Cancer Buddies Reflect On Their Experience
Cancer Buddy GRJ states:
Three days before Christmas in 1995 I received a call informing me I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) a blood/lymph cancer. (This was subsequent to a surgery to remove a lymph node that had swelled in size but had not decreased in size as it normally would.)
The only way to describe what that news meant to me would be to visualize Jack Nicholson swinging an ax and hitting Scatman Crothers in the chest with it in the movie “The Shining.”
Subsequently, aggressive (and toxic) chemotherapy was prescribed and the cancer went into remission. Six years later the cancer relapsed and another round of treatment was prescribed but, fortunately, a less toxic variety of chemotherapy not available at the time of the first diagnosis. After undergoing that treatment regimen for 3 years, it was decided to ‘watch and wait’. One year later I was diagnosed with Stage I Breast Cancer along with a recurrence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsies were performed and radiation treatments for the breast cancer and another round of chemotherapy for the NHL were prescribed. Currently, the breast cancer is in remission but the NHL is not which may require more surgery and further treatment.
Cancer changes everything. The support of family, friends, co-workers and others is critical to the diagnosed person. I am fortunate to have that support but not everyone is so lucky. That is why I have volunteered with Cancer Buddies. The experience that persons with cancer undergo can be extraordinarily overwhelming especially initially. Cancer Buddies can help the newly diagnosed person navigate the often confounding world they find themselves inhabitants of and to receive the support they need.
Cancer Buddy Lynn Sargent states:
Being a caretaker can really take its toll. After the trauma of my husband's diagnosis subsided, I found the strength somehow to continue to work full-time (to maintain health benefits) while caring for my husband's basic needs: feeding, bathing, ordering/monitoring/administering a myriad of medications, arguing with HMO's, transporting him to numerous treatments and doctor appointments; and simultaneously filling out mounds of paperwork, researching the disease and possible cures, trying to focus while at work, praying...but most importantly, being the crutch on which he could lean, and occasionally vent to. It was emotionally and physically exhausting.
We are blessed that he has remained in remission for 13 years, but will be optimistically cautious the rest of our lives. Sharing my experiences with others may not only benefit them and their families, if even only to have someone to talk to, but as a Buddy, I find discussing the experience continues to be therapeutic. It also helps keep me grounded, since time has a way fading what my priorities really should be: taking the time to enjoy the company of family and friends.
Though membership to this group is not a privilege, we are very fortunate as City employees that Cancer Buddies exists should, Heaven forbid, we ever need to join. Members immediately sense a very tight, unspoken bond that supports one another unlike any other City team I've been involved with. I remain grateful to the Office of Employee Assistance for maintaining this very important support system.
Cancer Buddy GW states:
I had symptoms (bleeding) in March of 2000 about 6 months after I had a sigmoidoscopy (which was negative) The following August the doctors took me more seriously and I saw a gastroenterologist who also believed my symptoms were nothing (based on the sigmoidoscopy). However, he wanted to ease my mind. In October I had a colonoscopy. I remember answering the phone at 5:00 p.m. when the doctor told me I had cancer. My legs collapsed underneath and my husband who happened to be nearby swooped a chair under me to prevent my fall. I felt like a Victorian.
The next few weeks were pretty scary. I didn’t know what to expect nor if it meant I was going to die. I met with the surgeon. Good doctors are great and hopeful, but he was pretty aloof. Several weeks later I had the surgery (October 11th
). They removed 12 inches of my large intestine and 24 lymph nodes. Two of which were malignant. This meant Chemo. I was in Stage III.
After healing from surgery, I started chemo two weeks before Thanksgiving. My protocol was to be six weeks on, two weeks off for the next six months. My first week of chemo was okay; the second week wasn’t and by the third treatment, I ended up in the hospital. My body lacked an enzyme to rid me of the poison and it was accumulating in my system. I was in the hospital for five days. My salts were low and I lost 12 pounds. I had no energy, was in pain and couldn’t eat. Once I left the hospital, they told me not to return until I healed and had my energy back.
I went back to the oncologist in mid January. The good news is that they considered my first six week series finished since the chemo remained in my system for so long. The next series changed. Chemo was reduced by 50 percent. The protocol also changed where I went two weeks and then was off a week. Ultimately I got through. Once they figured out what I could tolerate, I did fairly well and the chemo was administered as prescribed based on my metabolism.
