What I’ve learned from cancer

Readers across the region share, in their words, how cancer has taught them many valuable lessons.


Today’s Life section is filled with information to help you and your loved ones in your breast cancer journey — from navigating local care options, to preventative health care and diagnosis, to managing the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

We asked readers whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share the lessons thise disease has taught them.

Here are the lessons in the words of patients, survivors, caregives and loved ones throughout the region.

LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that God truly is in control. The next lesson is to live life to the fullest, and if you love someone, show them your appreciation. Upon completion of two rounds of chemotherapy and one round of radiation, I was coming up on my 54th birthday. What better way to celebrate life by throwing a big party for the people who helped save yours.

I rented the Dixon Community Wellness Center (Dayton) and had a “life party.” I invited all of my doctors and their staff, family and friends and my wonderful co-workers and my medical team. I toasted them with champagne and called them my life support, and I honored them with roses. And I told each and every one of them how much I loved them.

I also learned to never put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Also if you are angry or mad at a person for whatever reason, do all that you can to resolve the problem. I’ve learned that it takes more energy to be angry or mad than it does to love.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us — whether we are dealing with any particular illness, or not.

— Alicia Tigner, Dayton

UNDERSTAND ALL WHO CAN BE IMPACTED BY DISEASE

As a male breast cancer survivor of five years, I continue to be amazed by the lack of recognition that male breast cancer even exists. I have spoken to many people that did not realize men can get this disease.

While it is true that the numbers for men are far below those of women, many things are the same. Your world still stops when the doctor informs you that your biopsy is malignant, you still wonder how this will affect your life and your family, you wonder what your quality of life will be and about your life expectancy and what your treatment options will be. These are the same things women go through.

If you have a mastectomy, most men do, you also have body image issues; and because fewer men get breast cancer, the support system enjoyed by women is not available. Many physicians don’t even know how to address these issues with men, because they see few men with this disease.

Here are the lessons learned from my experience with breast cancer:

1. There is nothing sissy about talking with your doctor about this; there are just fewer cases of male breast cancer than female breast cancer.

2. Establish a good relationship with a primary care physician. That way you will be less inhibited about talking about your care.

3. Become familiar with how your breasts feel, and perform a self-breast exam regularly.

4. At the first sign that there is anything abnormal, see your doctor.

5. Don’t allow your doctor to skip over your concerns; insist on a mammogram.

6. If diagnosed with cancer, get a second opinion about appropriate treatment, and learn all you can from reputable web sites.

I urge you to visit https://malebreastcancer.org for more information.

— Bill Sykes, Xenia

BUILD A NETWORK FOR SUPPORT, SHARING

I have now learned that many people come into our lives for many different reasons. On this journey I have come to know others in my situation who have been of great importance to me in the way of support, caring, compassion, and most of all understanding my thoughts and feelings.

Meeting others and interacting are imperative when on this journey. It enables me to keep going mentally, physically, and emotionally and to be as positive as possible in my daily life. Another lesson I have learned is that there are many people suffering in silence. When you encounter people who appear negative, consider that they may be hurting inside and try to be a little more tolerant and patient with them.

Having my husband by my side as my advocate and supporter made me so positive and loved that I want to continue on this path no matter what roadblocks we will encounter and have to overcome or accept.

The Wig Salon at Cancer Support Western Ohio is a place that I can go to and selfishly feel good. I get such enjoyment out of seeing a patron smile because they look so good when they leave having completed one more part of their journey. Wigs and wig-fittings are free to those going through treatment. Contact Cancer Support Western Ohio at (937) 223-4177.

— Joyce Fronzaglia, Washington Twp.

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Readers share the most valuable lessons they have learned from cancer.

YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE

I was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago at the age of 38. If there was one life lesson I learned, it was to stop trying to please everyone else.

After three surgeries, eight chemotherapy sessions and 28 radiation treatments, there was no time to please anyone — I had to heal for my children. Through my diagnosis and treatment, I met truly amazing people with courage, inner strength and beauty. They gave me confidence, faith and a sense of self that I had never experienced.

I came out of my cancer diagnosis and treatment with a different view of life. I stopped putting off all those things that I wanted to do and began living. I took a cruise, started using the good china, picked up piano lessons again and came to terms with a marriage that had been failing for years. It was a true transformation for me and a time when I indeed, stopped trying to please everyone else and began to be happy once again.

