Side by side. Every step of the way.

A young mother’s breast cancer story

Posted on March 14th, 2012

Chelsa with her family at Lapper 2010

by Amber Recker

In 2010, when she was just 34 years old, Chelsa Demarchis heard four words she thought she’d never hear: You have breast cancer. At the time, her two boys were still babies, 2 years and 4 months old.

“I was nursing my youngest and we started having a difficult time,” Chelsa says. “I thought it was a blocked duct; so did my doctor at first.”

Chelsa had an ultrasound right away and then the whirlwind began. The doctor asked her to come back for a mammogram after the ultrasound and that’s when they discovered she had stage 3 breast cancer. She was having a hard time breast feeding because the tumor was a massive 6 centimeters. She started chemotherapy immediately and in early 2011, she had a mastectomy, followed by radiation treatment.

“I was completely blind-sided,” explains Chelsa. “Never in a million years did I expect this to happen to me and my family.”

Chelsa’s husband Dan took the news especially hard. He experienced an array of emotions, but mostly anger. “It took a lot of convincing on my part and from our family and friends before Dan believed I would be okay. He was so angry this would happen to me at such a young age with such young children,” Chelsa says.

Once the initial shock wore off, Chelsa, Dan and their family faced cancer head on. Dan’s parents moved to Fort Wayne to help with the children while Chelsa underwent treatment, and her mother and 3 sisters from Michigan took turns coming down to help, as well.

“We were shown incredible support from our family and friends,” Chelsa says. “My husband is a teacher at Canterbury, and that community was amazing. People prepared meals and brought them to us every night. They even showed up to watch the boys so we could enjoy some down time.”

Chelsa and Dan were open with their oldest son during the process and tried to explain it to him so he would understand. They told him cancer was like alien bugs attacking mommy’s body and the medicine she took attacked the bugs back. They also told him the medicine made her hair fall out.

“It was a big deal to me when I started losing my hair. I had thick, long curly hair. The night Dan helped me shave my head, our son walked in. I asked him if I looked pretty and he said ‘not today mommy,’” Chelsa relays, laughing at the memory. “It was an emotional moment, and he put a smile back on our faces.”

Last year, Chelsa organized a team of her family and friends to participate in Lapper. “It relieved a lot of stress knowing that Cancer Services was there for me during my cancer journey. When I needed questions answered, I simply had to call my Client Advocate. Just knowing that was enough sometimes,” she explains. “So participating in Lapper was a great way to help support the organization and also do something with my family and friends to acknowledge what we all went through with my diagnosis. I love the community feel of the event and can’t wait to participate in Lapper 2012.”

Today, Chelsa has reached the 6 month post-treatment mark and things look good. “You know, my son saved my life,” she says. “If we hadn’t found the tumor when we did, it may have been too late.”

If you’d like to join Chelsa and others at Lapper 2012, register today!

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Am I a Survivor?

Posted on May 16th, 2011

By Gail Hamm, Program Director

“……and wonder if I will be one of the survivors….”

Recently a Cancer Services’ client made the following comment on the evaluation she returned to us: “… (I) wonder if I will be one of the survivors…”

This is a concern of most people who hear, “You have cancer.” You do not know in that moment of stillness, what to expect next. It takes your breath away. Life stands still. In a split second, you remember all the dire stories you have ever heard, and forget the successes.

But the truth is, that everyone’s experience, while similar to others’, is really unique for that individual. You may or may not have the usual side effects. For some, the treatment and after effects are not significant to them. For others, the experience is so momentous that life is measured as “before cancer” and “after cancer.”

At Cancer Services, we use the term “cancer survivor” to mean anyone affected by cancer, from the moment of diagnosis forward. And it includes caregivers, as well. The term “cancer survivor” was first used by Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, who was diagnosed in 1975 with mediastinal seminoma. In 1985, he wrote an essay for the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Seasons of Survival.” In that article, he wrote of the uncertainty of the life of a person diagnosed with cancer. He coined the term “cancer survivor” as an all-encompassing term identifying all people affected by cancer in any stage of survival. In a later interview on public radio, he said he wished that there were a better or more descriptive term to use. Even he recognized that people with cancer live in a sort of limbo, not knowing if they will survive the experience.

