In 1996, I was a young wife and mother with two pre-school children. On a cold, blustery winter day, I was diagnosed with lymphoma and like many other cancer survivors, my life would never be the same after that day. I was blessed to have a quick thinking, dedicated internist who diagnosed my cancer and referred me to an appropriate treatment facility as well as a very caring and supportive husband. I was also extremely lucky because my mother was an oncology nurse at the time and my father was a melanoma cancer survivor. I am incredibly grateful that progressive treatments have enabled me to live a cancer free life for the past 15 years.
Within the last 10 years, however, members of my immediate, as well as extended family have also been diagnosed with cancer, including both of my parents, my husband and a grandparent. In total, seven of my family members have been diagnosed with 10 different cancers.
In the summer of 2007, my father and my husband were diagnosed with incurable cancers within six weeks of one another. My father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and my husband was diagnosed with advanced stage multiple myeloma. Three years earlier, my father was having difficulty walking. Doctors discovered he had a spinal astrocytoma, a type of tumor that wraps itself like ivy around the spinal column. He became a paraplegic at age 66 when a surgeon tried to remove it. A year and half later, an eye exam revealed an ocular melanoma (eye tumor) encompassing over 80% of his eye. The ophthalmologist deduced the melanoma was related to a skin melanoma my dad had removed forty years earlier when he was in his mid-twenties. The cancer of the eye eventually spread to his liver.
My husband has undergone two stem cell transplants and numerous surgeries to repair skeletal fractures due to the myeloma. One of the surgeries involved rebuilding three vertebrae in his neck with a plate and screws where the myeloma had eaten away the cervical bones.
Within 6 months of the cancer diagnoses of my father and husband, my best friend of 22 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. She had been treated for Stage 0 breast cancer two years earlier and the cancer recurred in her lung.
I navigated each one of these special people in my life through the cancer care continuum. I researched their treatment options, sought out the most qualified physicians and treatment centers for their diagnosis and advocated on their behalf when they were unable to speak for themselves. My husband and best friend are doing as well as can be expected and are inspirational examples of trying to live their lives fully with incurable cancer. My dad passed away in 2008, a year after his cancer diagnosis.
After my treatment ended and life as a cancer survivor began, I started collecting information on various cancer patient organizations, services, programs, events, etc. I noticed a glaring disconnect between the cancer patient, doctor’s office and cancer related organizations and started on my quest to become an advocate for cancer patients in the Hudson Valley. I hold a Master’s degree in Health Advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College and am a member of several national organizations dedicated to cancer patient advocacy. I am committed to the notion that it should not be difficult for cancer patients to find specific, helpful and necessary resources and services to assist with cancer issues in the area which you live, within a reasonable amount of time.
It is important for me to share my story with you. I know the uncertainty of being diagnosed with cancer, to have young children and worry that you may not be there to see them grow up. I understand what it’s like to have your future ripped away from you and any sense of security, whether it’s financial, emotional or psychological, be torn away as well. I live everyday with the difficulties having cancer brings, both as a spouse and caregiver, as well as a parent and cancer survivor. I have dedicated my life and work to making the challenges of cancer easier to bear on those that have been unfairly targeted. I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve walked the same path and I’m still walking. I will tell you there is life after cancer. I will also tell you there are incredible joys for you in the silver linings of cancer and never lose hope.
I ask that you let the Cancer Resource Center of the Hudson Valley, Inc. assist you as a viable tool as you navigate your journey through cancer. Please refer to the website often, as resource information is updated weekly to ensure the most current, accurate knowledge and news is available to you. I especially wish you a return to good health and pray for you and your family as you travel this difficult road.