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Cancer Interviews

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Episode 9 - Chad Andrus - Denver, Colorado - USA - Survivor - Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Posted on 20 June, 2020 at 0:00 Comments comments (3)


SHOW NOTES:

 

Bruce Morton: Hello, and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Bruce Morton, and on this segment, we have a guest whose story will inspire and inform. He is Chad Andrus of Denver, Colorado. Chad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a diagnosis he beat. Before we get started, we want to remind you Cancer Interviews does not provide medical advice. If you seek medical advice, we ask that you consult a licensed health care professional. Now let’s get to it, and Chad, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Chad Andrus: Thanks, Bruce, glad to chat with you about the whole experience.

 

BM: Now let’s get a little background about you so we can get to know you better. So if you would, Chad, tell us where you’re from, what your life’s work has been, what you enjoy doing with your leisure time, that sort of thing.

 

CA: Sure, I have background in a number of places around the country. I was born in Wisconsin, that’s where most of my family grew up, but being the youngest of five, I primarily grew up in Texas. That’s where I went to high school, that’s where I went to college, and then I started working in media. I started working at a radio station in Dallas called The Ticket, sports radio, that’s where I really launched my career. Got recruited from there, and got to work on the national network level. I went to Las Vegas, and spent a few years there and made a lot of great relationships, then I left there and moved to Colorado in 2001. Then it was in 2008 that I ran into my diagnosis.

 

BM: Okay, we’ll get to that in a moment, but Wisconsin, the Dallas metroplex, Las Vegas and then Denver. I am guessing you like Denver the most if you have been here this long.

 

CA: Yeah, I don’t plan on leavin’. Of all the places I’ve been, of all the places I have visited, I do love it here. Denver is my home, I don’t plan on leaving. This is where I met my wife, this is where I started my family. We definitely call it home, and we have no plans to leave Colorado.

 

BM: Now Chad, if you think back to the days leading up to your diagnosis, would you say you were in good health?

 

CA: Yeah, I would. I have always been really active. Played sports growing up, have always been physically fit, in good shape and relatively strong for my size, I’m not a big guy. Leading up to my diagnosis in particular was an interesting time because it also came at the time I was getting ready to get married. I was working to get in shape for the wedding, the honeymoon and everything. So the weight loss that coincided with my working out made me think I was doing a good job of working out, until we learned there were other factors contributing to that.

 

BM: Now would you say those factors provided warning signs, in other words, was there a lengthy period of time between when you first noticed that weight loss and when you were diagnosed, and if so, what was that like?

 

CA: It was a while. It was the summer of 2008, where I was getting prepared for my wedding. I was getting married on the top of Vail Mountain on the Fourth of July, 2008. It was about as All American of a summer as you could have and it was a fantastic experience, then we left at the end of the summer, early fall for our honeymoon. We were going on a long trip to the Mediterranean. We were going to be gone for almost a full month. We were going on a cruise; we were going to visit ten countries and all kinds of cities. So while I was working out, trying to be in shape for the honeymoon, I was feeling fit and I was feeling light, I found out that when I returned from that experience, that’s when I got my diagnosis regarding those contributing factors; but it was on the honeymoon that I felt there might be things that I need to get checked out, so much so, that I went to a doctor on the boat because I was coughing, I had a dry cough, so it took a while between that experience and being on the other side of the world before getting home to my primary care physician and moving on from that point and getting an official diagnosis, so that’s where I started getting some warning signs and indications.

 

BM: So were you sort of in limbo between the time you’d been checked out on the ship and when you got home and received a more detailed, more credible diagnosis once you got home?

 

CA: No, not really. I wasn’t too concerned with it because I was traveling so much, basically in a different country every day and on a boat where there are a lot of germs and there are lots of different respiratory infections, and you could have a dry cough and those things could linger six weeks, sometimes six months at a time with an infection you would normally fight off. So we thought that might be it, I was in foreign places, eating foreign foods, eating different things, I was around a lot of people, so I could have just picked up a little bug, and really we thought that for a little over a month or so, even after I got back. It wasn’t until I was back for three or four weeks and I am still coughing here, I have had antibiotics, nothing is changing. My primary care physician said let’s do a chest x-ray to make sure, and that’s when things really escalated from that point.

 

BM: And at that point did you primary care physician refer you to a specialist?

 

CA: Yeah. He referred me to an oncologist to get checked out to see what was going on. When they did the initial scan they saw that there was some sort of mass in my chest, it was quite large, so my primary care physician said it needed to get checked out, and then everything just went light speed going forward, and your whole world changes, like you are going to see an oncologist, and now it’s like, what’s goin’ on, you don’t know what your diagnosis is going to be and you’re waiting for that and that’s really tough for me mentally, because I didn’t know, between being in that limbo, I mean there is definitely something here. Until I found out, that was definitely difficult for me because I wanted to know what was going on. And I was just married, I am putting this on my new bride, so yeah, I’ve gotta go to the doctor for this. She’s working, she’s traveling with her business, and I am trying to figure this out while I’m still working. It was a lot to juggle, it was a lot of stress. I just telling myself I don’t know what it’s going to be, I don’t know what’s going on, I am waiting for these results to come back so I can know what is going on within my body and what we’re going to do about it.

 

BM: Did your oncologist give you a range of scenarios, a best case and a worst case?

 

CA: Once they did some blood tests and did a bone marrow biopsy as well, which was the most painful part, I don’t wish for anybody to go through that, it is pretty awful, so much so they made my wife leave the room, they wouldn’t let her stay in there with me, that was the most physically demanding part, but when they were determining what it was, I just remember talking to her and saying I don’t wanna die and I don’t want to live knowing I am gonna die, those were the two things I said to her. So I wanna know what’s going on, so waiting those few days to get a diagnosis from my doctor was the most difficult part. So when they said you have lymphoma, this is what it’s doing to your body, this is where it’s at, they call it a Bulky Stage One, so it was a large mass, but it had not spread or done anything to affect the rest of my body, so I was very fortunate that way. Once I had that diagnosis and the doctor said this is what we are going to do, you are going to go through chemotherapy and we’re going to see how it responds, you’re probably going to have six to eight sessions of chemotherapy and we will probably follow that up with radiation just to make sure the treatment plan is working to get rid of everything we can get rid of. Once we had that plan in place and we had a timeline and knew what it would be, I felt like I had been through the hardest part, because I could see there was something I had to do to get better. So as long as I trusted my doctor and his plan and I believed in that, then I could go forward. I knew it was going to be physically draining, it was going to be difficult, I wasn’t going to feel good, it was going to be exhausting and I was going to go through all the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, but once did all that, I could be cured. I could get to the end, then go back to the normal life I want with my new wife and everything we had planned for.

 

BM: Chad, the following is a thought, a sentiment, that has been echoed so many times that I believe it to be true and I think a lot of other people do, too, but it has been said that having a positive attitude while not sounding all that medicinal, can be a key ingredient in a patient’s addressing their cancer journey. You sound like you had a plan in place and a positive attitude to go with it. Would you agree with that?

 

CA: Yeah, I would agree wholeheartedly. I think a lot of it is the confidence I had in my doctor. I felt confident in the plan he put together and I felt comfortable with that plan, but as much as I would think it was my background and my mental toughness and I would like to take credit for it, it’s my wife. She’s my rock, she’s my planner, she immediately put together notebooks and she did research, and said this is what you need to do, this is what you need to eat, this is how much you need to sleep. She immediately went into planning mode so we would have a plan to go at this. It was never a thought process, this might work or this might not work. It was never approached that way. It was like, this is the task we must do and here’s what we need to do to make it work, so I think that had a lot to do with the approach and the positivity to it. There was her support, the trust we had in my doctor, because it allowed me to know I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t just my body whittling away during treatment, it was the support, I had the network I needed, it was going to be okay, if I just did what I was supposed to do. Just follow the instructions and we can get to the place we need to get to, and I don’t think there was ever a point in which the confidence in that plan wavered.

 

BM: You had mentioned Kristi’s role in the plan, almost a medicinal role, but there is also an emotional piece. Could you talk about what Kristi did in an emotional way?

 

CA: You have to put yourself in her shoes for just a moment. We got married in July 2008, went on our honeymoon in September, came back and I was diagnosed in October. So she’s newly married to me, and she’s gotta be wondering, ‘What did I get myself into? I just got married to the love of my life, is he gonna be okay? Is he going to make it through this? Is it going to affect how we are going to have a family?’ So all these things are going through her head. So her being able to focus, and again, so this is the problem we have, this is the task we face, so we have to adhere to the plan, whether that was making sure I had healthy, homecooked meals, or to make sure I wasn’t in crowded, germ-infested environments when I was undergoing treatment and make sure I got enough rest, to not have any adverse reaction when chemo could make me sick or if I did drop a lot of weight or if I lost my hair, she took care of me like it was any other day. She enlisted her family, my family to help out. They would do dishes or do laundry or make sure we had enough from the grocery store, things like that. It was even her suggestion when we were about three months in with the chemo treatment that we went and got a puppy and I still have that dog, she’s eleven years old now, and she was the one who helped heal me through my treatments because it would force to get up and walk her every day, to move my body to get sunshine, to have a dog to pet and play with and relax me a little bit if I was getting tense or nervous. I mean, it’s all those things, just a combination of things in your daily routine to keep things as normal as possible for you while you are going through what you have to go through.

 

BM: And what about the emotional piece from your family? It sounds like they, on both sides, really came through.

 

CA: Yeah, it came to making sure that she was supported as much as I was supported. If I wasn’t feeling well, if I needed to sleep and get rest, they could come by and bring groceries, or vacuum the house or take the dog for a walk, just things that are in your everyday life that you need to keep up with that they could help out with if we didn’t have time to get it done.

 

BM: Now for what has to be the most unpleasant part of this journey and that’s the chemo. I know the chemo dosage can rise in certain cases, but that’s actually considered a positive thing, but if you would, describe your chemo experience from start to finish.