If there is a day when you need the reassurance that indeed you are a survivor who is surviving, just call your Cancer Services’ Client Advocate. He or she is here to listen to you, to encourage you, to help you find the answers you need in order to better cope with your unique situation.

Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana is the first place to call after a diagnosis of cancer : (260) 484-9560 or toll free (866) 484-9560. ….Serving people with cancer and their families since 1944.

Bring your family and join other cancer survivors at Lapper and Survivors Day at Foster Park, May 21. Lapper starts at9 am and the party for Survivors Day starts at 11 am. Fun, food, and festivities!

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Bicycling for Cancer Services

Posted on May 11th, 2011

Two-time cancer survivor Jill Sample is riding in the Zoo-de-Mackinac , a 51-mile bicycle ride, on May 21, and is raising money for Cancer Services in the process. She’s started a facebook page and is directing her family and friends to our site. Check it out <<HERE>>

She writes: As many of you know, I am a Cancer Survivor (2-time). God has greatly blessed me through his love and support and the love and support of my family and many, many awesome friends. It has been 6 months since my last diagnosis and surgery which saved my life.

Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana was so helpful to me during my recovery at home by providing a hospital bed free of charge for as long as I needed it.

I am one of the lucky ones who have survived cancer and I am so much stronger for it. And because I am a survivor and have fully recovered, I feel strongly about helping such a great organization and would love for any and all of you to help also.

I am going to be riding in the Zoo-de-Mackinac bicycle ride in May this year. It is a 51 mile scenic bike ride. I am asking everyone to please donate to Cancer Services by clicking on the link below as a sort of sponsorship for the bike ride I am undertaking. Your donation goes directly to support LOCAL cancer patients and their families and is a tax deductible contribution. Please enter my name in the “In honor of” box as you fill out the online form.

Thank you so much for your support to such a wonderful cause!! My Goal is to raise $1500 for Cancer Services of Northeat Indiana.

Love, Jill

To support Jill’s efforts, visit our <<Donation Page>>

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A Delicate Dance

Posted on September 7th, 2010

by Gail Hamm, Program Director

There is a certain tension between caregivers and patients- a delicate dance, if you will. Each tries to protect the other. And even if communication was good before the need for caregiving, there may still be times of conflict and hurt feelings. Important things may not be said because it is difficult to talk about the “elephant in the living room.” At other times, it is difficult to understand each other’s perspective.

I have watched this dance play out in many ways. From the perspective of the cancer survivor (a person is a survivor from the day of diagnosis, by the way)… I have heard this person ask, “How do I get my family to accept the new me?” Sometimes the “new me” looks, acts, sounds, ambulates, or eats differently from the “me” before diagnosis and treatment. The “new me” is who he is now, and cannot go back. There is no choice. The survivor is making accommodations to survive and thrive in his new way of living. It takes a lot of time and perseverance to assume the new mantle of self, find meaning from the experience, and survive day-to-day. In addition, he may also be short- tempered and frustrated, and just plain not feeling well.

It can be difficult for the caregiver to accept the “new me,” precisely because there is a “new me.” Out of love, the caregiver offers food and advice. And when the survivor refuses or only eats a little, the caregiver can become extremely frustrated. There may also be the unspoken fear that, “If I don’t feed him, he will die…. it’s my responsibility to nurture my husband and keep him alive.” There is a certain feeling of impotency and helplessness in not being able to protect and save our loved ones.

Caregivers, out of their love for the survivors, are struggling to provide assistance, but what they are offering may be rebuffed…not out of diminished love or caring, but because the survivor wants to do it in his or her own way. To the caregiver it feels like rejection. To the person being cared for, it feels like smothering. In either case, both are trying their best to maintain relationships while dealing with a new lifestyle for which no one asked nor planned.