I live a full life and continued to do so during my ordeal. My anxiety levels became higher than they used to be and I had trouble sleeping for a long time. But I got help with both issues and am doing well. I am ready to help others get through their ordeal.
I am grateful.
Cancer Buddy Rose Tyner states:
My elderly lady friend and I were in a hurry to get to her appointment since we only had 5 minutes to get there and I wasn’t dressed yet. Dashing in to the bedroom I pulled a turtleneck sweater over my head and pulled as hard as I could. It was pretty snug and I ended up hitting the top of my breast with my palm. You know how you rub a sore sport after it’s been hit? Well that’s what I was doing and felt something very odd about that spot. It seemed to have two different textures. One was smooth and flat, the other soft and round. I distinctly remember the date was April 15, 2001 and I was so concerned that I made an immediate appointment in Bakersfield,
27 miles away. My appointment was the April 19.
My doctor was a 2nd year Resident who found the lump unusual too and referred me to the surgical clinic on April 21 and was confirmed. I had “unusual” cells which I think they were reluctant to tell me outright that it was cancer. April 30 they removed the lump and on May 15 they removed my left breast. I have two types of cancer, both ductal and globular. The smooth, flat, soft and round tumor measured more than 5cm and for that reason alone it made it a stage 4 malignancy.
July 2 was my first chemo treatment. I didn’t know what to expect, I knew or rather suspected that my hair would fall out because of it. I was told by others that first day that by the second treatment my hair would all be gone, but I didn’t believe it. It was all gone by the next treatment three weeks later. Much later all the hair (eyebrows, eyelashes, etc.) would fall out, too. Fortunately I had a makeup class that prepared me for drawing in eyebrows placing eyelashes and learning a whole new way of using scarves to cover my near bald head fashionably.
Kern Medical Center
is a very good treatment center and the doctors were fabulous. Several complications set in and everyone who has ever been through chemo or radiation knows things can go wrong like a possible return of the cancer.
About half way through treatment I was loosing my balance and my eyes were refusing to open up at the same time, one opening the other lagging several seconds behind. I wasn’t exactly dizzy, I just got knocked off my feet for no apparent reason and the doctors suspected a brain tumor. At first they did a CAT-SCAN and it indeed showed I had something on my brain and I was scheduled for an MRI. The MRI revealed I had a spot on my brain like uh… blemish! That was it, nothing organic about it just cosmetic. Wow!
In September a close friend of mine (I met her during surgery clinic) who just happen to live about three blocks from the hospital and I met for lunch at her house. We went through Chemo together, too. The previous two days I was experiencing mild pressure in my bladder and I suspected I had a bladder infection and that afternoon I had no appetite which happens frequently after treatments, but I felt so tired too. I could hardly keep my eyes open and my arms refused to move (they felt heavy) so I asked her to drop me off at the hospital. She dropped me off and went home because she was sick too but with cold symptoms and she didn’t want to spread her cold while in the waiting room. They immediately took me in because as a cancer patient ANY infection can upset your immune system and play havoc with white blood counts. The diagnose? Nutrapenia. Nutrapenia is a very serious problem since it is mostly responsible for HIV and cancer patients dying. They lose the battle of infection taking over and compromising white blood cells (your fighter cells, the good guys, T-Cells). It is what Jim Henson the famed puppeteer of Sesame Street, who had a simple cold and didn’t treat it until it turned in to a massive white blood cell loss and he was gone.
The concern over this setback was serious since a normal level of white cells in human beings is between 4 and 11 million. When I went in my white-blood count was only 700,000. Early the next morning it had gone down further to 500,000 and by noon it was 200,000. We were loosing the battle and the doctor prepared me for possible death. He informed me that I would probably slip in to a coma before just slipping away permanently unlike AIDS patients and most others who had lots of accompanying pain. But I had all the time in the world and I started studying my bible and praying. I read the longest chapter in the whole bible which was Psalm 119. It mostly talked about the Israelites being outnumbered badly in their quest to claim the Promised Land but I noticed something very unusual. They always won!!! So I started getting happy, (joyous actually) and started thanking God like the Israelites did (the doctor said it was delirium), and reading about the promise that he would fight their battles and I took that to heart. The rest is history. I walked out of that hospital 5 days later and here it is 5 years later and no sign of that ugly cancer.