 

CA: Sure, I had eight total sessions. I do remember my oncologist telling me I was going to complete the chemo treatment in eight, and I said I was going to do it in six. But he’s the expert, he knows what he’s talking about. I did it in eight. I would go in on Mondays because I was still working at the time. I was working for a pro basketball team in Colorado and the schedule was set up in which I could do the play-by-play of the games and do the other media responsibilities and the schedule was set up with most of the games being on Friday and Saturday or Thursday and Saturday, occasionally you have a Tuesday and a Wednesday in the middle of the week but almost everything was geared toward the weekends, so I never had a game for the 50-game season on a Monday. So I scheduled all my chemo treatments for Monday. I could go in, sit in a big comfortable lounge chair, they put in a port in my chest so they could port the chemo straight in and I didn’t have to get injections every time. It’s kinda like being plugged in. I’d never known that was an option until they did a little surgery to put the port in, and they would plug me in. It was usually about three hours or so, sort of a slow drip into your body to make sure to make sure you didn’t get overwhelmed. But I would take my computer, my laptop, I would type away and make game notes and prepare for my game broadcast and things like that. There was a point they would give you some Benedryl or something like that during the chemo drip itself and it would make you a little sleepy, so I would get drowsy, close my computer and take a little nap. You would eventually wake up because you would get so much liquid in your body and you’d have to go to the bathroom, so you’d take your little drip cart with you to the bathroom. There were some strange experiences where you’d see some wild colors at times when you did go, but you’d go back to sit down and you’d wait until you were finished and they’d unplug you and send you back home. Most of the chemo sessions I didn’t notice too many adverse effects, but I will say the first one was an eye-opening experience. They had warned me of the potential side effects. Everybody knows as it progresses, sometimes you will lose your hair. They had warned me of the nausea, and other types of sickness and things like that, but they also said you would get a type of heartburn or an indigestion in your chest if you didn’t take something in your chest to kind of ward that off, like an over the counter medicine to ward off acid reflux, that sort of thing. On my first chemo session, I did not do that. I recall vividly that night trying to lay down and go to bed and having a burning sensation in my chest I could not get rid of. I would try to burp and get rid of that burning sensation and my wife was in bed and trying to go to sleep. It got worse as I tried to stand up to get rid of that acid, and I was just standing next to the bed as my wife was trying to go to sleep as my wife, and I was trying to burp and burp and burp for hours before I got any relief, but I was finally able to go to sleep; but I certainly learned my lesson that prior to any chemo sessions, I took my medicine and I never had to deal with the acid reflux again. Going forward through the rest of the eight sessions, it did cause me to lose quite a bit of weight. I was probably about 25 pounds lighter than normal by the time I finished chemo, and then I started eating anything and everything. It kinda like going back to being a teenager. If you are lifting weights and trying to build muscle, you could have anything, pizza, milkshakes and anything as calories and it would go on as muscle for you. The doctor said anything that tastes good, eat it. I couldn’t eat raw meat or raw fish, that didn’t want me eating that because of a risk of infection because of your weakened immune system. But eat anything that tastes good. A lot of things did have that tinny, metallic sort of taste. I remember my wife bringing me a sandwich one day for lunch, and I was in the chair trying to eat it and it tasted like I was eating an aluminum can. That particular takeout restaurant, I still don’t go there because that’s the taste I remember. Those were the things that I remember from the chemo itself, more than anything else.

 

BM: Chad, and what was the sense of relief when that phase, the chemo phase of your treatment was done?

 

CA: It was great. Every six weeks I would go in for the PET scan to see if the chemo was working, to see if it was shrinking the activity the way it was supposed to. So every time I would get one of those scans, it would sit in there for 45 minutes, almost an hour. I always just dozed off and took a little nap. The good news is, every time we got the results back, it was showing a little progress, so I knew that the plan was on track. The way my oncologist told it is the radiation we did after the chemo was a form of insurance. It may or may not make a difference, but we just want to knock out anything we can. Once the chemo was through, and I was going through three months of radiation treatments, I felt I was on the road to recovery at that point, like everything was on the uptick after the chemo was done

 

BM: Now I want to get to the more pleasant part, that of the chemo aftermath and your going into remission, but I just have to go back and revisit something that you had mentioned earlier, as somebody who did play-by-play a very long time ago, I know how mentally taxing it is because you have to stay on top of every play and every facet of every play, so I have to ask you, how could you do play-by-play when you were on chemo at the same time?

 

CA: It was a relief for me to be able to do it. It is what I love, it’s my life’s work. For me, I wasn’t crazy about going into the office every day on non-game days, but the actual games, that’s what you live for. So to be able to do that, we were simulcasting, so it was on the radio, but it was also a video broadcast, so my concern with that was, I was on camera, and I did have any hair, you lose your eyebrows, it’s all gone, so I did not look healthy when I was on camera. I preferred for them to show more of the game and less of me, but I went through the entire 50-game season and the playoffs. It’s kind of interesting because when the chemo started around the end of October and then finished in April before the radiation, the basketball season also finished. It just so happened we had a really good team. They won the NBA ‘D’ League championship. That was on April 9 and it coincided with one of my last weeks of chemo. So it came to a head at the same time. So it was kind of a culmination of everything to come to that point. So I went on the radiation and from that point it was easy.

 

BM: Describe the feeling of triumph knowing you had faced this very formidable opponent and gotten the best of it.

 

CA: It was gratifying. You know, all those fears, all those things you hear about when you are waiting that diagnosis, you don’t know what it’s going to be, it’s a horrible, horrible disease with an extreme range of outcomes for people all across the world. So you don’t know where you are going to fall within that spectrum when you are waiting for your diagnosis or when you are going to be starting treatment. So to be able to follow that plan and then return to life as you’d known it with your wife and to be able to start a family a couple years after that, to be able to do all the things you have wanted to do, you’re very grateful. You know, it worked. The treatment, the plan, the medical technology. It worked the way it was supposed to work. So there is a great deal of relief and gratitude that it worked out the way it did.

 

BM: So did you and Kristi do anything by way of celebration?

 

CA: We did. You know one thing that has always been a big part of our relationship is travel. We love traveling all over the world, experiencing new places and new things, and when you’re in chemo, you can’t travel. They don’t want you on airplanes, they don’t want you in crowded airports, they don’t want you in foreign countries because your immune system is compromised. They don’t want you far from home and far from your doctors. So, with me in remission, we went on a trip. Kristi’s parents, who also live in Colorado, went with us to celebrate, once I was cleared to travel again. So I did a few things that at another time I might not have normally done, but I decided to take a few more risks. I swam with some stingrays in the Cayman Islands, I jumped off a cliff into a river in Belize and did some daring things because I figure I only live once. I figured I may never be at this place again or have a chance to do this thing again, so let’s make the most of it. I do think I have done a much better job of adopting that attitude and taking that stance since that point. There are a lot of things that when I was young and focused on my career, I would worry about this or worry about that, or say, what if, or I don’t have time to give to that, and I think the diagnosis changed me quite a bit. Now I am going to do what I want to do. I am going to do it on my timeline, and I will let everything fall into place around that. I am not going to be beholden to schedules or fears as I certainly was when I was younger.

 

BM: Chad, we’re about to wrap up now, and I want you to think about somebody watching this interview and somebody who has just been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma or any type of cancer. By way of advice, any takeaway from your experience, what would you like to share with that person?

 

CA: One, you’re not alone. It affects a lot of people and there are a lot of people who have successfully dealt with it and moved on. When you talk about lymphoma in particular, it is quite interesting because it affects people who are on the younger side of their life. You’re usually under 40, I think the average age is between 24 and 38 when you are talking about a lymphoma diagnosis. So you have two-thirds of your life left once you find a solution and beat this terrible disease. So you need to focus on what it is that needs to be done, how you can give yourself the best opportunity to treat it and I will say having a support network is a large part of it. I was fortunate to have that. The other thing is having that confidence in my doctor. So find a doctor you trust. Find someone with a plan and you’re comfortable with that, knowing the doctor will be with you every step of the way. I will say, in my experience and that of many others, it is temporary. There are a lot of things that happen in this world to all kinds of people, all kinds of different families, but how your attack it, how you plan to get yourself through it, makes a huge, huge difference. So remember, it’s temporary. Don’t stop planning for your future, because having that to look forward to is what is going to carry you through the tough time in the present.

 

BM: Okay, Chad thanks very much for being with us, and thanks for an uplifting story, and one that was told in an extremely eloquent way. Once again, Chad, thanks so much.

 

CA: My pleasure, Bruce.

 

BM: And remember, as Chad said, you are not alone. We are all in this together, and Together Everyone Achieves More. So until next time, take good care and we’ll see you on down the road.

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Episode 8 - Sue Babbitt - Denver, Colorado - USA - Survivor -Stage 2 Bladder Cancer

Posted on 12 June, 2020 at 2:00 Comments comments (0)


SHOW NOTES:

 

Bruce Morton: Hello, and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast, and on this segment we will hear from Sue Babbitt of Denver, Colorado and how she overcame bladder cancer. Now we want to remind you that on Cancer Interviews, we do not dispense medical advice. If you seek medical advice, please contact a licensed health care professional. So now let’s get started, and Sue, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Sue Babbitt: Thank you, Bruce.

 

BM: The first thing we want to do, standard operating procedure, for any of our interviews, we’d like to get know you better, so, Sue, if you would, tell us where you from, your life’s work and what you like to do with your leisure time.

 

SB: I was born in Kearney, Nebraska, and was raised in Amherst, a small Nebraska town. I was one of six children, I was the oldest daughter. I have lived several places, I have lived in Nebraska, Kansas, Alabama and now Denver, Colorado. I am 70 years old, and I am retired.

 

BM: I would think coming from small town Nebraska to Denver was an adjustment. Was it difficult for you?

 

SB: Well, I’d lived several places in between those two. So Denver, Colorado is the place I wish I’d always lived, actually. I love Denver.

 

BM: And when did you arrive in Denver? What year?

 

SB: I moved here in 2008, a move precipitated by the birth of my first grandson. He was born of November 25, 2007. When he was born, he was born with a heart condition, which meant that he had four things wrong with his heart. He had two of those things fixed in May of 2008, but my daughter found out just prior to having to go back to work that Reese could not go back to daycare, it was all arranged, but he could not go back to daycare because of his heart condition and the fragility of being exposed to the germs from other kids, so I moved here to take care of him out of necessity, and I have been here ever since.

 

BM: And how difficult was the caregiver role for you? What was the most difficult part?

 

SB: I guess the biggest challenge was carrying around the oxygen. He was on oxygen from the time he was born until his heart surgery. During that time, my daughter had to go back to her school teaching job, and so we had him five days a week. We did everything that anybody else would do. My family is very active, so Reese and I would go all over, but it meant carrying a small infant child in a carrier, and so we had home oxygen, then I would carry around a small oxygen tank with me with him when we went anywhere, so that was probably the most challenging part, the oxygen.

 

BM: Let’s talk about your life prior to being diagnosed. At that time were there any warning signs, anything that tipped you off that something wasn’t normal, something might be wrong?

 

SB: The reason I started going to the doctor was because I started having blood when I would go to the restroom, and it wasn’t in my urine, per se, but I would bleed on to the tissue I would use after going to the bathroom, and in 2012, I was well past menopause. It was different than a woman’s menstrual cycle. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t bleed between trips to the bathroom, but it was there when I used the bathroom. So I started going to the doctor for that, and they treated me as if I had some sort of infection. They generally start with the easiest, the least frightening, the simplest approach. I did a dose of some sort of antibiotic. It obviously didn’t work, so I went back to the doctor. They tried another type of medication, and that didn’t work. So at that point, the general practitioner decided they needed to know why I was bleeding, and she ordered a CT scan, and that is where they found the mass in my bladder, so that was what was causing the bleeding.

 

BM: Was there much pain involved?

 

SB: None. The only symptom I had was the blood. The only symptom. Ever.

 

BM: So after that CT scan, were you referred to a specialist?

 

SB: I was referred to a urologist at the Denver Health hospital system, and I was referred to the urology department there. Doctor Kim was the director of that department, so I went to see him. They did a probe and found the mass, and then scheduled a removal of that mass.

 

BM: Did they give you a general anesthetic?

 

SB: Yes, they did. They went in and removed the mass, and then I could go home. I didn’t even have to spend the night at Denver Health. When I came out of the anesthetic, they said the mass looked like it was cancerous but benign. They sent it to a lab, and I think it was about a week later that I got a phone call from one of the urologists at Denver Health and informed me that the pathology was not good, that there was an aggressive form of cancer. They also told me at the time that they thought the cancer was contained within the walls of the bladder, that it had not spread, and so after that, they set up another appointment to come in and talk to the urologist about our treatment options.

 

BM: And what were those options?

 

SB: The first option they gave me was chemo, four cycles of chemo. And then they would run tests to see where we were, where the cancer was. The second option, and this is the one they recommended, was the same chemo treatment, the same four rounds and then I would have my bladder removed, and go from there.

