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The Cancer Journey: An Unplanned Detour to Your Life

About the author: Jeff Ward is a cancer survivor, no, actually a thriver, a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, certified Cancer Coach, dad, husband, and lover of nature and an adventurous life. The mission of his heart-based coaching is to help and inspire those affected by cancer, particularly cancer survivors who got a wake-up call from their cancer, to move from surviving to living a thriving life. You can reach Jeff at his website at www.jeff-ward.com, or email jeff@jeff-ward.com.

Cancer has a way of sending us off the path of our normal lives. One day we’re going about our business, doing what we do to live a normal life. Then, through whatever circumstances and events, we learn we have cancer, and our lives take a major detour; totally unplanned, totally not welcomed, and for some, the path of our lives will never be the same. I know when I was diagnosed, my life took a sharp turn to a place away from what was until then my everyday life.

The following paragraphs describe the seven stages to the path that a typical cancer patient experiences. Some people may experience variations of the journey or minor stages not listed (such as denial), but for the most part, these are the major steps most cancer patients experience to some level. Caregivers go through similar stages, though with a different perspective.

This journey can also apply to those dealing with other life-threatening diseases or life-altering events.

  1. Innocence – This is the stage where everything is normal in your life, where there is indeed a sense of innocence, of a normal energy level. There is no sign of what is about to happen. You may have something not quite right that may warrant a doctor visit, but there is no hint of cancer at this point. Life is good. For me, there were no symptoms – just a routine blood test for a yearly physical.
  2. The Call – This is when you first hear the word “cancer”, perhaps after undergoing some tests. Your life is about to change and you feel it deep inside. You are entering a new world and have no idea what’s ahead. It’s like you are being forced off a cliff edge, out of your control. I almost fell off my chair when my doctor told me I tested positive for cancer. I did feel my like my life was out of control.
  3. Initiation – This is the stage where you are introduced to medical terms, tests, treatment etc. that you aren’t used to and not expecting. Your body seems out of your control. You feel bewildered, lost, physically fatigued from treatment and not sure what’s next. Physically you’re not the same. Talking with doctors, looking at treatment plans, etc. was entirely new and scary to me. I was very healthy pre-cancer.
  4.  The Pit – The Pit is the low point in the journey. You feel fear, anxiety, negative energy. You don’t know how you’ll get out of this, or if you even will. It is dark and lonely and unpleasant. You feel out of control on all levels – mind, body and spirit. This is also the place of greatest growth, where you need to let go of certain old beliefs or something that no longer serves you. Then allies and hope and something new can be welcomed in. I went into the pit fairly quickly after my diagnosis, as my dad had died of the same cancer years before.
  5. Allies – Allies are anything that provides support, help, sense of trust, or a sense of forward direction. They can be people, spirituality, things, etc. Allies are always there, but take hold in your life when you start letting go of old ways and let go of limiting beliefs from the Pit stage. As you rise out of the Pit into this stage, you begin to understand how you have changed from pre-cancer to now. Listening to those who cared about me help me to let go of money and practical concerns and focus on what was important to my healing.
  6. Breakthrough – This is a time when you have hope, when you feel like you have more control of your life, when things are moving forward. There is a renewed sense of hope and future here. You are starting to feel unstuck, that you are more in control of your life, and starting to do things that reflect that. When I started to heal from my treatment, and realized that I could come out of this ok, I started to feel more hopeful on beating cancer.
  7. Celebration – Imagine being on the medal podium, celebrating your achievement – this is Celebration. It is a place where you celebrate what you’ve been through, who you’ve become, what you can do from here. There is a sense of accomplishment, that the worst is over, and you’re a new person and have learned from and embraced what you’ve been through. You see a new you, a new life. There is hope and possibility from this place. When I got my follow up testing results and was found to be cancer free, I felt a tremendous sense of relief, and a sense that I’ve been given a new lease on life to live more powerfully.

Some of the benefits of understanding this unplanned journey include:

  • It really is a journey with twists and turns, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually and mentally as well. There will be ups and downs.
  • Knowing where you are on this map can help you deal with some of the uncertainties and fears that cancer presents, so that you can live more powerfully through this experience
  • Being in touch with your raw emotions. Feeling and acknowledging (but not being stuck) where you are at deep inside is vital to your recovery.
  • You are not alone. Others have walked your path, and many more are on the wings ready to help
  • It can be a wake-up call to whatever you’ve been holding inside, to a new life
  • For most cancer patients, you will come out of this unplanned trip okay
  • You will learn about your authentic self, and perhaps be a changed person for the better

Healing, dealing with, and overcoming cancer involves more than just getting medical treatment. It also calls into play paying attention to the mind and spirit dimensions as well. While navigating the cancer journey is obviously unpleasant, it can be an opportunity to grow, and for those who survive, to push the re-set button to their life and perhaps be a changed person on a deeper, more authentic level.