If you are in this situation, I highly recommend the support group venue as a way to share triumphs and dilemmas. Others have dealt with what you may be experiencing. In coming to a support group and sharing, caregivers and survivors are bringing problems out into the open and finding solutions. Listening to others provides new perspectives and renewed energy for the caregiver/patient dance. Cancer Services offers a variety of support groups. Check out the possibilities at www.cancer-services.org or call 260-484-9560 or toll free 866-484-9560.

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Hope Alive…

Posted on September 2nd, 2010

by Nimal Gernando, cancer survivor and Cancer Services client

One beautiful day in June 2008, I was attending a conference in Indianapolis and developed a slight and sudden pain in my lower abdomen. I tried to shrug it off, but it didn’t go away and actually got worse. I had a bad feeling about it, so I decided to head home. I called my wife on the way, and she suggested that I call the doctor. The doctor saw me right away, but he couldn’t find anything and suggested that I get a CAT scan. The scan showed a tumor blocking my colon, so I had a colonoscopy, which confirmed the tumor and I underwent surgery to remove it immediately. That was the beginning of a new life for me and one that has been humbling and challenging.

After my diagnosis, I found Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, which has been a huge source of support and encouragement to me and my family. My Client Advocate, Brandon, has been there at every turn and has never hesitated to provide the information that I need. I have also been enjoying the massages provided through its new program, Caring Touch. The experience is so relaxing and comforting. I am thankful to Cancer Services for the support and services provided on my journey.

My life goes on and I am enjoying it to the fullest. I have learned to look on the bright side and have been counting my blessings. I have two boys: Nathan (8) and Nelig (7). My wife, Shanthinie, has been strong and is taking care of me and the two boys with much courage and perseverance. She is scared, yet she has been there to support me and take care of the family throughout this journey. We do not have family in the area, so she has found strength in the community, especially from our church family, which has rallied around us and offered encouragement and support. Life is a struggle but I am keeping my hope alive.

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The Persistence of a Weed

Posted on August 30th, 2010

by Dianne May, CEO

The church’s sign said, “Lord, please give me the persistence of a weed.”

Wow, what would it be like to be a weed? To push yourself through an impossibly hard obstacle and stretch your arms to the sun. To bake in burning heat day after day and then glory in a rain shower. To endure repeated cuts and still come back strong.

What would it be like to be a weed? To be as pure and delicate as Queen Anne’s Lace, as blue as cornflowers, and as bright as dandelions.

I’ve decided that weeds are under-valued. I think they have something to teach us. Weeds have adapted over time to survive in places and situations that no one thought would be possible. Cancer can feel like that. Insurmountable, impossible to defeat and yet it happens. People triumph over the disease, sometimes by living long and sometimes by living well. Lord, give me the persistence of a weed.

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A Reflection on Tribute Dinner 2009

Posted on August 26th, 2010

by Heather Currie, 2009 Event Attendee

My mother passed away from colon cancer in January 2009, and my father invited family and friends to share a table at Cancer Services Tribute Dinner 2009 to celebrate her life. The tribute gift was a picture frame, so we searched through our cameras and in our photo albums for a suitable picture of my mother. Going through the pictures wasn’t easy, partly because it had been less than a year since she passed, making it hard to see so many photos of good times, knowing that there would be no new additions to our collections. And partly it was hard because every individual, my mother included, has so many facets that no single photo captures them completely. We found photos of her at weddings, holidays, and dressed up for previous Cancer Services dinners where her own parents had been honored for their battles with cancer. We eventually chose a candid photo of her from our last family vacation in 2007 because it showed her in her element – relaxing in a National Park, enjoying the peacefulness of sunshine, trees and family close at hand. It showed her not just living with cancer, but thriving with it. The picture and frame now sit on the piano where my mother often played. It is joined by bookends and a vase – three handsome tributes, from Cancer Services dinners, to amazing members of our family.
My mother’s battle with cancer is a story of living, surviving, and thriving, as many of them are. Despite all that she lost through cancer, she survived so much of it during her 11-year battle. It was her determination to thrive that has left an indelible mark on us and continues to inspire those who knew her. We survive her, but those who loved her have felt the loss deeply, but it won’t stop us from thriving. At the Cancer Services dinner, we were surrounded by people who knew well what it means to live, survive and thrive. Despite all of the loss, there was not a feeling of sadness to the event. There were a few tears (living, surviving and thriving isn’t easy, after all); the event, however, was a happy occasion, with much to celebrate. Those who have survived their battles with cancer, and those of us who have survived family members lost to cancer, have much to be optimistic about. The dinner gave us an environment in which to not only honor those who fight cancer, but to thrive because of them.