 

BM: This was a successful procedure, yes?

 

SB: Yes, it was successful. Denver Health was fantastic.

 

BM: Now with a removed bladder, how does change your life?

 

SB: I had my bladder removed on October 10, 2017. I then had to wear a bag to collect the urine that the bag collects. During the surgery, they use part of the bowel to make an ostomy, that’s what it is, an ostomy bag. So on the side of my stomach, there is an ostomy that comes through my stomach, and the urine comes out of that into a bag I wear on the side of my stomach. It’s a bit of a pain, but it hasn’t changed my lifestyle. The first thing I asked the urologist was how is this going to change my life? Am I still going to be able to participate in my grandsons’ lives? I play basketball with them, I swim with them, they are my life. I see them three or four times a week. I see them after school, we go on vacation together. If I don’t tell you I have an ostomy, you don’t know. It has changed the way I dress because the bag is right at the waistline, so I have to wear high-waisted things. I cannot wear jeans because when I sit, they tighten around the waist, well, that is where my ostomy bag connects to me. So I don’t wear jeans anymore. All the pants that I wear are pull-on, and I wear longer tops to cover that because as the bag fills, I will get a lump on that side, but if I wear the right clothes you don’t even notice it. The bag definitely has its advantages. I no longer get in the middle of the night to use the restroom, so I sleep all night. I can go on vacation and go without using the restroom for like four hours, so that’s an advantage. There’s the occasional leak, which is inconvenient and embarrassing and all those things, but they happen rarely, and I have a great life, I would not have changed anything. It’s been fine.

 

BM: Two-part question. Earlier on we had talked about when you were in a caregiving role with your grandson. Now let’s go back to the chemo phase. Did you have a caregiver or caregivers?

 

SB: I did have caregivers. First of all, my husband. He was with me, and he was here at the house when I would come home. I was in the hospital only eight days after the major surgery, the seven-hour surgery. The people, the doctors, the nurses at Denver Health were fantastic. And there was another person that was by my side 24/7, she didn’t miss a chemo treatment, was my daughter, the mother of my grandsons. Carla and I have always been really, really close, and she was with me. She was there for every chemo treatment, she was with me when I had my surgery, she spent the night with me. She was fantastic. My husband refers to her as “his angel”, because it was more comfortable for my daughter to see some of the things. Bladder cancer is kind of personal, you know. I wasn’t sure I wanted my husband to see all that. I would take showers as part of my care and she would stand in the doorway and watch and I would be comfortable with all that. I wasn’t always comfortable with my husband and seeing all that. I am 70 years old, so I am a little shy about some of that stuff, and maybe younger women aren’t, I don’t know, but I was a little hesitant in having my husband see me like that. So Carla was there every single minute.

 

BM: Now you mentioned caregiving from sort of a medicinal, procedure sort of perspective, but how about the emotional piece? How were your husband and your daughter as far as that goes?

 

SB: They were fantastic. My daughter was with me every time I was in the hospital, every time I had chemo, all of that. But between that of course, my husband was with me because I was at home. The chemo cycles that I had were once a week for three weeks, then a week off, for four times. If you have ever had chemo, you know that it builds upon itself. So the first treatment was not horrible. The second treatment was a little bit worse. By the time I got to the third, the first week, and then the fourth, the first week, was debilitating, so I would go and have my cancer treatment and then I would come home and I would be in bed until the next week when go to have another treatment. In my case, the first week of every cycle, I would get two different drugs, and then the second week of that cycle, I just got one of those drugs, so that first week was really not fun. I never had issues with nausea because the drugs they have nowadays are quite good. They always gave me a nausea medication before they started the chemo. I would get 15 minutes of that, then they would shoot in the bad stuff, the “poison” as my husband referred to it. So that first week was rough, but after that it was fine. I even went on vacation the week between my second and third cycle. The week that I was off chemo, we do a family vacation every year and we went to Costa Rica that year, so we went to Costa Rica and had a great time. I am glad I did that because the third and fourth cycles were not a lot of fun.

 

BM: As far as chemo goes, depending upon the patient, and their circumstances, it is varying degrees of unpleasant, but can you understand why you were treated with chemo? Because it was a necessary evil to kill the cancer?

 

SB: Oh, absolutely. It did its job. It was highly successful. Of course, they didn’t know that until they got in there and after the surgery. So, after the chemo did its thing, then six weeks later, I had my bladder removal surgery. Chemo was nasty, but in my case, it was necessary.

 

BM: The second part of my two-part caregiving question pertains to the bag, and the managing of it. What the toughest part of the management of the bag?

 

SB: It’s really just not a big deal. It’s frustrating if you have leaks, and my leaks seemed to go in cycles. I would have a week with three leaks, then I won’t have a leak for six weeks. It’s not nearly as big a deal as I thought it was going to be. Cancer treatment has come a long, long way. I am just grateful my cancer was diagnosed in 2017 and not even ten years earlier than that. It just keeps getting better. They know so much more now, it’s just fantastic. And the secret is also quick, fast, early detection. My cancer was only Stage Two. Past Stage Two is when it spreads throughout your body. I didn’t have it in any lymph nodes, nothing. Once they removed the bladder, I have been cancer free since 2017.

 

BM: That’s fantastic news, Sue, and right now, there is somebody watching who has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer, and I have got to believe your story is one of inspiration and encouragement because throughout the cancer journey, you had trust in your doctors, a good caregiving team, and it sounds like from start to finish, you had confidence that you were going to have a good outcome.

 

SB: That is part of my personality, also. I am extremely stubborn and I knew from the beginning that this was not going to take me. I am tougher than cancer.

 

BM: Indeed, and your experience is proof positive of that.

 

SB: I really am the first person in my family to have cancer. I have had a good attitude about it, according to other people.

 

BM: And that’s so important, isn’t it?

 

SB: I do believe that. You can’t let it get you down. Everybody’s life has ups and downs, and cancer is one of those downs, but you will be up again. I have been up since January of 2018. You know, 2017 was not my year, that’s what I tell everybody. But since then, everything’s great. I do whatever I want. It’s fantastic.

 

BM: You’d already mentioned going to Costa Rica, but upon beating cancer, is there anything you did to celebrate this accomplishment?

 

SB: No, not really. That was a major surgery, and then I had some issues after surgery. I had a UTI that put me back in the hospital for three days and in December 2017 I got really, really sick and this time they had difficult telling from where the infection came from. I was septic. That almost got me, but it didn’t. I was in the hospital for 13 days, but since then, I have not been in the hospital, I have not been sick. I am quite healthy. I didn’t change my diet. I don’t take particularly good care of myself. I am not on any strict diet. Everything in moderation is kind of my mantra. No, I am doing quite, quite well.

 

BM: We’re going to wrap it up here, but I would like to visualize somebody who has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer. From your experience, if there is one overarching takeaway you would share with that person, what would it be?

 

SB: Trust in your doctors, be sure you have good doctors. That’s the most important thing. Bladder cancer, it has been around forever. The doctors know what they’re doing, they’re very good at this. Trust in them, and believe in yourself. You are tougher than cancer.

 

BM: Sue, that’s a wonderful story and a wonderful message, especially for the person who has just been diagnosed with bladder cancer. So we want to thank you very much for coming on with us on Cancer Interviews.

 

SB: Thank you for letting me share my story.

 

BM: Thanks, Sue, for sharing your journey, one that, clearly, you are handling. And if you are just beginning your cancer journey, we hope you found inspiration from Sue. So that’s it for Cancer Interviews, and we’ll see you on down the road.

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Newsletter: My Team Journey Newsletter - click here

 

 

 

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Episode 7 - Gianna Velarde - Lima, Peru-Stage 3 Lymphoma Survivor - 1st Peruvian woman to ride Dakar Rally on Motorcycle

Posted on 5 June, 2020 at 0:00 Comments comments (2)


LINKS TO RESOURCES FOR GIANNA VELARDE

http://www.instagram.com/gianna.velarde

http://www.facebook.com/giannavelardemotera

http://www.youtube.com/user/giannita505

http://instagram.com/motoschoolperu?igshid=csru8r59gm98

SHOW NOTES:

 

Jim Foster: Hello and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Jim Foster, and on this episode I have the pleasure of introducing a very courageous young woman from Lima, Peru, who not only overcame cancer at a young age, but went on to compete in one of the world’s most difficult and challenging motorcycle races. It’s our hope that you will find her story both informational and inspirational. So please join me in welcoming Gianna Velarde from her home in Lima. Gianna, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Gianna Velarde: Hi, Jim. Hi, everyone, it is really a joy to share my story. I really hope people will learn something from it. This opportunity is a blessing, and thank you very much.

 

JF: Well, thank you, Gianna, and before we get into talking about your cancer journey, we would like to get to know more about you, like where you are from, what you were interested in as a child and what your life was like before you were diagnosed with cancer.

 

GV: I am actually thinking of moving from Lima to Canada to study work. The last two years I have devoted my energy to my business, a motorcycle school for kids, teenagers and adults. My life before cancer was quite different. I was depressed as a teenager. At age 15, that’s a tough age for every human being, and when I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t very close to my parents, but the diagnosis actually created a strong bond with my parents, a very strong bond.

 

JF: At what age did you figure something was wrong with your health, and what did you do to learn that it might be cancer?

 

GV: You may remember about ten years ago, the scare with the H1N1 flu? At the schools in Peru, some kids had to go into quarantine for a month, and all that month, I spent it in bed. I was sweating a lot and had to change my clothes many times a night. I lost a lot of weight and had shortness of breath. It was pretty obvious I was getting ill, and then a large lump appeared in my neck, it was very, very big. I learned about it from a friend. We were playing soccer and my friend pointed it out. It was only then that I realized I had this lump, and then my grandma took me to the hospital and I learned I had cancer.

 

JF: What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and how did you respond to the news?

 

GV: I was diagnosed with lymphoma third stage. At first, I didn’t know what that meant, and the word ‘cancer’ sounded very distant, you know. Then I noticed how people looked at me, with a great deal of pity. That was a very difficult part of my cancer journey.

 

JF: How did you go about determining the best treatment option?

 

GV: Ten years ago, cancer treatment was very limited. Now I know people have more options. But for me, treatment included chemotherapy and radiation therapy, 16 rounds of chemo and 32 rounds of radiation. My hair was falling out, but I never shaved it off, I wasn’t that brave. One of the toughest things I had to endure as losing my hair.

 

JF: I remember from my cancer experience, my hair would come out on my pillow at night. When I woke up there would be all this hair on my pillow.

 

GV: That happened to me a lot. I would wake up and there would be big pieces of hair on the pillow. When I would look in the mirror, I could see the back of my head and lots of missing hair, like an old person, but here I was, 15 years old. It was pretty hard to endure.

 

JF: The good news is, it looks like your hair grew back. As for your treatment, where did that place?

 

GV: I took my cancer treatment at a clinic in Lima, and it took me a year to beat the disease. I had to be hospitalized for the first five chemos, but for the last ones, I was at a clinic. After some of the chemos, I would go to the gym or ride a bicycle.

 

JF: Well, you’re very fortunate to do that. Did you have family and friends to help with your support?

 

GV: One of the things I learned was very obvious. It is not just the patient that has the disease itself. It is the whole family, and the people who love us. So there were days when my mother felt overwhelmed, so I recognized the disease wasn’t only my disease. It was a disease for my mother, my father, my whole family, and friends, too. Cancer doesn’t make just one hit; it hits your entire family, all your beloved ones.