So, where are you on your cancer journey roadmap? What have you learned about yourself on this journey? What will be different about your life? I’d love to hear your responses.

This cancer journey description is based on information from ©The Cancer Journey.

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A Leukemia and MDS Cancer Story

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Harold is a Leukemia and MDS cancer survivor who used MyLifeLine.org during his journey. Today he writes a guest blog post for us and shares his leukemia and MDS cancer story.

“I felt knocked back on my heels,” Harold recalled. “I knew something was wrong.” He was right. After a visit to his doctor and a bone marrow biopsy, Harold Sneed was diagnosed with leukemia. He and his wife of 27 years, Debbie, were shocked.

Four years earlier at the age of 59, Harold was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and said he always knew leukemia was a real possibility, but he was still stunned and shaken at his new diagnosis. He immediately underwent intense, high doses of chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow stem cell transplant. During his treatment, a social worker at his cancer center recommended MyLifeLine.org to Harold and Debbie to keep their friends and family up-to-date on his treatment, inevitable setbacks and continued progress.
“We had so many people who wanted to know about what was going on,” said Harold. “It was so nice to be able to update everyone at once.”

Harold and Debbie recalled the plethora of support they received from family, friends and their community.

“We’ve had people reaching out to us every day through MyLifeLine.org,” he said. “It just amazed me. Even though they don’t always comment, you know they’re following. In addition, when you talk to them, they know your whole story and you don’t have to spend time updating them on everything.”

Since the Sneeds live in Kentucky and travelled to Tennessee for treatment, Harold recalled often feeling isolated after being away from home for long periods of time. “MyLifeLine.org was incredible. I was able to hear from people I haven’t heard from in a long time, whole churches were praying for us, people that lived far away; it really boosted my spirits. I was amazed at what I was able to do with all the support I had.”

After a year of enduring lengthy treatment, unpleasant side effects and exhaustive procedures, Harold’s leukemia went into remission. He continues to fight MDS, but is optimistic and recently celebrated a healthy 30-day check-up at his cancer center in Nashville. Harold said he’s learning to adjust to his new normal, works to keep a positive attitude and thanks “my wonderful wife for being with me all the way.”

One Day at a Time

Tricia, Post Author

When you are diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things you do is to try learn everything you possibly can about the heart-wrenching news you have received.  You have so many questions and you want the answers to all of those questions NOW.

What is a fine needle aspiration and core biopsy?  How much does it hurt (needle = pain!)?  How is a biopsy performed?  Will they use anesthesia?  What is pathology and what do all the results mean?  What does Stage 2B mean?  What is a lymph node?  How do cancer cells grow and more importantly, how do I stop them?  Did I cause the cancer?  What is a lumpectomy?  If I have surgery, will it get all of the cancer?  Will I need chemo?  If I do, will I be sick or lose my hair?  What is radiation?   What is a port?  Does it hurt when it is installed in your chest?  How is blood drawn from a port?  What??  There is a needle in your vein??

Then you start asking the even harder questions of yourself.  WHY ME? I have been kind, generous, loving and joyful.  I am a good wife, mom and friend. I have dreams to finish.   I want to see who my children will become.  I want to see them graduate, go to college, marry, raise a family, and experience the joy of grandchildren.  I want to retire with my husband, travel, spend time together after raising a family.  Will I die before my dreams come true?  Do I need to write down the “Bucket List” and start crossing things off TODAY?  Why did I wait to do the things that I always said I was going to do?

Cancer gives you more questions than answers.  My oncologist nurse, Tammy, gave me the best advice.  Tammy said to enjoy the things that I can, when I can and to take it ONE DAY AT A TIME.  She told me to not get ahead of myself or to insist that I know all of the answers immediately.   Pray, meditate, laugh, cry, research carefully, talk, love, hug, but most of all, one step, one day at a time.   Learning this helped me at doctor appointments, before and after surgeries, through chemo, radiation, reconstruction and even today, 4 years later as a “survivor”.  I always have the fear that my cancer will return but I don’t allow that fear to overwhelm me.  I accept that it will always be with me but I take it one day at a time, enjoying my life with my husband, my children as they grow, marry and bless us with grandchildren!

One day at a time.

 

Living Life to Its Maximum – My Son’s Cancer Story

Today we welcome guest blogger, Michele Mitchell, a MyLifeLine.org board member who shares the story of her young son’s brain cancer journey, including some of his own reflections on the experience.