My parents were my biggest cheerleaders. One day, after having lost my hair, my father and I went to a barber where they completely shaved his head. A few days later, a dear friend from college paid a visit to my home and when he walked into my living room, removed his hat to display another shiny bald head… that just made me cry. Knowing I had this kind of support from my friends and family made all the difference in the world.

After having been cancer free for nine years, I’m tickled “pink.” I am the happiest, and perhaps the healthiest, I have ever been and am grateful for my new and improved outlook on life. I have often said that in an odd way, my diagnosis of cancer was a blessing — a gift that unless I had experienced it, I would never have understood life as I see it now.

— Jackie Janning-Lask, Beavercreek

TRUE LOVE, PATIENCE, COMPASSION

Here’s what I have learned from cancer as a caregiver for my 2-year-old son, my friend, my husband, my cat and my aunt. Part of my recovery from losing my young son to cancer was to become a clown at Dayton Children’s in the oncology unit and ICU — where we spent a lot of time during treatment — in his memory and honor.

I have learned that the costs of cancer are immeasurable.

I have learned that cancer does not discriminate based on age, color, religion or financial or professional status, or even species.

I have learned that cancer is a brilliant and unrelenting foe — like a chameleon it changes and hides in the most devious and imaginative ways — like a cockroach it morphs and survives.

I have learned that cancer is different in each and every case.

I have learned to laugh even in the face of the dreaded disease.

I have learned that a woman without hair is beautiful.

I have learned that a child without hair and eye lashes is still adorable.

I have learned true love.

I have learned patience.

I have learned compassion and gratitude.

I have learned to pray.

I have learned to hope.

I have learned to say goodbye.

I have learned to go on.

— Beth A. Kolotkin, Germantown

MAKE THE MOST OF EVERY DAY

I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 38 and did not think I would live to see our daughters graduate from high school. This year, I am dedicating 2013 to celebrating my 30-year survival by establishing a bucket list of activities I want to accomplish throughout the year.

Cancer has shown me that I need to live life to the fullest every day and take time to enjoy the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

My husband and I planned and worked on another successful garden this year. We had an abundance of tomatoes and cucumbers, so we donated them to a local homeless shelter.

In May, I visited my great-granddaughter, daughter and her new man in Oklahoma. I was shocked when my daughter picked me up at the airport in a limousine! In June, I visited my great grandchildren and granddaughter in Maryland. We went to Medieval Times where we had a blast and I felt like a kid again. My daughter and I joined friends spending a week seeing the sites and learning about the history in Cleveland, Ohio. I attended the Ohio State Fair and the New Albany Classic with my daughter and granddaughter in Columbus. I still have plans to do the Wild Zipline Safari with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in Ohio in the near future.

I have spent the past two decades giving back to the American Cancer Society for all the help they gave me when I needed it the most. Please join me in the Making Strides Against Cancer Walk at the Dragons Stadium. Come to our booth where you can sign a quilt square to honor survivors and remember those who have lost their battle.

— Joan Scott, Riverside

SEE THINGS FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

Things I learned during my chemo quarantine weeks:

  • If you lose 10 pounds, your Levi’s will lengthen by an inch.
  • There are things in the back of your closet and drawers that you didn’t even know you owned.
  • If you don’t pull the morning glory vine that grew between your patio bricks, it will envelop your patio chair in two weeks.
  • Pro golfers on television are not playing the same game as my husband and I.
  • Weeds and grass do not care if you’re not feeling well.
  • If you’re not permitted to eat raw vegetables, fried ripe tomatoes are as tasty as fried green tomatoes.
  • And the No.1 thing I learned during my quarantine weeks: The old, wrinkly, bald-headed lady will stop stalking you throughout your house if you cover all the mirrors with towels.

 

— Carol Carr, Dayton

THERE ARE TWO REALITIES

Cancer taught me there are two realities. The first one is comprised of the things that most of the world calls real. It is based on statistics, reports, diagnostic results, and an almost paralyzing fear. Then there is the reality beyond anything that can be touched by cancer. It is who I really am, and it is capable of so much more than I ever realized is possible. It is the part of me that finally chose to release resistance, beginning with my intense aversion to treatment.