 

JF: That is so true, and for you to recognize that, especially as a young person, that’s very impressive. It does affect everyone around you, even though you are the one going through the treatments. Now, you mentioned your hair loss. What were some of the other side effects, and how did you deal with them?

 

GV: The first and most important one was my hormonal system. I didn’t produce hormones due to the treatment because I had the cancer under my stomach. This was a fight ever since the doctor discharged me. My weight was as unstable as my moods. One month I would weigh 56 kilograms (123 pounds), and the next, I would weigh 64 kilograms. That’s because my hormones were all out of whack. I had to go on some supplements to help with my hormones. For a girl, a woman, it’s very important to produce hormones, for your bones, your skin, your ability to reproduce, you know, to be strong. That was a very important part of the disease for me, my hormonal system because when you finish your treatment, you want to be like normal, you know, have a normal life. This disease left me with a hormonal system that wasn’t stable.

 

JF: So the matter of your hormones sounds like an ongoing problem.

 

GV: Yes, because it is very hard for me to do this. It’s very hard.

 

JF: Were you able to continue with school or work, and if so, what was that like?

 

GV: Yes, I was able to go on with my life. I was not tempted to go through life by being a victim of cancer, and that my life would stop because of cancer. I wasn’t going to recognize that, so I wasn’t going to let that happen. My life continued, but respecting every limitation necessary. But I never stopped because of cancer.

 

JF: That’s wonderful. Were there some goals that you set while you were undergoing treatments?

 

GV: One of the things that helped me get through this disease was practicing sports, especially the motorcycle. When I put my helmet on, I didn’t think of myself as a girl with cancer. I was a rider trying to overcome every obstacle that nature offers. That feeling overcame every bit of emptiness I felt from cancer.

 

JF: We talked a bit about your lowest points, losing your hair and your hormonal system being compromised. When did you know, or feel, that you had beaten cancer? What was that feeling like?

 

GV: I remember the best feeling I had was my final chemo treatment. I was tired of the mood of the clinic, and the food, the food was unbearable, so it was a big moment for me, my last chemo. There was this feeling, like this is not going to happen again. It was really priceless.

 

JF: But you also underwent radiation treatment.

 

GV: Yes, I underwent radiation 32 times, and that’s what destroyed my hormone system. It wasn’t the chemo, it was the radiation, and that was after the chemo.

 

JF: When you finished the radiation, what did your doctor say, and how did you know you had reached the end of your cancer journey at that point?

 

GV: My doctor always supported my riding my motorcycle, but my mom didn’t know I was riding. It would have been a nightmare for her if she knew I was riding a motorcycle while on chemotherapy. When riding and trying to climb the steepest hills, I would be falling, then having to pick up the bike, and it was very heavy. My doctor told me I shouldn’t stop my life because of cancer. That was a very strong feeling that was implanted in my mind.

 

JF: Gianna, it sounds like you were very fortunate that your cancer journey had been successful. Once you came to that point, what was your next big challenge?

 

GV: It was riding in the Dakar motorcycle race. There was a lot to do. I had to raise the necessary funds, get a sponsor, a good bike, practice navigation, plus I was going to school and I had my business. I had to be strong in all those areas of my life, wanting to do them all at the same time, and I wanted to conquer Dakar. It was really difficult when I broke my collarbone two months before Dakar.

 

JF: For anyone in our audience not familiar with the Dakar rally, can you explain what it is?

 

GV: Dakar rally is the most difficult race in the world. Not just because the participation is very hard, but you have to gather the money, you have to prepare your body, your mind to be along many hours and make important decisions by yourself. On the bike, you are completely alone. You may need a rest, you may need for the bike to cool down, but at the same time you know that takes up precious time, as you may need to be at a certain point in two hours and have 100 kilometers to go. You need to prepare yourself to do all of these things by yourself because you won’t have anyone there to give you advice. This is why this race is so hard for me.

 

JF: How many days is the Dakar rally?

 

GV: It is about 15 days.

 

JF: For you, what was the lowest moment in the Dakar rally?

 

GV: The lowest moment was when I couldn’t cross the finish line in the third day because my bike’s engine broke down just six kilometers from the finish line, so that was very hard. I learned that you cannot conquer the world by yourself. You need people in your corner. I know this race is a race of one, but you need to the love of people who want to see you conquer, who want to see you successful. It’s really worth it, it really makes you feel like you are not alone, riding in the desert, because you have people who love you, as a co-pilot.

 

JF: What was your favorite moment from the Dakar rally experience?

 

GV: My favorite memory was the first day. I was so scared and intimidated. However, after the race began I realized I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. I put a Peruvian flag on my jacket, so every time I was riding the flag in the desert, Peru was my co-pilot, so the fear actually vanished and I was full with bravery, with courage.

 

JF: And your Dakar rally was entirely in Peru, correct?

 

GV: Yes, but I only lasted three days because my engine broke down six kilometers before the finish line on the third day.

 

JF: Yes, but it sounds like you were victorious in the experience. You had mentioned in an online interview, and I hope I am quoting this correctly that, “The woman who is leaving is different than the woman who comes back.” Can you explain what that means?

 

GV: I meant that every great event changes you because you have to overcome obstacles, you have new failures, you have so much learning that when you go through this experience, you won’t be the same person. I have conquered many things, but I have also had many failures, and if you don’t fall, if you don’t fail, you don’t learn anything at all.

 

JF: You also involved in charity work. What do you enjoy most about that?

 

GV: Actually I have a school where I teach kids and teenagers how to ride a motorcycle. However, I also teach them about my experience, so they have useful knowledge they can apply in their own lives. You don’t achieve your goal on the first try. You need to get up after you fall, to achieve those goals. It’s not going to be easy. That’s what I share with the students in my goal. I also have taught young ladies with cancer how to ride a bike. A girl with cancer, she has cancer, she a disease, but that doesn’t mean she is going to be dead or a victim, she can actually do pretty amazing stuff. You know a motorcycle is known to some as a ‘vehicle of death’. In my country, they say if you buy yourself a motorcycle, you also need to buy yourself a place in the cemetery, people say that.

 

JF: As a goal setter, what are one or two goals that you have set for yourself for the future?

 

GV: My goal is to find my own way in this new chapter of my life. I recently closed a very important chapter. I want to be loved for what I am, and not for what other people believe is right. I would also like to ride another Dakar in another two or three years.

 

JF: Before we finish our visit today, imagine that there is one person out there that has just been diagnosed with cancer. What would like to say to them?

 

GV: I would say it is okay to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t let these feelings overwhelm you. Every day is the most important race in your life. Every day is a conquest. Remember, you are not a victim of life. Some challenges are only for the ones that are capable of enduring them. You have to prove to yourself that you are capable of beating this disease, even though you don’t feel ready. You cannot always be ready for an unknown challenge, and cancer is an unknown challenge.

 

JF: Well, it certainly is, and those are very wise words coming from someone who has truly walked the walk. Now, there are ways to people to learn more about you online and through social media and is there is anything else you would like to share with us?

 

GV: Thanks everybody for listening to me, and to you, Jim, with my English. I hope my story can help in any way. Every person has a story and every story is always valuable. Every person has something to teach us, so it is very important to remember this in every aspect of our lives.

 

JF: Is there somewhere on social media where people can learn more about you?

 

GV: You can look for me on Facebook or on Instagram as Gianna.Velarde.

 

JF: Gianna, thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey and expertise with us today. You truly have an encouraging story about cancer outcome and continued good health.

 

GV: Thank you, Jim.

 

JF: And for all of you listening to the podcast, please remember that are not alone. We are all a part of a team, and we wish you the best possible outcome with cancer journey, so until next time, take care and we will see you on down the road.

 

Jim Foster: Hello and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Jim Foster, and on this episode I have the pleasure of introducing a very courageous young woman from Lima, Peru, who not only overcame cancer at a young age, but went on to compete in one of the world’s most difficult and challenging motorcycle races. It’s our hope that you will find her story both informational and inspirational. So please join me in welcoming Gianna Velarde from her home in Lima. Gianna, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Gianna Velarde: Hi, Jim. Hi, everyone, it is really a joy to share my story. I really hope people will learn something from it. This opportunity is a blessing, and thank you very much.

 

JF: Well, thank you, Gianna, and before we get into talking about your cancer journey, we would like to get to know more about you, like where you are from, what you were interested in as a child and what your life was like before you were diagnosed with cancer.

 

GV: I am actually thinking of moving from Lima to Canada to study work. The last two years I have devoted my energy to my business, a motorcycle school for kids, teenagers and adults. My life before cancer was quite different. I was depressed as a teenager. At age 15, that’s a tough age for every human being, and when I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t very close to my parents, but the diagnosis actually created a strong bond with my parents, a very strong bond.

 

JF: At what age did you figure something was wrong with your health, and what did you do to learn that it might be cancer?

 

GV: You may remember about ten years ago, the scare with the H1N1 flu? At the schools in Peru, some kids had to go into quarantine for a month, and all that month, I spent it in bed. I was sweating a lot and had to change my clothes many times a night. I lost a lot of weight and had shortness of breath. It was pretty obvious I was getting ill, and then a large lump appeared in my neck, it was very, very big. I learned about it from a friend. We were playing soccer and my friend pointed it out. It was only then that I realized I had this lump, and then my grandma took me to the hospital and I learned I had cancer.

 

JF: What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and how did you respond to the news?

 

GV: I was diagnosed with lymphoma third stage. At first, I didn’t know what that meant, and the word ‘cancer’ sounded very distant, you know. Then I noticed how people looked at me, with a great deal of pity. That was a very difficult part of my cancer journey.

 

JF: How did you go about determining the best treatment option?

 

GV: Ten years ago, cancer treatment was very limited. Now I know people have more options. But for me, treatment included chemotherapy and radiation therapy, 16 rounds of chemo and 32 rounds of radiation. My hair was falling out, but I never shaved it off, I wasn’t that brave. One of the toughest things I had to endure as losing my hair.

 

JF: I remember from my cancer experience, my hair would come out on my pillow at night. When I woke up there would be all this hair on my pillow.

 

GV: That happened to me a lot. I would wake up and there would be big pieces of hair on the pillow. When I would look in the mirror, I could see the back of my head and lots of missing hair, like an old person, but here I was, 15 years old. It was pretty hard to endure.

 

JF: The good news is, it looks like your hair grew back. As for your treatment, where did that place?

 

GV: I took my cancer treatment at a clinic in Lima, and it took me a year to beat the disease. I had to be hospitalized for the first five chemos, but for the last ones, I was at a clinic. After some of the chemos, I would go to the gym or ride a bicycle.

 

JF: Well, you’re very fortunate to do that. Did you have family and friends to help with your support?

 

GV: One of the things I learned was very obvious. It is not just the patient that has the disease itself. It is the whole family, and the people who love us. So there were days when my mother felt overwhelmed, so I recognized the disease wasn’t only my disease. It was a disease for my mother, my father, my whole family, and friends, too. Cancer doesn’t make just one hit; it hits your entire family, all your beloved ones.

 

JF: That is so true, and for you to recognize that, especially as a young person, that’s very impressive. It does affect everyone around you, even though you are the one going through the treatments. Now, you mentioned your hair loss. What were some of the other side effects, and how did you deal with them?

