Tag: diagnosis

My Last Day- An Intern’s Perspective

by Brandon Borders, development & marketing intern

Things look a lot different today, the last day of my Internship, than they did six years ago.

Six years ago, I was a junior in high school. I played Soccer — the best sport in the world — for Columbia City High School and with a club in Fort Wayne, was involved with church, and had a few good buddies I enjoyed hanging out with. For the most part, I had not a care in the world.

I thought I knew a lot about myself back then. I thought I had it all figured out.

Then came cancer. The nasty disease that you often heard about but never thought would happen to you or your family. Well, it did, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer over five years ago.

To be honest, at the time, I didn’t realize the significance of the diagnosis. But throughout her five-year fight, I learned a lot about myself.

Through watching my mom persevere through the journey, celebrating when the cancer seemed to disappear and fearlessly pushing forward when it reappeared, I learned what it meant to fight. Nothing is harder in life than going through Cancer, and I’ve seen no one fight harder than her.

Through generous gifts of meals, money and time from friends and family from across the country and from our local church, I learned the impact of Christ’s love in action.

Through the way my dad took care of mom during her fight, I learned what type of man I could be. I learned by example what it meant to love unconditionally, through “sickness and in health,” a vow I will be making to my soon-to-be-wife.

Through talking with mom just last summer about the possibility of not making it much longer, the difficulty in continuing the fight, and her desire to be with God in heaven, which she did last July.

All of these things and more, in one way or another, led me to pursue an internship at Cancer Services. The impact an organization like Cancer Services can have in a cancer patient’s life is enormous. I learned that from my mom’s life, and realized the importance of Cancer Services on a trip with my Huntington University public relations practicum class last Fall to meet with Amber Recker.

My experience as an Intern here has been more fruitful than I could have ever imagined. It has allowed me to utilize my talents, while fulfilling a deeper inner purpose that I barely knew existed. Everything I have helped accomplish at Cancer Services, whether it be working on e-Carelines or cutting out stencils, makes a difference.

Today, nearly six years after my mom’s initial diagnosis, I am wrapping up my last day at Cancer Services. It is sad, but exciting, as well. A new chapter of life is about to begin, and I’m excited about the person I have become, thankful for the people in my life, and excited about the opportunities to support Cancer Services in the future.

*As an intern at Cancer Services, Brandon was instrumental in designing and implementing our bi-weekly e-newsletter, e-Carelines. He also created a flickr account for the organization and countless graphic elements, including invitations, postcards, agency brochures. He wrote press releases and blog posts and proofed grant proposals and reports. His work here helped further the mission of our organization and gave him insight into what a job in PR/Marketing would be like. He will be missed!

Elizabeth Edwards…She Won

by Dianne May, President & CEO

We’ve all heard by now that Elizabeth Edwards has died. She made it clear to friends and family that she didn’t want it said that “she lost her battle with cancer.” In her words, the battle is about living a good life and she won.

As overwhelming and all-consuming as a cancer diagnosis can be, most people come to the conclusion that they don’t want to be defined by their cancer experience. That’s true of many of the difficult challenges that life brings.

Elizabeth lost her first child in an auto accident when he was a teenager. I heard her in an interview once talking about grief and loss. She was firm in her belief that friends and family should never shy away from talking about someone who has died. Rather she believed that such conversations were not so much a reminder that the loved one had died but rather a reminder that the individual had lived and such memories brought joy.

By all accounts, Elizabeth was a strong and nurturing soul, a force to be reckoned with, and a woman who won her battle by living a good life.

A Delicate Dance

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 cancer-services.org or call 260-484-9560 or toll free 866-484-9560.

Hope Alive…

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.

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

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!