Survivor Stories: Facing Cancer Together
After INtown publisher Wendy Binns was diagnosed with cancer last year, she began attending classes at Piedmont Hospital’s Cancer Wellness Center. While there she met an amazing group of women who were also battling cancer and using the resources of the center to get healthy and find community. As we mark National Breast Cancer Month, here are six women who not only surviving, but thriving.
Cookie calls herself a breast cancer “thriver” after being diagnosed with stage 2 a decade ago. After her recovery, Cookie decided she wanted to help other women who were going through the stages of chemotherapy, so she created Chemoflage. The nonprofit enlists the help of nutritionist, a yoga instructor and oncology social worker to teach women about healthful eating during treatment, relaxation techniques, head covering suggestions, and other ways to enrich the body and spirit. She leads these sessions at Cancer Wellness Center on a regular basis. With the help of her beloved husband and grant writer, Fred, Cookie also mails “goodie boxes” containing a turban, eyebrow pencils, anti-nausea lollipops and more to women all over the country. She’s also written a new book for women going through treatment called Cookie’s Crumbs of Wisdom, which is available at Chemoflage.com. Fit and active at 71, Cookie offers this bit of wisdom to women who have been diagnosed with cancer: “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sail.”
Chef Nancy Waldeck was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2008. She went through 16 weeks of chemotherapy, 60 radiation treatments, a double mastectomy with reconstruction and 16 weeks of physical therapy. The author of the Taste & Savor Cookbook, Nancy immediately decided she wanted to begin teaching cooking classes at Cancer Wellness Center to help other survivors. “The community is wonderful. I love the hugs and the easy way everyone relates. It is a place you can relax when you are going through treatment and afterwards,” she says. Her advice to others who are getting their diagnosis: “Breathe. It is over whelming. You feel as if your head has been opened and people, (who are trying to help), are shoveling in so much information that you just can’t take it at that time. Relax, you can always get the info later.”
Educator Lyn Ucci was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2009, which required surgery and chemotherapy. Since then, she’s had two recurrences, each treated with additional chemotherapy. While her cancer is chronic, her energy and attitude is positive. She credits that to her visits to Cancer Wellness. “I’ve learned to help myself during this journey, and the opportunity to interact with people who have also walked this path,” she says. “The classes I consistently attend include Mindfulness/Meditation, Yoga, and Writing for Recovery. While I’m in treatment, I use the services of the massage therapist. Acupuncture played an important role in pain management during my last recurrence.” Her advice to those who are getting a diagnosis: “Focus on the people who can provide genuine support during this time. And when you feel badly, please remember that it does get better.”
Photographer Lynn Stowe, who shot this month’s amazing cover photo as well as the photo on this page, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. After seven rounds of chemotherapy and 33 days of radiation, she’s still on a daily oral chemo (aromatase inhibitor) to help reduce the risk of recurrence. “I am looking forward to celebrating next Mother’s Day as I approach my five-year anniversary,” she says. Her favorite part of coming to Cancer Wellness has been participating in the PINK Program. “It’s a 12-week program that is designed to pamper, support and restore while participants return to the basics of good nutrition, exercise and a sense of well-being,” she says. “My favorite class is Writing for Recovery. I am thankful to have been encouraged to journal through the healing process.” Her advice to those receiving their diagnosis: “Don’t panic, but pray. Also, understand that the Internet is not your friend when it comes to cancer. Take someone with you to at least your first few appointments to make sure that you are hearing what your doctor is telling you – take a notebook.”
Priscilla was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006, which was followed by surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy. But her journey is ongoing as a recurrence in lymph nodes in her side is being treated by a drug regimen. “When the time comes, I’ll be ready for the surgery and more chemo,” she says. Cancer Wellness has helped her cope and to live in the moment. “Come to Cancer Wellness is like coming home,” she says. “I enjoy the cooking classes and the acupuncturist here is wonderful.” She said the support of her partner has made journey easier. The “C word” is usually code for cancer, but Priscilla says for her it means “compassion.”
In 2006, Gillian took the morning off from her job as a legal associate to go to a doctor’s appointment and never returned. A persistent pain in her hip turned out to be the symptoms of stage 4 breast cancer, which has metastasized to her left femur, ribs and spine. Despite the diagnosis, her cancer was treatable, but required radiation and the insertion of a metal rod to support the weakened bone in her leg. She was in the first session of the PINK Program at Cancer Wellness. “I was on a walker, but after two weeks of sessions at Cancer Wellness, I was able to walk without it,” she says. “It was hard work exercising and lifting weight, because I had never really done that before.” Now, she volunteers in a health club recruiting women also going through treatment to participate. “It’s incredible to see these women blossom.”