Every Thankful Thursday is an opportunity to reflect on feelings of thankfulness and meaningfulness.  However, nine years ago the idea of even trying to pretend to be thankful would have been next to impossible.  Now, I know an even deeper meaning of being truly thankful as a result of many experiences my son and I shared as we adventured through the land of pediatric cancer.  Nine years ago, my only son was diagnosed with a highly malignant brain tumor two weeks before kindergarten.  As most families were preparing themselves for new adventures at school, we were preparing ourselves for the storm of a lifetime that consisted of brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and countless doctor appointments.  However, it was amidst this very storm that we have learned to understand and feel the true meaning of being thankful.  There is no better way to capture this understanding than to share some insights from some of my son’s writings.

When Sean was in the 5th grade, he was asked to write about an event that changed is life.  His story was titled “Living Life to Its Maximum”.  He started his story by sharing his favorite quote by Babe Ruth: “Hero’s get remembered, but legends never die”.  Then, he proceeded by stating….”Shortly, after moving to Colorado a tornado came sweeping into my life: This tornado was called brain cancer.  The story does not end there.  Now, five and half years later, my life is full of memories and surprises.  I hope you enjoy this journey of memories and learn that all parts of life are never forgotten.  No one said life was ever easy, but hard times help us embrace and appreciate our friends and family around us.  Continue on, this story waits for no one.  In August of 2004, I was diagnosed with brain cancer.  I was very scared, confused, and felt tired a lot.  Both of my parents were with me during this time.  I don’t know how I could have got through without them.  They both still help me deal with the effects of the treatment and are very patient and understanding.  The storms of life can be very hard.  This storm changed everything.  For a few weeks I had been feeling very tired and dizzy.  My stomach hurt all the time and I could not think clearly.  After my brain surgery, I felt somewhat better at least for a while.  Then, radiation started and I felt horrible.  I went from 54 pounds to 39 pounds in one month.  Then, chemotherapy started: The only word to describe this is “horrible”.  I felt light headed, tired, nausea, and my body hurt all of the time. Through all of this, I learned to never give up when things seem impossible.  I learned that God has a plan for my life and he can turn even the most impossible situations around.  My life since then has been better.  My memories of childhood will also be good.  My trip to Disney World from the Make a Wish Foundation was great.  I will never forget the times my mom and I had there.  I will remember the time I have spent with my dad and how much time he spent with me and loved me.  I know how much my mom and dad love me, and how much God must love me too.  Those will be the things I think about most.

I have also learned that I never let a great thing pass.  I like to eat so much chocolate ice cream.  I will always remember my cats, they are so cute.  I will remember learning about owls; my dad says I look like one.  I will always have good memories of my parent’s houses.  I like to think about the first time I beat my dad at chess.  I like the peaceful quiet nights at my dad’s house playing video games.  I will remember how my mom was so caring for even the little things.  I will always remember my great room at my mom’s and all the good meals.  My friends at school will always be a special part of my heart.  I will never forget them.  Holidays are going to be great memories too.  Great food and family at Thanksgiving, and the great days we had at Christmas.  I will always remember how many people really cared for me and made me feel loved.

I look forward to living a life with a great family and a great passion just for living.  My early years have taught me to live every day, I mean really live.  I will work as hard as I must to achieve my goals.  Knowing that I have God on my side, I will never fear.  I know God has a purpose for me because he saved me from cancer.  As I get older, I know I will still feel young in my heart.  I want to continue to grow and learn.  I am excited to see the world and experience life in every way.  I will always be honest and treat people well.  I look forward to having my own family and being a great dad just like my dad.  I will have a good relationship with my children.  I will use my hard times to teach them great lessons.  I will teach them that God hears your prayers and it does change things.  I am so thankful for a chance at a great future.  I will make the most of this life and never waste it.  I will always be thankful for my friends, my family, and the lessons learned from this storm.”

Now at the age of 14 years old, my son is still teaching us about the true reasons to be thankful for every minute of every day.  Oh how I wish mylifeline.org had existed nine years ago; however, I am so thankful that today this organization can help so many families stay connected and feel the power of support as my son so beautifully articulated above: “I don’t know how I could have got through without them”.

Turning Pain into Purpose: My Journey with Cancer

This week David Fuehrer President of CureLauncher shares his cancer story. Thanks for sharing David!

 

What has challenged you most in life?

It may come and go.  Be more difficult some days than others.

But, it is an inherent part of who you are.  “Along for the ride”, shall we say.

My biggest challenge in life has been staying strong in the face of cancer.  But, what I mean by ‘staying strong’ has changed profoundly and given me a new mission in life.