 

GV: The first and most important one was my hormonal system. I didn’t produce hormones due to the treatment because I had the cancer under my stomach. This was a fight ever since the doctor discharged me. My weight was as unstable as my moods. One month I would weigh 56 kilograms (123 pounds), and the next, I would weigh 64 kilograms. That’s because my hormones were all out of whack. I had to go on some supplements to help with my hormones. For a girl, a woman, it’s very important to produce hormones, for your bones, your skin, your ability to reproduce, you know, to be strong. That was a very important part of the disease for me, my hormonal system because when you finish your treatment, you want to be like normal, you know, have a normal life. This disease left me with a hormonal system that wasn’t stable.

 

JF: So the matter of your hormones sounds like an ongoing problem.

 

GV: Yes, because it is very hard for me to do this. It’s very hard.

 

JF: Were you able to continue with school or work, and if so, what was that like?

 

GV: Yes, I was able to go on with my life. I was not tempted to go through life by being a victim of cancer, and that my life would stop because of cancer. I wasn’t going to recognize that, so I wasn’t going to let that happen. My life continued, but respecting every limitation necessary. But I never stopped because of cancer.

 

JF: That’s wonderful. Were there some goals that you set while you were undergoing treatments?

 

GV: One of the things that helped me get through this disease was practicing sports, especially the motorcycle. When I put my helmet on, I didn’t think of myself as a girl with cancer. I was a rider trying to overcome every obstacle that nature offers. That feeling overcame every bit of emptiness I felt from cancer.

 

JF: We talked a bit about your lowest points, losing your hair and your hormonal system being compromised. When did you know, or feel, that you had beaten cancer? What was that feeling like?

 

GV: I remember the best feeling I had was my final chemo treatment. I was tired of the mood of the clinic, and the food, the food was unbearable, so it was a big moment for me, my last chemo. There was this feeling, like this is not going to happen again. It was really priceless.

 

JF: But you also underwent radiation treatment.

 

GV: Yes, I underwent radiation 32 times, and that’s what destroyed my hormone system. It wasn’t the chemo, it was the radiation, and that was after the chemo.

 

JF: When you finished the radiation, what did your doctor say, and how did you know you had reached the end of your cancer journey at that point?

 

GV: My doctor always supported my riding my motorcycle, but my mom didn’t know I was riding. It would have been a nightmare for her if she knew I was riding a motorcycle while on chemotherapy. When riding and trying to climb the steepest hills, I would be falling, then having to pick up the bike, and it was very heavy. My doctor told me I shouldn’t stop my life because of cancer. That was a very strong feeling that was implanted in my mind.

 

JF: Gianna, it sounds like you were very fortunate that your cancer journey had been successful. Once you came to that point, what was your next big challenge?

 

GV: It was riding in the Dakar motorcycle race. There was a lot to do. I had to raise the necessary funds, get a sponsor, a good bike, practice navigation, plus I was going to school and I had my business. I had to be strong in all those areas of my life, wanting to do them all at the same time, and I wanted to conquer Dakar. It was really difficult when I broke my collarbone two months before Dakar.

 

JF: For anyone in our audience not familiar with the Dakar rally, can you explain what it is?

 

GV: Dakar rally is the most difficult race in the world. Not just because the participation is very hard, but you have to gather the money, you have to prepare your body, your mind to be along many hours and make important decisions by yourself. On the bike, you are completely alone. You may need a rest, you may need for the bike to cool down, but at the same time you know that takes up precious time, as you may need to be at a certain point in two hours and have 100 kilometers to go. You need to prepare yourself to do all of these things by yourself because you won’t have anyone there to give you advice. This is why this race is so hard for me.

 

JF: How many days is the Dakar rally?

 

GV: It is about 15 days.

 

JF: For you, what was the lowest moment in the Dakar rally?

 

GV: The lowest moment was when I couldn’t cross the finish line in the third day because my bike’s engine broke down just six kilometers from the finish line, so that was very hard. I learned that you cannot conquer the world by yourself. You need people in your corner. I know this race is a race of one, but you need to the love of people who want to see you conquer, who want to see you successful. It’s really worth it, it really makes you feel like you are not alone, riding in the desert, because you have people who love you, as a co-pilot.

 

JF: What was your favorite moment from the Dakar rally experience?

 

GV: My favorite memory was the first day. I was so scared and intimidated. However, after the race began I realized I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. I put a Peruvian flag on my jacket, so every time I was riding the flag in the desert, Peru was my co-pilot, so the fear actually vanished and I was full with bravery, with courage.

 

JF: And your Dakar rally was entirely in Peru, correct?

 

GV: Yes, but I only lasted three days because my engine broke down six kilometers before the finish line on the third day.

 

JF: Yes, but it sounds like you were victorious in the experience. You had mentioned in an online interview, and I hope I am quoting this correctly that, “The woman who is leaving is different than the woman who comes back.” Can you explain what that means?

 

GV: I meant that every great event changes you because you have to overcome obstacles, you have new failures, you have so much learning that when you go through this experience, you won’t be the same person. I have conquered many things, but I have also had many failures, and if you don’t fall, if you don’t fail, you don’t learn anything at all.

 

JF: You also involved in charity work. What do you enjoy most about that?

 

GV: Actually I have a school where I teach kids and teenagers how to ride a motorcycle. However, I also teach them about my experience, so they have useful knowledge they can apply in their own lives. You don’t achieve your goal on the first try. You need to get up after you fall, to achieve those goals. It’s not going to be easy. That’s what I share with the students in my goal. I also have taught young ladies with cancer how to ride a bike. A girl with cancer, she has cancer, she a disease, but that doesn’t mean she is going to be dead or a victim, she can actually do pretty amazing stuff. You know a motorcycle is known to some as a ‘vehicle of death’. In my country, they say if you buy yourself a motorcycle, you also need to buy yourself a place in the cemetery, people say that.

 

JF: As a goal setter, what are one or two goals that you have set for yourself for the future?

 

GV: My goal is to find my own way in this new chapter of my life. I recently closed a very important chapter. I want to be loved for what I am, and not for what other people believe is right. I would also like to ride another Dakar in another two or three years.

 

JF: Before we finish our visit today, imagine that there is one person out there that has just been diagnosed with cancer. What would like to say to them?

 

GV: I would say it is okay to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t let these feelings overwhelm you. Every day is the most important race in your life. Every day is a conquest. Remember, you are not a victim of life. Some challenges are only for the ones that are capable of enduring them. You have to prove to yourself that you are capable of beating this disease, even though you don’t feel ready. You cannot always be ready for an unknown challenge, and cancer is an unknown challenge.

 

JF: Well, it certainly is, and those are very wise words coming from someone who has truly walked the walk. Now, there are ways to people to learn more about you online and through social media and is there is anything else you would like to share with us?

 

GV: Thanks everybody for listening to me, and to you, Jim, with my English. I hope my story can help in any way. Every person has a story and every story is always valuable. Every person has something to teach us, so it is very important to remember this in every aspect of our lives.

 

JF: Is there somewhere on social media where people can learn more about you?

 

GV: You can look for me on Facebook or on Instagram as Gianna.Velarde.

 

JF: Gianna, thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey and expertise with us today. You truly have an encouraging story about cancer outcome and continued good health.

 

GV: Thank you, Jim.

 

JF: And for all of you listening to the podcast, please remember that are not alone. We are all a part of a team, and we wish you the best possible outcome with cancer journey, so until next time, take care and we will see you on down the road.

Jim Foster: Hello and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Jim Foster, and on this episode I have the pleasure of introducing a very courageous young woman from Lima, Peru, who not only overcame cancer at a young age, but went on to compete in one of the world’s most difficult and challenging motorcycle races. It’s our hope that you will find her story both informational and inspirational. So please join me in welcoming Gianna Velarde from her home in Lima. Gianna, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Gianna Velarde: Hi, Jim. Hi, everyone, it is really a joy to share my story. I really hope people will learn something from it. This opportunity is a blessing, and thank you very much.

 

JF: Well, thank you, Gianna, and before we get into talking about your cancer journey, we would like to get to know more about you, like where you are from, what you were interested in as a child and what your life was like before you were diagnosed with cancer.

 

GV: I am actually thinking of moving from Lima to Canada to study work. The last two years I have devoted my energy to my business, a motorcycle school for kids, teenagers and adults. My life before cancer was quite different. I was depressed as a teenager. At age 15, that’s a tough age for every human being, and when I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t very close to my parents, but the diagnosis actually created a strong bond with my parents, a very strong bond.

 

JF: At what age did you figure something was wrong with your health, and what did you do to learn that it might be cancer?

 

GV: You may remember about ten years ago, the scare with the H1N1 flu? At the schools in Peru, some kids had to go into quarantine for a month, and all that month, I spent it in bed. I was sweating a lot and had to change my clothes many times a night. I lost a lot of weight and had shortness of breath. It was pretty obvious I was getting ill, and then a large lump appeared in my neck, it was very, very big. I learned about it from a friend. We were playing soccer and my friend pointed it out. It was only then that I realized I had this lump, and then my grandma took me to the hospital and I learned I had cancer.

 

JF: What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and how did you respond to the news?

 

GV: I was diagnosed with lymphoma third stage. At first, I didn’t know what that meant, and the word ‘cancer’ sounded very distant, you know. Then I noticed how people looked at me, with a great deal of pity. That was a very difficult part of my cancer journey.

 

JF: How did you go about determining the best treatment option?

 

GV: Ten years ago, cancer treatment was very limited. Now I know people have more options. But for me, treatment included chemotherapy and radiation therapy, 16 rounds of chemo and 32 rounds of radiation. My hair was falling out, but I never shaved it off, I wasn’t that brave. One of the toughest things I had to endure as losing my hair.

 

JF: I remember from my cancer experience, my hair would come out on my pillow at night. When I woke up there would be all this hair on my pillow.

 

GV: That happened to me a lot. I would wake up and there would be big pieces of hair on the pillow. When I would look in the mirror, I could see the back of my head and lots of missing hair, like an old person, but here I was, 15 years old. It was pretty hard to endure.

 

JF: The good news is, it looks like your hair grew back. As for your treatment, where did that place?

 

GV: I took my cancer treatment at a clinic in Lima, and it took me a year to beat the disease. I had to be hospitalized for the first five chemos, but for the last ones, I was at a clinic. After some of the chemos, I would go to the gym or ride a bicycle.

 

JF: Well, you’re very fortunate to do that. Did you have family and friends to help with your support?

 

GV: One of the things I learned was very obvious. It is not just the patient that has the disease itself. It is the whole family, and the people who love us. So there were days when my mother felt overwhelmed, so I recognized the disease wasn’t only my disease. It was a disease for my mother, my father, my whole family, and friends, too. Cancer doesn’t make just one hit; it hits your entire family, all your beloved ones.

 

JF: That is so true, and for you to recognize that, especially as a young person, that’s very impressive. It does affect everyone around you, even though you are the one going through the treatments. Now, you mentioned your hair loss. What were some of the other side effects, and how did you deal with them?

 

GV: The first and most important one was my hormonal system. I didn’t produce hormones due to the treatment because I had the cancer under my stomach. This was a fight ever since the doctor discharged me. My weight was as unstable as my moods. One month I would weigh 56 kilograms (123 pounds), and the next, I would weigh 64 kilograms. That’s because my hormones were all out of whack. I had to go on some supplements to help with my hormones. For a girl, a woman, it’s very important to produce hormones, for your bones, your skin, your ability to reproduce, you know, to be strong. That was a very important part of the disease for me, my hormonal system because when you finish your treatment, you want to be like normal, you know, have a normal life. This disease left me with a hormonal system that wasn’t stable.