Specifically, I came to think of chemo as “liquid love” and radiation as “bright light therapy,” and I chose guided imagery as a beneficial pre-surgery tool. This reality is the part of me that chose to keep my focus on where I want to be, asked my loved ones to do the same, and asked my doctor, in whom I have complete faith and unending appreciation, to keep the test results and statistics to himself.

This reality is where I understand that if I continually aim for joy, regardless of the circumstances, I can more easily adjust to difficult news, as well as experience a well-being that is able to silence the murmurings of my worst fears. Cancer helped me realize that — deep down — I already knew all of these things, but because of my journey with cancer, I was finally able to remember.

— Jennie Stockslager, New Lebanon

LESSONS COME IN MANY FORMS

I am a 10-year survivor of Stage 3 Breast Cancer. As with any of life’s challenges, when you come out on the other side, you have learned some lessons.

I learned a lot about breast cancer from my medical professionals, my own investigations, and by becoming a part of Noble Circle, a community of women thriving beyond cancer.

I learned that chemotherapy is manageable with the variety of medications available in the recent past and today.

I learned that having cancer can change family dynamics — making me closer to my then teen-age son.

I learned that you meet a lot of people that you would have otherwise not met, and maybe even have some Divine interventions.

I learned that having a positive attitude can be helpful, but I know too many women who were positive and tried very hard to live for their children, but still died.

Thanks for all the support of breast (and other) cancers.

— Julie Hannan, Beavercreek

FOCUS ON A HEALTHY DIET, PREVENTION

Prevention of cancer is the real key. Dr. Ruth Heidrich, a former Daytonian, really got me to go all in with a 100 percent cholesterol-free, plant-powered nourishment “plan” consisting of as much whole foods as possible.

Ruth is one of the world’s better known self healed cancer survivors. She helped me so much as I had been searching high and low for years to figure out where my cancer most likely came and more importantly, how to prevent a recurrence. Like nearly all media, I’m now as disappointed in the lack of focus on prevention via diet for nearly all chronic disease, most definitely including cancer.

— Randy Kreill, Beavercreek

YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK

I retired from Wright-Patterson AFB on 30 April 2012 with 39 years of federal service. A month after retirement, I found a marble sized lump in my right breast. In June 2012, after a mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy, I was diagnosed with Stage I Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my right breast. After many months of agonizing treatments with their challenging side effects, I am in remission. I had my first mammogram in June which showed no cancer.

I had my nine month oncology checkup in September and all was normal. I feel like myself again and living life. Loving Life.

This adversity taught me about myself. It showed me how strong I could be. It showed me how important my faith in God is and how He showed up time and time again throughout those months of treatments. It showed me how wonderful all my prayer warriors were. It showed me love. Love which came from my friends and family.

I live life to the fullest every day. Show my friends, family, and people I meet each day how much I care about them. Breast cancer is a terrible disease, but it has given me so much more joy.

— Rebecca Delk, Huber Heights

STAY POSITIVE; HUMOR CAN HELP

How three words can change everything in your world! One day I’m just a guy at work, a husband and a father. One week later I’ve lost my left kidney to a renal sarcoma and unknown to me at the time, I am now in the fight for my life.

One thing that I’ve found, you’ve got to keep your humor or you’ll go crazy.

When this all started I just said to myself that I will not feel sorry for myself. No ‘woe is me.’ I determined that I was going to take it one day at a time. That every day I woke up and got my feet on the floor and started off under my own power, that it was going to be a good day, no matter how bad I felt. That I had things to do even though I have un-operable lung cancer.

I was determined to dance at my daughter’s wedding. I’ve found that I just don’t worry anymore about what has gone on in the past. It does no good. I just keep looking forward and enjoy every minute that I get. I’ve also found that talking about my condition is very therapeutic for me.

All I can say is that I won’t give up, I’ll fight till the end, and I’m so grateful for the time, money and prayers that people give in fighting cancer. You hear three words, and time stands still. Then you shake your head, and get on with living and enjoying life in the best way that you can.

— Mark Longenecker, Englewood

DON’T GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT

I’m a registered nurse at Dayton Children’s Hospital; through my 27 years as a nurse, nine of those were caring for kids with cancer.

I have learned through the years that cancer can either be feared or conquered. And if you can’t conquer it, then don’t go down without a fight.

“Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” is certainly a way to fight for those you knew and loved! Fight for those survivors and one day we’ll conquer it for good!

— Alice Rivera, Beavercreek

THE POWER OF ALTERNATIVE HEALING

After my cancer treatment I am grateful for being comfortable with both traditional and alternative medical treatments or aids — whatever you want to call them.

Knowing the power of alternative medicines and treatments like Reiki, massage, acupuncture, qi gong and meditation, as well as exercise — such as Pilates and plain old walking — makes my life both richer and more comfortable.

I think these alternative methods of working toward healing and thriving — combined with good medical care in the usual way — put me in touch with my spiritual existence, slowed me down and helped point out the gifts of a major illness — which is exploration of the spiritual side of one’s life. They helped me answer questions such as: What’s really important in life? What is important to me?

The answers are different than you might expect.

— Sandra Love, Yellow Springs

DON’T TAKE TOMORROW FOR GRANTED

I have been a nurse for 39 years. I was a caregiver to numerous cancer patients. I saw myself as a caring empathetic nurse for my patients and their families.

Then cancer became a reality in my own family. I lost my mother when she was 46 to lung cancer. Next came the loss of a number of relatives to cancer. Now, I believed that I truly understood the devastating impact of this disease.

Now it was my turn. I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in 2007. The outlook was grim. I started thinking about all the things that I would wished I could have done, things I could have said, or places I could have gone. Days turned into weeks, months, then years. I moved into survivor status. I returned to work and normal life.

So what has cancer caught me? The lesson I have learned is that we should never take tomorrow for granted. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will come. If you want to do something, make it happen. Say those important words today, go on that special trip while you can. In May, even though my husband was ill, with the help of our daughter, we went on a cruise. It was something we had always wanted to do. It was wonderful, but would have been even better if we hadn’t put it off for so many years. Make things happen today.

— Brenda Eyler, Springfield

APPRECIATE EVERY MOMENT, EVERY LAUGH

I have been a caretaker, and I am also a cancer survivor. Lessons I have learned: Don’t take anyone for granted — sister, mother, father — because once they are gone, they are really gone. No longer there to call to tell a goofy joke, or to hear your troubles, or to go to if you need help and especially when you need a shoulder to cry on. They are just gone.

To survive cancer, lean on your friends, family and support people, because you will need them. Laugh, laugh, laugh! Don’t sweat the small stuff. Leave the rest up to God.

— Sheryl Roddy, Springfield

THE QUILTED LESSONS OF CANCER

Cancer is like of quilt of many patches of emotions, trials, victories, defeats and tributes.

There are patches of unimaginable strength and courage. Vibrant colors bonded together with the love and heart it requires to endure the seasons of cancer.

Some patches are dimly colored and frail. These patches have lost their vibrancies due to the salt of the heart broken. Tears shed that carry the loss deeply felt and forever mourned and remembered.

There are patches that are frayed, torn and most likely not mendable. These patches remind us of the cruelty of cancer. They may speak of abandonment, grief and disillusionment. These tattered patches represent disappointment, disbelief and unimaginable loss.

These patches are not the soul of the quilt. They are a reminder that cancer has more causalities than just your loved one.

Cancer is like a quilt. It is pieces of so many thoughts, memories and love. This quilt reminds you of the bond you have with your loved one. It is not a perfect quilt. It is a symbolic remnant that the journey has ended. The lessons of cancer are forever stitched into your heart and soul.

The quilt in its finality will bring warmth, comfort and strength. Cancer may claim a loved one’s life but it cannot unravel the love of those taken.

M.J. McKenna, Clark County

GET TESTED

My lesson is to get tested when recommended. Fifty is the age for men to get a colonoscopy and I did not have one until they were trying to find out why my blood count was going down.

I had stage 3b colon cancer and had to have surgery twice as well as chemo. That was at age 60; I am now 72.

— Dave Hooten, Springfield

CANCER CAN BRING OUT THE BEST IN PEOPLE

Cancer has loomed large in my life, though I’ve never been diagnosed with it. I’ve seen people fight it, survive it, and succumb to it.

Cancer sucks. It S-U-C-K-S, plain and simple. For the one diagnosed, for their family and close friends, for the friends of their family and friends, for co-workers, extended family and their family and friends, and for lots of people who don’t know and may never know the one diagnosed.