 

This is what ‘strong’ used to mean to me:

In October 2001, I won a New York State Natural Bodybuilding title.  At that moment, I felt strong.  WOW… was I wrong.  I would spend the next 10 years struggling to be strong and ultimately arrive at an entirely new definition of strength.  This is where my journey with cancer began, just four months after this picture was taken.

 

At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

At the age of 30, I was again diagnosed with testicular cancer (a different type).

 

Those were challenging years for me.  Undergoing treatment and then trying to understand my life afterward.  But, in hindsight, they were challenging because I was holding onto my old definition of strength.  I thought I could be tougher than cancer.

I believed that strength meant not showing pain…  I was still wrong.

At the age of 35, we lost my father to bladder cancer.  It was impossible not to show pain.  Our family came together for the most challenging moment of our lives.  And this is where my view of strength would be changed forever.

True STRENGTH means supporting those you love during difficult times.  It means having empathy and compassion.  True strength is an internal quality that we show when those around us need us most.  It’s true, my definition of what ‘staying strong’ means has changed profoundly.

 

This is what ‘strong’ means to me now:

 

This picture was taken our last time together before we lost my father.  The people in it are the strongest people I know.  Each of them inspire me every day.  I hope I do the same for them.

The past 12 years have reshaped my life (in more ways than I can comprehend).  Last year, I left my corporate consulting career to become a full-time advocate for people facing cancer.

My purpose is to help families know all of their treatment options.  There are 4,000 clinical trials in the U.S. that offer new treatments for those facing cancer.  This is a resource that every family should have access to.

When I sat down to write my story, I wanted to convey how cancer has created a new purpose in my life.  As I wrote (both crying and smiling along the way), I was deeply aware of the pain we all feel when facing cancer.  It is isolating and unifying.  But it is also a re-defining experience that can bring opportunity; the opportunity to support each other.

 

What has challenged you most in life?  And, what type of strength have you found in facing it?

 

David Fuehrer

Dave is President of CureLauncher.  The organization matches people to new treatments for cancer based on their unique goals and conditions.  www.curelauncher.com has translated all enrolling cancer clinical trials into easy-to-understand information.  It is the only service that gives people access to ALL enrolling cancer clinical trials.

Prior to CureLauncher, Dave was an Innovation Consultant for Pfizer, General Electric and many others.  He has helped launch new products and services across North America, Europe and China.  Dave has an MBA in Technology Management and has completed Executive Education and Harvard and MIT.

 

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Gratitude for Cancer D-Day & Today

Melissa Bowen, Executive Director; Marcia Donziger, Founder and Chief Mission Officer; Tricia McEuen, Director of Administration

Guest Post by Marcia Donziger, our Founder and Chief Mission Officer

Did you know 1 in 71 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime?  Each September we celebrate Ovarian Cancer Month in an effort to raise awareness about the vague symptoms that precede a diagnosis.  At MyLifeLine.org, we partner with Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance, and Sharsheret, to promote ovarian cancer education, which we believe will save lives.

But for me…. ovarian cancer means more than collaborative partnerships.  For me…. it’s personal.

As a woman diagnosed at the age of 27 with Stage IIIc ovarian cancer, I went through a dark time.  According the stats, only 22% of women live another 10 years.  Although I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, I do remember the smallest details of my Diagnosis Day (D-Day).  Today, I’m 44 and grateful for every birthday.

It was March 1997 when I was living the “normal” life of a 27-year old – newly married, just bought a house, working full-time, and traveling.  That’s when I started feeling some vague symptoms like bloating and abdominal discomfort.

I asked my doctor for antibiotics assuming I had a bladder infection.  Never in a million years would I have guessed a grapefruit-sized tumor was growing on my left ovary.

“Could it be cancer?” I asked.

“No”, my doctor said confidently. “You’re too young to have cancer.”

On March 31, 1997, I was wheeled into the pre-op room on a gurney and started on an IV.  That’s when the medical assistant came in with a clipboard.

“Sign at the bottom”, he yawned, apparently bored.  I squinted to read the small print.  “I consent it is possible…. to die…or have a hysterectomy…”

I looked up at the assistant in a panic.  DIE?  HYSTERECTOMY?  Sure, I knew there was risk in surgery to remove a benign tumor, but I hadn’t considered the possibility of a hysterectomy or death.

My doctor had told me verbatim “You’ll be back to work in a week.” These risks were never discussed.

After five hours of surgery, I woke up in the recovery room, my body uncontrollably thrashing around the gurney in pain.  I still felt as if knives were stabbing through my belly and back.

