8/28/15

Two Stories about Cancer and the Beauty of Hope



Regardless the type, the word cancer is enough to put a lump of fear in anyone's throat. The mind goes wild and usually it doesn't take long for one's thoughts to jump to the most dismal outcome. Despite all of the research and growing technology of today's world in the areas of prevention, controlling, and putting an end to this non discriminatory disease, we still as humans feel the loss of control in our lives when we hear the word cancer. Whether we are a cancer victim, or happen to be the relative or close friend of someone who is, we find that our lives are no longer our own, they belong to the doctor's appointments, the treatments, hospital stays and the awful fear of the unknown. 


 As I have shared some of my medical history in previous posts, many of you are already aware of the fact that I was diagnosed at the age of 13 with ovarian cancer. During the end of my 8th grade year and the summer that followed, I had the classic signs of this form of cancer only at that time there was no way we would have ever fathomed the idea of cancer as the cause. I was constantly bloated with bouts of constipation. I also experienced a major loss of appetite along with nausea and sometimes vomiting after I ate. But the thing that actually made my mother take me to the doctor was the fact that my abdominal girth increased over an inch in one week. Test showed I had an obstruction in the way of a mass, but it wasn't until after I was operated on and the tissue samples sent to the lab were resulted, that I found out I had cancer. Thinking back I sincerely believe that since I was so very young and not aware of  my own mortality, I was somewhat protected from the terrible reality that I may die. My parents however, were fully aware of the severity of my condition. But at that age what cancer in my life did manage to do was to make me terribly angry. 

As a teen I had to endure  operations leaving me with ugly scars, chemotherapy and hours of real sickness…not being able to eat and enjoy food the way I liked…countless trips to the bathroom due to nausea and vomiting, missing school and my friends, hair loss, mouth sores…loss of continence along with dates, socials, football games and I can go on…I was 14 years old…but still to me, it was more of a disruption to my life than a death threat. At that age it made me feel like an oddball, I wasn't like everyone else because of it...and I hated it because of what it stole from me.
 (from my Facebook note "My Thoughts on Cancer")

That was 40 years ago. 

My parents, thank God, are extremely faithful people and my mother in particular put great faith in God to take care of her little girl and see this entire thing through with nothing short of a positive outcome. She prayed constantly between all the tears, and put her trust into the hands of the pediatric oncologist at Philadelphia's St. Christopher's Hospital for children. She also kept me busy. During the fall months I was a member of my high school marching band front, so when the season ended my mother immediately encouraged me to tryout for the indoor drill team. By this time as I recall, my hair had completely fallen out. I remember wearing a wig with my uniform hat on top, and the fear that they both may topple off my head at any time exposing my completely bald scalp. I also recall being so incredibly thin that safety pins were needed to hold up the skirt of my already extra small sized uniform. Mother really does know best because, in retrospect, I eventually realized the best thing for me was to be involved in something, anything not having to do with that damn cancer diagnosis! After my chemo treatments came a second surgery. My entire freshman year of high school was divided up between chemo treatments, tests, lying in hospital beds and tons of doctor appointments. It was a tough 12 months, but when all was said and done I was believed to be cancer free.

Then 11 years later at the age of 25, nine areas of tumor growth in both my abdomen and pelvis were discovered on a CAT scan. This gave way gave to yet another trip to the OR entailing 8 hours of tumor debulking. Fortunately for me and my family all tissue biopsy results showed no evidence of cancer. The doctors told me that the chemo I endured as a child actually saved my life.


That was 28 years ago.



Ironically on the actual 40th anniversary of the day my cancer journey began, I received an email from Heather Von St. James. She contacted me to follow up on an earlier email she had sent asking me if I was interested in sharing my experience with cancer along with her story in a post for my blog. She wanted to share our journeys as way to help build hope and spread the word about how important it is to hang onto hope no matter how difficult a situation anyone could be dealing with in their life. In the first email Heather introduced herself as a 10 year survivor of a type of cancer called Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. She went on to tell me how she was diagnosed just 3 months after giving birth to her daughter Lily. The prognosis for this type of cancer was not a great one. Without treatment Heather was given only 15 months to live. With chemo and radiation she was given a possible 5 more years. Still a pretty crappy prognosis for a young mother with a new baby at home. This was a time in her life where she should have been able to embrace the joys of being a new mother, not worrying about her own mortality. Fortunately Heather's doctor knew about an experimental surgery which in addition to the chemo and radiation could give her up to 10 more years.

That was 10 years ago.


When I look back on everything I had gone through and the feelings I had of so much loss, I came to realize that my journey wasn't without a reason, because God always has a plan. Now you would think that someone who spent so much of her adolescence in hospitals getting probed, prodded, stuck and opened up would never want to step foot in a hospital ever again as long a she could help it. But what my battle with cancer gave me was the desire to help others who are sick. To let them know I was once in their shoes and that it really does suck, but it can and will get better. Cancer influenced my career choices subsequently leading me to first become an x-ray technologist and ultimately a registered nurse. It also led my husband and myself to our beautiful adopted children Michael and Grace.


For Heather, she found strength and healing by sharing her experience with others and to help people become more aware of the terrible disease mesothelioma. In one of her emails to me she wrote "My aim is to inspire people and to show them that with hope, the odds don't matter". To read about Heather's devastating diagnosis and incredible journey of survival over the past decade, just follow this link to her blog Beating the Odds.

 Heather Von St. James
My aim is to inspire people and show them that with hope, the odds don't matter!

I want to thank Heather for reaching out and inviting me to share her story along with mine. I pray that in some way this post inspires hope for anyone who is truly in need, and to please know that there are many of us out here who have experienced first hand the beautiful gift of hope .

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!
XO

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your cancer journey. I, too, am a ten year ovarian and uterine cancer survivor. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you!!

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  2. Barbara, I did not know that you had cancer and endured all those treatments.and surgeries. God is good and you are so right he does open another door. Your children are beautiful and what a wonderful home and love you have given them - they are so lucky.
    God bless you dear friend and keep on spreading the word and helping people have faith.
    Mary

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  3. Barbara,
    Your story of cancer survival is so beautiful. Like so many bad things in life good can come from the hardship and loss. I know your story and others will give those going through cancer hope. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Kris

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  4. What an amazing story of your life. I applaud your bravery and at such a young age.

    Cindy

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  5. I, too, never knew! You were just one of the many enthusastic, outgoing, fun members of the band, another smiling face in the halls of AHS. I can't imagine what was going through your mind, or your parents! You've come a long way, and I enjoy your blog and posts which show your love of life! I now know just how much you are savoring it all!! Hugs!!

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  6. Thank you, dear Barbara, for letting those who didn't know what a brave person you are and for putting healing words out there that may help another going through a hard time. Your children are growing so well under you and your husband's care and I know that Heather appreciates that you are telling her story as well. I told my story awhile back, along with Heather's, and these are the ways that the talking can continue and the hopes for an ending of these horrible diseases can be realized..xxo, Judy

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  7. Barbara, I never knew this about you. Bless your heart for everything you've been through but also for your message of hope.

    I posted about Heather's mission last year and admire her so much for what she's doing.

    You two are strong women helping many others because of what you've been through.

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