 

JF: So the matter of your hormones sounds like an ongoing problem.

 

GV: Yes, because it is very hard for me to do this. It’s very hard.

 

JF: Were you able to continue with school or work, and if so, what was that like?

 

GV: Yes, I was able to go on with my life. I was not tempted to go through life by being a victim of cancer, and that my life would stop because of cancer. I wasn’t going to recognize that, so I wasn’t going to let that happen. My life continued, but respecting every limitation necessary. But I never stopped because of cancer.

 

JF: That’s wonderful. Were there some goals that you set while you were undergoing treatments?

 

GV: One of the things that helped me get through this disease was practicing sports, especially the motorcycle. When I put my helmet on, I didn’t think of myself as a girl with cancer. I was a rider trying to overcome every obstacle that nature offers. That feeling overcame every bit of emptiness I felt from cancer.

 

JF: We talked a bit about your lowest points, losing your hair and your hormonal system being compromised. When did you know, or feel, that you had beaten cancer? What was that feeling like?

 

GV: I remember the best feeling I had was my final chemo treatment. I was tired of the mood of the clinic, and the food, the food was unbearable, so it was a big moment for me, my last chemo. There was this feeling, like this is not going to happen again. It was really priceless.

 

JF: But you also underwent radiation treatment.

 

GV: Yes, I underwent radiation 32 times, and that’s what destroyed my hormone system. It wasn’t the chemo, it was the radiation, and that was after the chemo.

 

JF: When you finished the radiation, what did your doctor say, and how did you know you had reached the end of your cancer journey at that point?

 

GV: My doctor always supported my riding my motorcycle, but my mom didn’t know I was riding. It would have been a nightmare for her if she knew I was riding a motorcycle while on chemotherapy. When riding and trying to climb the steepest hills, I would be falling, then having to pick up the bike, and it was very heavy. My doctor told me I shouldn’t stop my life because of cancer. That was a very strong feeling that was implanted in my mind.

 

JF: Gianna, it sounds like you were very fortunate that your cancer journey had been successful. Once you came to that point, what was your next big challenge?

 

GV: It was riding in the Dakar motorcycle race. There was a lot to do. I had to raise the necessary funds, get a sponsor, a good bike, practice navigation, plus I was going to school and I had my business. I had to be strong in all those areas of my life, wanting to do them all at the same time, and I wanted to conquer Dakar. It was really difficult when I broke my collarbone two months before Dakar.

 

JF: For anyone in our audience not familiar with the Dakar rally, can you explain what it is?

 

GV: Dakar rally is the most difficult race in the world. Not just because the participation is very hard, but you have to gather the money, you have to prepare your body, your mind to be along many hours and make important decisions by yourself. On the bike, you are completely alone. You may need a rest, you may need for the bike to cool down, but at the same time you know that takes up precious time, as you may need to be at a certain point in two hours and have 100 kilometers to go. You need to prepare yourself to do all of these things by yourself because you won’t have anyone there to give you advice. This is why this race is so hard for me.

 

JF: How many days is the Dakar rally?

 

GV: It is about 15 days.

 

JF: For you, what was the lowest moment in the Dakar rally?

 

GV: The lowest moment was when I couldn’t cross the finish line in the third day because my bike’s engine broke down just six kilometers from the finish line, so that was very hard. I learned that you cannot conquer the world by yourself. You need people in your corner. I know this race is a race of one, but you need to the love of people who want to see you conquer, who want to see you successful. It’s really worth it, it really makes you feel like you are not alone, riding in the desert, because you have people who love you, as a co-pilot.

 

JF: What was your favorite moment from the Dakar rally experience?

 

GV: My favorite memory was the first day. I was so scared and intimidated. However, after the race began I realized I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. I put a Peruvian flag on my jacket, so every time I was riding the flag in the desert, Peru was my co-pilot, so the fear actually vanished and I was full with bravery, with courage.

 

JF: And your Dakar rally was entirely in Peru, correct?

 

GV: Yes, but I only lasted three days because my engine broke down six kilometers before the finish line on the third day.

 

JF: Yes, but it sounds like you were victorious in the experience. You had mentioned in an online interview, and I hope I am quoting this correctly that, “The woman who is leaving is different than the woman who comes back.” Can you explain what that means?

 

GV: I meant that every great event changes you because you have to overcome obstacles, you have new failures, you have so much learning that when you go through this experience, you won’t be the same person. I have conquered many things, but I have also had many failures, and if you don’t fall, if you don’t fail, you don’t learn anything at all.

 

JF: You also involved in charity work. What do you enjoy most about that?

 

GV: Actually I have a school where I teach kids and teenagers how to ride a motorcycle. However, I also teach them about my experience, so they have useful knowledge they can apply in their own lives. You don’t achieve your goal on the first try. You need to get up after you fall, to achieve those goals. It’s not going to be easy. That’s what I share with the students in my goal. I also have taught young ladies with cancer how to ride a bike. A girl with cancer, she has cancer, she a disease, but that doesn’t mean she is going to be dead or a victim, she can actually do pretty amazing stuff. You know a motorcycle is known to some as a ‘vehicle of death’. In my country, they say if you buy yourself a motorcycle, you also need to buy yourself a place in the cemetery, people say that.

 

JF: As a goal setter, what are one or two goals that you have set for yourself for the future?

 

GV: My goal is to find my own way in this new chapter of my life. I recently closed a very important chapter. I want to be loved for what I am, and not for what other people believe is right. I would also like to ride another Dakar in another two or three years.

 

JF: Before we finish our visit today, imagine that there is one person out there that has just been diagnosed with cancer. What would like to say to them?

 

GV: I would say it is okay to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t let these feelings overwhelm you. Every day is the most important race in your life. Every day is a conquest. Remember, you are not a victim of life. Some challenges are only for the ones that are capable of enduring them. You have to prove to yourself that you are capable of beating this disease, even though you don’t feel ready. You cannot always be ready for an unknown challenge, and cancer is an unknown challenge.

 

JF: Well, it certainly is, and those are very wise words coming from someone who has truly walked the walk. Now, there are ways to people to learn more about you online and through social media and is there is anything else you would like to share with us?

 

GV: Thanks everybody for listening to me, and to you, Jim, with my English. I hope my story can help in any way. Every person has a story and every story is always valuable. Every person has something to teach us, so it is very important to remember this in every aspect of our lives.

 

JF: Is there somewhere on social media where people can learn more about you?

 

GV: You can look for me on Facebook or on Instagram as Gianna.Velarde.

 

JF: Gianna, thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey and expertise with us today. You truly have an encouraging story about cancer outcome and continued good health.

 

GV: Thank you, Jim.

 

JF: And for all of you listening to the podcast, please remember that are not alone. We are all a part of a team, and we wish you the best possible outcome with cancer journey, so until next time, take care and we will see you on down the road.

Jim Foster: Hello and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Jim Foster, and on this episode I have the pleasure of introducing a very courageous young woman from Lima, Peru, who not only overcame cancer at a young age, but went on to compete in one of the world’s most difficult and challenging motorcycle races. It’s our hope that you will find her story both informational and inspirational. So please join me in welcoming Gianna Velarde from her home in Lima. Gianna, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Gianna Velarde: Hi, Jim. Hi, everyone, it is really a joy to share my story. I really hope people will learn something from it. This opportunity is a blessing, and thank you very much.

 

JF: Well, thank you, Gianna, and before we get into talking about your cancer journey, we would like to get to know more about you, like where you are from, what you were interested in as a child and what your life was like before you were diagnosed with cancer.

 

GV: I am actually thinking of moving from Lima to Canada to study work. The last two years I have devoted my energy to my business, a motorcycle school for kids, teenagers and adults. My life before cancer was quite different. I was depressed as a teenager. At age 15, that’s a tough age for every human being, and when I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t very close to my parents, but the diagnosis actually created a strong bond with my parents, a very strong bond.

 

JF: At what age did you figure something was wrong with your health, and what did you do to learn that it might be cancer?

 

GV: You may remember about ten years ago, the scare with the H1N1 flu? At the schools in Peru, some kids had to go into quarantine for a month, and all that month, I spent it in bed. I was sweating a lot and had to change my clothes many times a night. I lost a lot of weight and had shortness of breath. It was pretty obvious I was getting ill, and then a large lump appeared in my neck, it was very, very big. I learned about it from a friend. We were playing soccer and my friend pointed it out. It was only then that I realized I had this lump, and then my grandma took me to the hospital and I learned I had cancer.

 

JF: What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and how did you respond to the news?

 

GV: I was diagnosed with lymphoma third stage. At first, I didn’t know what that meant, and the word ‘cancer’ sounded very distant, you know. Then I noticed how people looked at me, with a great deal of pity. That was a very difficult part of my cancer journey.

 

JF: How did you go about determining the best treatment option?

 

GV: Ten years ago, cancer treatment was very limited. Now I know people have more options. But for me, treatment included chemotherapy and radiation therapy, 16 rounds of chemo and 32 rounds of radiation. My hair was falling out, but I never shaved it off, I wasn’t that brave. One of the toughest things I had to endure as losing my hair.

 

JF: I remember from my cancer experience, my hair would come out on my pillow at night. When I woke up there would be all this hair on my pillow.

 

GV: That happened to me a lot. I would wake up and there would be big pieces of hair on the pillow. When I would look in the mirror, I could see the back of my head and lots of missing hair, like an old person, but here I was, 15 years old. It was pretty hard to endure.

 

JF: The good news is, it looks like your hair grew back. As for your treatment, where did that place?

 

GV: I took my cancer treatment at a clinic in Lima, and it took me a year to beat the disease. I had to be hospitalized for the first five chemos, but for the last ones, I was at a clinic. After some of the chemos, I would go to the gym or ride a bicycle.

 

JF: Well, you’re very fortunate to do that. Did you have family and friends to help with your support?

 

GV: One of the things I learned was very obvious. It is not just the patient that has the disease itself. It is the whole family, and the people who love us. So there were days when my mother felt overwhelmed, so I recognized the disease wasn’t only my disease. It was a disease for my mother, my father, my whole family, and friends, too. Cancer doesn’t make just one hit; it hits your entire family, all your beloved ones.

 

JF: That is so true, and for you to recognize that, especially as a young person, that’s very impressive. It does affect everyone around you, even though you are the one going through the treatments. Now, you mentioned your hair loss. What were some of the other side effects, and how did you deal with them?

 

GV: The first and most important one was my hormonal system. I didn’t produce hormones due to the treatment because I had the cancer under my stomach. This was a fight ever since the doctor discharged me. My weight was as unstable as my moods. One month I would weigh 56 kilograms (123 pounds), and the next, I would weigh 64 kilograms. That’s because my hormones were all out of whack. I had to go on some supplements to help with my hormones. For a girl, a woman, it’s very important to produce hormones, for your bones, your skin, your ability to reproduce, you know, to be strong. That was a very important part of the disease for me, my hormonal system because when you finish your treatment, you want to be like normal, you know, have a normal life. This disease left me with a hormonal system that wasn’t stable.

 

JF: So the matter of your hormones sounds like an ongoing problem.

 

GV: Yes, because it is very hard for me to do this. It’s very hard.

 

JF: Were you able to continue with school or work, and if so, what was that like?