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Caregivers and Patients

Posted on August 23rd, 2010

by Gail Hamm, Program Director

The caregiver is the unsung hero in the medical journey. Caregivers provide hands-on care and encouragement. They may provide care as an act of love, from a sense of duty, or out of feelings of guilt. Whether caring for a loved one at home or in a nursing facility, the truth is that nothing is the same as it was before the illness.

Schedules revolve around the needs of the patient. Hard choices abound: Is my loved one safe alone while I am at work? While I run to the store? While I head to the mailbox? There are frustrations over added laundry, money worries, lack of help. Many find it extremely difficult to ask for help and therefore create even more challenges for themselves.

As the caregiver becomes more fatigued and frustrated, feelings of resentment may arise. Previous relationship problems only complicate matters. Will I care for this person who has caused me so much pain in the past? Am I not justified in walking away? Guilt feelings abound, sometimes paralyzing the caregiver into inaction.

Additional problems arise when the patient’s needs are greater than the caregiver’s ability to provide that care. If the caregiving lasts so long that there appears to be no end to the journey, the caregiver may become overwhelmed and feel ready to give up.

Conversely, caregiving can be a most rewarding experience. It is an act of love that can draw people closer together and deepen love and understanding.

No one has to “go it alone.” There is help available if both the patient and caregiver are willing to be open to other options. Call a Cancer Services advocate for assistance. Nothing is the same as it was before the illness, but it can be good.

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6th Annual Tribute Dinner- Bridging Troubled Waters

Posted on August 19th, 2010

Mark your calendars for Thursday, September 30, and join us at the 6th Annual Tribute Dinner in the Marquis Ballroom at the Fort Wayne Marriott. This year’s event, “Bridging Troubled Waters: A Reflection on Life’s Journey,” offers our community an opportunity to pause, treasure the memories of people who have been touched by cancer, and pay tribute to them, whether a cancer survivor, caregiver, physician, or lost loved one. The evening includes a chance to share memories with family and friends, enjoy a nice dinner and entertainment, and display a photograph of your loved one, along with his or her story.
To learn how you can pay tribute to someone at our event or for tickets, contact Amber Recker at (260) 484-9560, Toll Free @ 866-484-9560, or arecker@cancer-services.org.

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Life is a Journey not a Destination… Don’t Stop Believing!

Posted on August 18th, 2010

By Mary Jo Wolf, cancer survivor and Cancer Services client

My cancer journey began in November 2008, when I discovered a lump in my right breast. I didn’t panic and went about my evening as scheduled, but the thought of that strange mass lingered in my mind. I had been through an unwanted divorce in April, my family lived 6 hours away, and suddenly, I felt alone.

I went to my doctor on Monday. She examined me and immediately set an appointment for me at the Breast Diagnostic Center. On Tuesday, I had a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound. There was fluid around the mass that needed to be drained, but unfortunately, the radiologist couldn’t get it to drain. I had a total of five biopsies that day, and then made an appointment with a surgeon who would give me the biopsy results. I went to each of these appointments alone, hoping it was nothing. I didn’t believe that I might have cancer and I didn’t want to alarm anyone.