Cancer often brings out the best in people. When someone you know and love is diagnosed, most people would truly do anything to help their family or friend in whatever way is needed. People come together to bring meals, clean homes, shop and run errands, and so much more for someone going through treatment. Others hold fundraisers to help the family pay for the treatments, appointments, surgery and other medical costs. People come together to help others they know or don’t know who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer can also give gifts. Gifts of quality time spent with someone you love, or the chance to say things you would typically never say in a normal day. Wonderful memories are created of time spent together, of trips taken because it’s better to do it now, just in case. Time almost slows down, because you don’t want to miss a moment or a chance or an opportunity to show your love and support.

Cancer is a horrible reminder of how precious life is and why it’s important to do it now rather than wait.

So yes, cancer sucks, and it can and likely will take someone you love from you forever, but it can also leave you with some wonderful gifts, as long as you open your heart, eyes and mind to them.

— Teresa Demana, Springfield

DARK MOMENTS CAN BRING POWERFUL MESSAGES

The truth is there is no way to prepare for a cancer diagnosis. However, and it is true that hindsight is 20/20, I can honestly say that having cancer wasn’t all bad, I learned a lot from my experience.

Sometimes it is better to receive than to give. Women of my generation were taught from an early age to be caregivers. Having cancer made it necessary for me to rely on other people for things I would have never thought about not doing for myself. I learned that taking help from others didn’t make me weak and it gave other people a chance to give so we both won.

Yes, you can rely on the kindness of strangers. There were prayer groups from several churches of different denominations that prayed for my recovery. People I had never met, strangers, took the time to pray for me because a member of their congregation learned of my illness and ask for their help. We are all connected in one way or another.

There is an expression that you can count on one hand the number of real friends that you have. Not true. I don’t think I never stopped to count how many friends and loved ones I was blessed with. I was astounded at the outpouring of love, concern, prayers and offers of help I received. Too bad it took cancer for me to realize so many people cared about me, but it was a valuable lesson learned.

It is important to laugh. Many of the cards I received were humorous and some made me laugh out loud. I put those on a door that I went by every morning and they gave me strength to face the day. They also reminded me that the sender honestly believed I would recover.

I learned there are going to be bad days, that was inevitable, but how I handled those days was up to me. There were private moments when I grieved the loss of my hair or dreaded the treatment that day, that is normal. And sometimes it is okay to allow yourself a little time to cry. But then I learned that I could get up take a deep breath and start the fight again.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I learned you can not underestimate the power of a positive attitude. I learned to not listen to negative people who frowned and were worried that cancer was as good as a death sentence. Saying every day “I can beat this” was a crucial part of my treatment plan.

I was blessed with the very best doctors and the healing light of faith, family and friends. What could have been the darkest moments of my life taught me many beautiful lessons and I am grateful.

— Pat Ganz, Hamilton

CANCER CAN BRING LOVE, UNITY

I was diagonosed with cancer in November 2011. This cancer has changed my life in so many ways. I have always been a person who has believed in God and his wonderful grace.

I have had two of my sisters diagnosed with cancer since my diagnosis, it is crazy how something so terrible can bring a family together. Cancer has brought love and togetherness.

— Rick Cotton, Hamilton

CHERISH TIME, LOVED ONES

Cancer has taught me not to take life for granted and cherish each moment spent with family and loved ones.

— Delores Culbreath, Middletown

WITH ANY NEGATIVE, THERE CAN BE POSITIVES

Can cancer be a blessing? I did not believe so, when in 1998, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my third journey with cancer, having been treated twice for lymphoma in the early seventies.

While searching for answers, I started journaling, which led to developing inspirational cards. Over the past few years, we have had many opportunities to be a blessing to other patients when my husband and I created Reflecting Light Encouragement Ministry.

— Linda Kovarik, Oxford

CANCER’S GREATEST LESSON: HOPE

I woke up one day and told cancer I was divorcing it! That it wasn’t ruining my life anymore. It just seems like it wants to stop over and see how it’s going, and to mess with my life when things are going good. It brings more tests, ultrasounds, MRI’s, doctor visits. More scared days, waiting for results. More prayers of praying I’m here to see all the kids grow up and see their kids and grand kids. To grow old with my husband.

My best lesson is HOPE!

— Pam Adams, Hamilton



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