The doctor was hovering over me and matter-of-factly said, “I’m sorry.  You have Ovarian Cancer.  You’ve had a Complete Hysterectomy.”

So I lived.  But the other worst-case scenario happened, and I was devastated.  What I heard loud and clear was “Cancer. You. Can’t. Have. Children.”

My New Normal:  Ovarian Cancer spread throughout my abdomen and lymph nodes resulted in a hysterectomy.  Infertility meant experiencing intense grief and loss for the future I had dreamed of.  Six months of chemotherapy meant an endurance game of illness, and if I was lucky, recovery.

Halfway through chemo treatments, I celebrated my 28th birthday.  But there wasn’t a lot to celebrate.  My marriage was crumbling.  Cancer puts tremendous stress on a couple.  Some couples can handle it together like champs.  We didn’t.  We divorced one year from the date of my diagnosis.

There I was – 28, ravaged physically and emotionally, divorced, and dreading life in the single world, as a cancer survivor without the ability to have children.  But that’s a topic for another blog.

Ten years ago, I got married to a wonderful man.  Today my husband and I are the proud parents of twin boys – now age 8 – who were born with the help of an egg donor and surrogate mom, Katrese.  She and I became fast friends during the pregnancy, which was very healing for me.  She was even one of the founding board members of MyLifeLine.org.

Today, I feel grateful.  Grateful for that traumatic day the C-Word crashed into my life and burned up the future I’d planned.

Today, I get to rebuild my future and help MyLifeLine.org grow as the Chief Mission Officer and be an advocate on behalf of survivors and the people who love them.

Today, I get to be a Mom to 2 incredible children.

Yes, that’s right.  Today, I am grateful for the ovarian cancer diagnosis that turned my life upside down and caused me to go down a new, uncharted path.

Today, I am confident there is beauty beyond the pain and the fear.

Today, I ask you, what are you grateful for?

To learn more about ovarian cancer’s warning signs, or how to support a loved one, visit our partners:

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance

Sharsheret for Jewish women

 

Gratitude Campaign Badge
USC’s Gratitude Campaign

Cancer (KICK BUTT) Attitude

My cancer attitude began when I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Lobular breast cancer on September 2, 2009.  What is cancer attitude?  Cancer attitude keeps you fighting when you feel like giving up.  It keeps you laughing when you feel like crying.  It keeps you going forward when all you want to do is stop, go back and have a do-over.

With cancer attitude you fight, you cry, you laugh, you love, and you plunge ahead when you really don’t know what the outcome will be.  You trust, you care, you get mad, you hug, you rejoice in the steps forward, and you worry about the steps back.  You learn to live every single day, every moment, as if it were your last, because it might be.  Your family and friends hurt and cry and want life to go back the way it was, and then they hug, laugh, love, care, share, and keep you so focused on living, that your cancer attitude roars like a lion.  You don’t want to miss a single instant in the lives of those you love.

Cancer creates a life that is consumed by appointments, surgeries, chemo, radiation, blood draws, endless body and psychological changes (how the heck could I know that my fingernails would turn black and fall off or that every single hair on my body would disappear?!) but your cancer attitude is humble and amazed as you are surrounded by oncology nurses, doctors and volunteers who give so much of themselves to make one day better for a cancer patient.

With cancer attitude you learn to be in each day and not to look too far down the road.  You become one with those who lift you up and encourage you every single day.  You know they are fighting right alongside you.  You feel their love, prayers, hope, support, hugs – no matter if they live down the street, in another state or overseas.  You find out what you are made of and that you have more strength, determination and guts than you ever dreamed you had.  You become a warrior with serious cancer attitude.

As I celebrate 4 years since my diagnosis, I am so thankful for my wonderful caregiver husband, Steve.  He was there every step of the way with unwavering love and support, attending every doctor appointment, asking millions of questions and researching a few answers of his own, all while being scared himself.  My children, family and friends never stopped their support and encouragement – always willing to rub my feet, bring food, send cards or emails, flowers, hats, I could go on and on.  My cancer attitude is now one of strength and peace because of my outstanding support system.

That is why I LOVE working for MyLifeLine.org.  Being a part of an amazing and caring team of people who fight for cancer patients every single day is humbling and rewarding. I get to hear stories of diagnosis and treatment, I get to talk to friends and family and help them as they lend support to their loved one and I get to share MyLifeLine.org with doctors and nurses who are on the front lines of this battle. With cancer attitude, you surround yourself with a strong support system of friends and family who develop that attitude right alongside you.  I want to make sure no one ever feels alone on their cancer journey and with my cancer attitude, I am doing just that.

Tricia is the Director of Administration at MyLifeLine.org. We love her cancer attitude!