 

GV: Yes, I was able to go on with my life. I was not tempted to go through life by being a victim of cancer, and that my life would stop because of cancer. I wasn’t going to recognize that, so I wasn’t going to let that happen. My life continued, but respecting every limitation necessary. But I never stopped because of cancer.

 

JF: That’s wonderful. Were there some goals that you set while you were undergoing treatments?

 

GV: One of the things that helped me get through this disease was practicing sports, especially the motorcycle. When I put my helmet on, I didn’t think of myself as a girl with cancer. I was a rider trying to overcome every obstacle that nature offers. That feeling overcame every bit of emptiness I felt from cancer.

 

JF: We talked a bit about your lowest points, losing your hair and your hormonal system being compromised. When did you know, or feel, that you had beaten cancer? What was that feeling like?

 

GV: I remember the best feeling I had was my final chemo treatment. I was tired of the mood of the clinic, and the food, the food was unbearable, so it was a big moment for me, my last chemo. There was this feeling, like this is not going to happen again. It was really priceless.

 

JF: But you also underwent radiation treatment.

 

GV: Yes, I underwent radiation 32 times, and that’s what destroyed my hormone system. It wasn’t the chemo, it was the radiation, and that was after the chemo.

 

JF: When you finished the radiation, what did your doctor say, and how did you know you had reached the end of your cancer journey at that point?

 

GV: My doctor always supported my riding my motorcycle, but my mom didn’t know I was riding. It would have been a nightmare for her if she knew I was riding a motorcycle while on chemotherapy. When riding and trying to climb the steepest hills, I would be falling, then having to pick up the bike, and it was very heavy. My doctor told me I shouldn’t stop my life because of cancer. That was a very strong feeling that was implanted in my mind.

 

JF: Gianna, it sounds like you were very fortunate that your cancer journey had been successful. Once you came to that point, what was your next big challenge?

 

GV: It was riding in the Dakar motorcycle race. There was a lot to do. I had to raise the necessary funds, get a sponsor, a good bike, practice navigation, plus I was going to school and I had my business. I had to be strong in all those areas of my life, wanting to do them all at the same time, and I wanted to conquer Dakar. It was really difficult when I broke my collarbone two months before Dakar.

 

JF: For anyone in our audience not familiar with the Dakar rally, can you explain what it is?

 

GV: Dakar rally is the most difficult race in the world. Not just because the participation is very hard, but you have to gather the money, you have to prepare your body, your mind to be along many hours and make important decisions by yourself. On the bike, you are completely alone. You may need a rest, you may need for the bike to cool down, but at the same time you know that takes up precious time, as you may need to be at a certain point in two hours and have 100 kilometers to go. You need to prepare yourself to do all of these things by yourself because you won’t have anyone there to give you advice. This is why this race is so hard for me.

 

JF: How many days is the Dakar rally?

 

GV: It is about 15 days.

 

JF: For you, what was the lowest moment in the Dakar rally?

 

GV: The lowest moment was when I couldn’t cross the finish line in the third day because my bike’s engine broke down just six kilometers from the finish line, so that was very hard. I learned that you cannot conquer the world by yourself. You need people in your corner. I know this race is a race of one, but you need to the love of people who want to see you conquer, who want to see you successful. It’s really worth it, it really makes you feel like you are not alone, riding in the desert, because you have people who love you, as a co-pilot.

 

JF: What was your favorite moment from the Dakar rally experience?

 

GV: My favorite memory was the first day. I was so scared and intimidated. However, after the race began I realized I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. I put a Peruvian flag on my jacket, so every time I was riding the flag in the desert, Peru was my co-pilot, so the fear actually vanished and I was full with bravery, with courage.

 

JF: And your Dakar rally was entirely in Peru, correct?

 

GV: Yes, but I only lasted three days because my engine broke down six kilometers before the finish line on the third day.

 

JF: Yes, but it sounds like you were victorious in the experience. You had mentioned in an online interview, and I hope I am quoting this correctly that, “The woman who is leaving is different than the woman who comes back.” Can you explain what that means?

 

GV: I meant that every great event changes you because you have to overcome obstacles, you have new failures, you have so much learning that when you go through this experience, you won’t be the same person. I have conquered many things, but I have also had many failures, and if you don’t fall, if you don’t fail, you don’t learn anything at all.

 

JF: You also involved in charity work. What do you enjoy most about that?

 

GV: Actually I have a school where I teach kids and teenagers how to ride a motorcycle. However, I also teach them about my experience, so they have useful knowledge they can apply in their own lives. You don’t achieve your goal on the first try. You need to get up after you fall, to achieve those goals. It’s not going to be easy. That’s what I share with the students in my goal. I also have taught young ladies with cancer how to ride a bike. A girl with cancer, she has cancer, she a disease, but that doesn’t mean she is going to be dead or a victim, she can actually do pretty amazing stuff. You know a motorcycle is known to some as a ‘vehicle of death’. In my country, they say if you buy yourself a motorcycle, you also need to buy yourself a place in the cemetery, people say that.

 

JF: As a goal setter, what are one or two goals that you have set for yourself for the future?

 

GV: My goal is to find my own way in this new chapter of my life. I recently closed a very important chapter. I want to be loved for what I am, and not for what other people believe is right. I would also like to ride another Dakar in another two or three years.

 

JF: Before we finish our visit today, imagine that there is one person out there that has just been diagnosed with cancer. What would like to say to them?

 

GV: I would say it is okay to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t let these feelings overwhelm you. Every day is the most important race in your life. Every day is a conquest. Remember, you are not a victim of life. Some challenges are only for the ones that are capable of enduring them. You have to prove to yourself that you are capable of beating this disease, even though you don’t feel ready. You cannot always be ready for an unknown challenge, and cancer is an unknown challenge.

 

JF: Well, it certainly is, and those are very wise words coming from someone who has truly walked the walk. Now, there are ways to people to learn more about you online and through social media and is there is anything else you would like to share with us?

 

GV: Thanks everybody for listening to me, and to you, Jim, with my English. I hope my story can help in any way. Every person has a story and every story is always valuable. Every person has something to teach us, so it is very important to remember this in every aspect of our lives.

 

JF: Is there somewhere on social media where people can learn more about you?

 

GV: You can look for me on Facebook or on Instagram as Gianna.Velarde.

 

JF: Gianna, thank you so much for taking the time to share your journey and expertise with us today. You truly have an encouraging story about cancer outcome and continued good health.

 

GV: Thank you, Jim.

 

JF: And for all of you listening to the podcast, please remember that are not alone. We are all a part of a team, and we wish you the best possible outcome with cancer journey, so until next time, take care and we will see you on down the road.

Jim Foster: Hello and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Jim Foster, and on this episode I have the pleasure of introducing a very courageous young woman from Lima, Peru, who not only overcame cancer at a young age, but went on to compete in one of the world’s most difficult and challenging motorcycle races. It’s our hope that you will find her story both informational and inspirational. So please join me in welcoming Gianna Velarde from her home in Lima. Gianna, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Gianna Velarde: Hi, Jim. Hi, everyone, it is really a joy to share my story. I really hope people will learn something from it. This opportunity is a blessing, and thank you very much.

 

JF: Well, thank you, Gianna, and before we get into talking about your cancer journey, we would like to get to know more about you, like where you are from, what you were interested in as a child and what your life was like before you were diagnosed with cancer.

 

GV: I am actually thinking of moving from Lima to Canada to study work. The last two years I have devoted my energy to my business, a motorcycle school for kids, teenagers and adults. My life before cancer was quite different. I was depressed as a teenager. At age 15, that’s a tough age for every human being, and when I was 15, I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t very close to my parents, but the diagnosis actually created a strong bond with my parents, a very strong bond.

 

JF: At what age did you figure something was wrong with your health, and what did you do to learn that it might be cancer?

 

GV: You may remember about ten years ago, the scare with the H1N1 flu? At the schools in Peru, some kids had to go into quarantine for a month, and all that month, I spent it in bed. I was sweating a lot and had to change my clothes many times a night. I lost a lot of weight and had shortness of breath. It was pretty obvious I was getting ill, and then a large lump appeared in my neck, it was very, very big. I learned about it from a friend. We were playing soccer and my friend pointed it out. It was only then that I realized I had this lump, and then my grandma took me to the hospital and I learned I had cancer.

 

JF: What type of cancer were you diagnosed with, and how did you respond to the news?

 

GV: I was diagnosed with lymphoma third stage. At first, I didn’t know what that meant, and the word ‘cancer’ sounded very distant, you know. Then I noticed how people looked at me, with a great deal of pity. That was a very difficult part of my cancer journey.

 

JF: How did you go about determining the best treatment option?

 

GV: Ten years ago, cancer treatment was very limited. Now I know people have more options. But for me, treatment included chemotherapy and radiation therapy, 16 rounds of chemo and 32 rounds of radiation. My hair was falling out, but I never shaved it off, I wasn’t that brave. One of the toughest things I had to endure as losing my hair.

 

JF: I remember from my cancer experience, my hair would come out on my pillow at night. When I woke up there would be all this hair on my pillow.

 

GV: That happened to me a lot. I would wake up and there would be big pieces of hair on the pillow. When I would look in the mirror, I could see the back of my head and lots of missing hair, like an old person, but here I was, 15 years old. It was pretty hard to endure.

 

JF: The good news is, it looks like your hair grew back. As for your treatment, where did that place?

 

GV: I took my cancer treatment at a clinic in Lima, and it took me a year to beat the disease. I had to be hospitalized for the first five chemos, but for the last ones, I was at a clinic. After some of the chemos, I would go to the gym or rid

Episode 6 - Tim Scott - Irvine, California - USA - Survivor - Ocular Melanoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Posted on 3 June, 2020 at 4:00 Comments comments (2)

SHOW NOTES:


Bruce Morton: Hello and welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. I’m your host, Bruce Morton, and on this segment, we have a guest with a compelling story to tell. He is Tim Scott of Irvine, California. He beat ocular melanoma and then non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We hope you will find his story informative and inspirational. Now, here he is. Tim, welcome to Cancer Interviews.


Tim Scott: Thank you for having me, Bruce.

 

BM: Tim, we’d like to start off by getting to know you better. So if you would, tell us where you’re from, what you do for a living and what you like to do with your leisure time.

 

TS: Well, I am from Eugene, Oregon, Tracktown. Grew up there, went to Sheldon High School, then University of Oregon, played on the golf team there. Tried to make the PGA tour, didn’t quite get there, then got into the golf business after that for about a dozen years, working at a couple courses in Portland, then wanted to do something different. I always enjoyed teaching golf, and ended up going back to school, got my MAT from Pacific University in Oregon and became a teacher, a public school teacher for almost 15 years. That was all in Oregon, in Central Oregon, lived in Bend for quite a while. Then we moved down to California, my wife and I. Most of her business was in the Bay Area, so we moved there in 2012, and then in 2019, we moved to Southern California, for another opportunity that she has. I am athletic, was a competitive runner, was a golf pro, don’t play much golf anymore, but I play speed golf, I’ve played speed golf for years, and I like the outdoors and outdoor things. I am signed up for an Ironman Triathlon. That’s about it. I have three kids, two went to the University of Oregon, one lives in Oregon, the other in the Bay Area, and an eleven-year-old son that is here with us.

 

BM: Well, Tim, I have to tell you from personal experience, there are plenty of native Californians who have ended up in Oregon. Not quite as many native Oregonians that move to California. Do you like being in Southern California?