When I met with the surgeon for the biopsy results, my friend Becki came with me. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year and knew I needed support. The diagnosis was DCIS (Ductile Carcinoma in Situ – noninvasive breast cancer). Becki started to cry and I was in shock. A million questions went through my mind. The surgeon recommended a lumpectomy. He would remove the lump and send it to the lab to get the exact diagnosis. He was fairly certain that no more treatment would be needed. My surgery was scheduled for Monday, November 24. My only child’s 21st birthday would be the next day. How was I going to tell her that I had cancer? Surgery went as scheduled and my wonderful daughter gave up her birthday celebration to take care of me.

Unfortunately, at my follow-up appointment , the surgeon reluctantly informed me that another surgery would be necessary because cancer cells were still present, and the mass tested positive for triple negative invasive breast cancer.

A week later, I had a second surgery, followed by complications. The incision would not heal; there was infection and a lot of pain. I met with my oncologist and she explained that I needed 20 weeks of chemo. Although my cancer didn’t spread to the lymph nodes, they had to treat it aggressively as if it did.

On a follow-up visit with the surgeon, he discovered another lump in the same breast. More ultrasounds and biopsies were done on the second lump, and the surgeon recommended a double mastectomy. After much research and discussion with family and friends, I concurred. My bilateral radical mastectomy was scheduled for Tuesday, January 20, 2009. I wanted the cancer out of me once and for all. Besides, new breasts at my age didn’t sound like such a bad idea. I always try to see the bright side. I met with the surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon to discuss the plan for the next several weeks and months. It was surreal going over the surgery options with the plastic surgeon. The thought of having my breasts removed and reconstructed was overwhelming. My plastic surgeon talked with me as if he was talking to his own wife, mother, or sister. I trusted him and believed I was in good hands.
In early January, I took a tour of Cancer Services. It was so comforting to meet with my Client Advocate and find out how the organization could help me. Throughout my journey, Cancer Services was there – supplying tape and bandages and a hospital bed for when I returned home. They also offered much needed emotional support. Even today, as a cancer survivor, when I walk through the front door of Cancer Services to volunteer, I feel peace and comfort.
I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction on January 20, 2009. The morning of my surgery, my daughter laid in the hospital bed with me until they took me back to the operating room. As they rolled me down the hall, I could hear my daughter and my mom telling me they loved me. The next thing I knew, it was 10 ½ hours later and I was in intensive care. I had 8 drainage tubes, a pain pump in my stomach, and I was hooked up to a morphine machine for pain. Along with having my breasts removed, I had an incision from hip to hip. They used the fat, muscle, and tissue from my stomach to create my new breasts.

After my hospital stay, I returned home to find a hospital bed set up in my living room, supplied by Cancer Services. Because of the hip-to-hip incision, it was impossible for me to lie flat on my back. I believe the hospital bed helped my recovery immensely. When I was fairly well recovered from surgery, I began chemo. I was back at work and things were going as well as could be expected. After several treatments, I developed Hand and Foot Syndrome –a sometimes side effect of chemo. In April, my employer let me go because I couldn’t perform the duties of my job. I clung to hope, faith, and the thought that maybe what I had been through could help someone else some day. My dear friends had a benefit for me in May, and I was able to finish my treatment without worrying about how I was going to keep a roof over my head. I had my final chemo treatment in July of last year with reconstruction performed 2 weeks after my final treatment. After I regained my physical strength, I started to look for work, starting a new job in October of 2009.
I’m now a one-year breast cancer survivor. From April of 2008 to April of 2009, I went through a devastating divorce, cancer, and the loss of my job. Today, I’m a woman of great hope. I have a heart full of gratitude and look for ways to give back every day. Do I struggle at times? Yes. Am I sad at times because my body is scarred, my breasts have no sensation, and my life will never be the same because I had cancer? Yes. At the same time, the truth for me is this: what gives my life and the fact I had cancer meaning and purpose is being of service to others. Today, I’m a volunteer for Cancer Services. I can’t think of a better way to change the liability of having cancer into an asset. I believe that great good can come from great suffering. Most of all, I believe I was stripped of everything so I could have a new foundation on which to build a new life. Next year, my beautiful daughter will graduate from Purdue University and I will be 50 and fabulous! Here’s to my new life!

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