 

TS: I gotta tell ya. We never thought we had to live in California. But here we are, and quite frankly, we’re kinda lovin’ it, so, yeah, we didn’t see that comin’.

 

BM: Now there was a time when cancer was the farthest thing from your mind. Describe if you would, what life was like before you first diagnosed.

 

TS: The timing was incredible. It was 2012. I had finally gotten the golf clubs back. I was 48 years old, and I thought, you know what? I am going to try to make the Champions Tour. So in the fall of 2011, I started getting lessons from a buddy of mine, I all set to stop teaching at the end of the 2012 school year, we were going to move to Phoenix, and literally, the day before I was diagnosed, the next day, my wife was flying down to Phoenix to put an offer on the house. We were going to move to Phoenix, but on April 19, 2012, that was when I was diagnosed.

 

BM: Because everybody’s cancer journey is a little different, sometimes people have some sort of warning that a diagnosis could be coming. It sounds like for you, it was rather sudden.

 

TS: Farthest thing from my mind. I started to, in my right eye, and I don’t know if it was six months before or four months before that, I started to notice if I closed my eye, there was this gray area in the corner. No big deal, I thought, I am getting older and my vision is probably goin’, but as time went on, I noticed, this gray area was getting more and more into my vision. I thought I better get this checked out, I don’t know what it is. So that day before, on April 18, I went into an optometrist. He did some tests and told me he was going to call an ophthalmologist doctor to come over and see me, and he meant “right now”. I thought that was kinda weird. Well, she wasn’t able to come over, but he made an appointment for me to see her the next morning at 10:00. My first reaction was, “I’m a teacher. I can’t miss two days in a row.” But he said I had to go, so I went to this office in Redmond (Oregon), that I’d never been to. My optometrist thought I might have a torn retina, and I heard the ophthalmologist in another room talking to another doctor about a torn retina. And there’s things you have to do, you have to sleep sitting up, and I really hoped I didn’t have a torn retina. Then she came in, looked at my stuff and said I have a type of cancer, ocular melanoma. I really don’t remember what she said after that, but I do remember thinking I had no idea that you could get cancer in your eye. So it was just complete shock, outta left field.

 

BM: This is a type of cancer that might not be as well known as others, so how did that diagnosis manifest itself? Could you not see out of that eye, were you in great pain, physical pain?

 

TS: There’s no pain, but the gray thing growing into my vision was the tumor growing. That’s what it was, into my line of sight. So this was really lucky, because if it doesn’t grow into your line of sight, there’s no pain, no other symptoms. It would just grow and grow and grow, until it’s in your vision, I guess. But mine was in my vision, and that’s why I got it checked out. I got there about 10:00, got home about 10:30, it’s about 20 minutes home. Lori was in the Bay Area was working, Shilo, our three-year-old son, was at daycare, and I was in shock. I went on the Internet and looked up ocular melanoma, as I had no clue what it was. It was just ugly. So I called back because the information kept referring to a small tumor, medium tumor, large tumor, and the statistics on that. So I called back to the doctor, and asked if mine was the small, medium or large tumor? She said “large”, and I am looking at these stats and I am thinking, “Wow. This is not good at all.” So I called Lori, she was in the Bay Area and coming home that night anyhow, and I was thinking how I was going to tell her. So, it was tough.

 

BM: Were you given a range, a best case scenario and a worst case scenario, and if so, what were they?

 

TS: Not really. This is how rare it is. She had been in practice as an ophthalmologist for 15 years and had never seen this. The optometrist had been in business 40 years, I think, and neither of them had ever seen it. They’d heard of it, but had never seen it. What the information said about it online, with a large tumor, at about five years, there is a 40 percent chance of survival, and at ten years, about 30 percent. The ways to treat it include taking the eye out, or they can treat one of two ways with radiation. One is with radiation pellets, in which you wear a mask and they shoot ‘em into your eyes. I didn’t do that, I didn’t want the mask and I am claustrophobic. The other way is called brachytherapy and what they do is they take a dime-sized thing and put radiation pellets on it. They put you out and basically twist your eye around, they put this radiation thing on your eye and leave it on five days. You’re all patched up, you are radioactive, you are not supposed to be around people, and then after five days, they take it out. I did it at the KCI Institute in Portland.

 

BM: You said there was no pain at the outset. But what about the treatment? Was there any sort of pain that accompanied that?

 

TS: You know, it wasn’t too bad after they put the pellets in and I woke up, but by Day Four, I wearing this SOS pad, and it wasn’t pain, it was just this scratchy kind of feeling. So they took it out and you’re swollen up for three or four weeks, but it wasn’t that big a deal. I basically cannot see out of my right eye. I can see just a little bit of the corner of my right eye, but that’s it. And I lost depth perception. You don’t realize it until you don’t have it. There are still a few things that I struggle with on depth perception. In terms of treatment, they give you a PET scan, too, to see if it has metastasized. What I found out after researching it some more is that there are three types of tumors, 1-A, 1-B and 2. They classify it through the genetic material. The Class 1-A tumors have a survival rate of about 95 percent. It’s great. The 1-B tumors have a survival rate of about 80 percent. The Class 2 tumors have a survival rate of about 30 percent. My tumor was Class 1-B. So when I got that call, I was hoping they weren’t saying Class 2, please be 1-A, because Class 2 numbers just aren’t good. So I was 1-B, which was way better than it could have been.

 

BM: So, if you didn’t use of that eye, I am guessing there were a number of things you couldn’t do, one of them being that of driving a car.

 

TS: Well, I’m drivin’ a car. I do have to get a special license, and do a couple extra things when they test, but I have to do them to pass. So I have the blind spot, so I always have to be actively looking, but I have always been active, and now I have to be because I have a blind spot. Every once in a while, there will be somebody or something, and I just won’t see it, so that happens occasionally, but more with people than when I am driving.

 

BM: You had mentioned at the outset your quest for information, but outside of your health care team, was there anybody who gave you sage advice during this process?

 

TS: Not the first month and a half, because it’s rare, nobody’s had it, nobody’s heard of it. So what I did find was a conference, an ocular melanoma conference in Philadelphia in June, after being diagnosed in April and undergoing the procedure in May. I learned a lot there, and I discovered a Facebook page for ocular melanoma survivors and learned a lot on that. What I found out was there is the genetic piece. What I initially learned online turned out to be not that accurate. It was dated and there is now way better information. If you googled ‘ocular melanoma’ today, I don’t know what you would get, but in 2012, there was some dated information, and it was pretty scary.

 

BM: With the passage of time, you got the upper hand on this. How did that feel physically and emotionally?

 

TS: Physically, I was fine in a week or two after they took the patch off. I didn’t go back to teaching until three weeks after that. I felt pretty good, I was fatigued, probably from the radiation, but I didn’t hurt. I had a sponsor, someone to sponsor my shot at the Champions Tour, and even though I had lost of my vision in one eye, they stood behind me, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I had an eye patch over one eye and just played with one eye. So I was back playing in late May or early June, and I was pretty much back to normal. If ocular melanoma metastasizes, about 90 percent of the time it goes to the liver, so it’s no good because there is no cure; but if it doesn’t, you have lost your eyesight and that’s it.

 

BM: I’ve never played golf, but I am a former runner, and I am thinking if you’re a runner and you’re out there on a trail, or you’re running competitively, running with one eye would be no picnic.

 

TS: It’s not that bad. I just keep my head on a swivel, I try to be aware of my surroundings. That part is not that bad. The worst part was with the undulating greens and the lack of depth perception. That part of my game just never came back.

 

BM: Meanwhile as we move along, your health sadly took a turn for the worse. Tell us what happened next.

 

TS: Totally different. Ocular melanoma by the end of June 2012, my eye was pretty much gone, but I felt fine. That was pretty much over. I do surveillance; CT scans every six months to make the cancer hasn’t anywhere. Then around Thanksgiving 2015, I started getting this pain in my lower back. It was nothing, I thought. I am throwing the ball with my kid, and still running. But it just kind of got worse and more painful and a little more widespread, pretty quickly. Within a week I am taking Advil twice a day, and within two weeks, I was taking four Advil every four hours. I didn’t know what was going on and so I went in to urgent care. They told me they could see me in six days, and I said I have got to do something about this now. So I got some painkillers that worked a little bit better, but not really. Then one night I just couldn’t sleep and I just had to go to the emergency room to find out what this is. So I went in there and they did a CT scan, which revealed nothing wrong. Well, that’s good, I guess, but there is something in there, something’s happening inside my body here. That was on a Saturday. On Monday I called my ocular melanoma specialist and said I have this incredible pain near my liver. So he got me in on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and he said he was going to schedule me as soon as he could for a PET scan. So on the Monday after Thanksgiving, I was scheduled to go in, but until then I was just living on Advil. I got in there on Monday for a PET scan and I just couldn’t do it. They put this liquid in your body for about 45 minutes, then they put you in this machine and it takes about an hour to do your whole body, but I couldn’t do it because of the claustrophobia. So they did a CT scan instead, and here we are driving home from UCSF and 30 minutes later while I am in the car, and they said they saw nothing wrong. So now I have two CT scans that don’t show anything, and I am in intense pain. So the next morning I am at home doin’ whatever I’m doin’ and I get another from UCSF and it was the doctor from the day before, and he said, after re-examining, they said they had found a tumor. It was actually an enlarged lymph node is what they said. It was right under my belly button, but the pain was in my lower back, which is where they had been looking. I asked them if it was cancer, and they said, yeah, it was cancer, and I thought, “Oh, my God. Here we go again.” So that was the start of that one.

 

BM: I can’t imagine what it would be like to get this bad news twice, and I would think emotionally, mentally, that would put you at a crossroads. Either getting this bad news a second time could make you crumble, because you have already gone through this once, or after going through this a first time resulting in your redoubling your resolve?

 

TS: I think both, and it was so different. I had no pain the first time with the ocular melanoma, there was no pain, it was kinda done after two months, you’re just hopin’ it never comes back. With this, this was intense, life-altering pain. At the same time, the cancer was not in the liver, we were happy about that. It wouldn’t be good if it were the ocular melanoma metastasizing, so that was positive. They thought it was lymphoma, but here we were going into the holidays, so we couldn’t get treated. So we made two trips to the hospital. The first was for pain management. Lori said I can’t keep taking Advil like this, and I was taking Tylenol as well, but if I didn’t take the painkillers, I would be on the ground rolling around. That pain, nothing else had ever come close to it. So they put me on some opioids, Oxycontin and all that stuff. So I was finally treated after Christmas. December was just kind of a drug-induced haze. But I guess I did have some resolve. Once you get through the initial shock, then it’s like what are you going to do? Out of two options, I am not going to give up. I am not going to just throw in the towel, or whatever. You just try to find the best care you can. My wife, Lori, was phenomenal, because I really wasn’t in shape because I was so drugged up. She got me in with a great oncologist at UCSF, and I started getting treatment in early January 2016. The first part you have to be in the hospital for five days, and after that there were about six rounds of it, lasting until about April.

 

BM: Tim, you mentioned treatment options for the melanoma. What, if any, were your treatment options, or was there only one option for treatment the NHL?

 

TS: There were two different chemo regimes. The only one that I took was called R-Epoch. The other one, I can’t think of it, but it is more widely used. My oncologist said chances for effective treatment were better with R-Epoch than the other one. With the amount of pain, it had to start soon because there was no surgery option. It was dose-adjusted, so they come up a dosage for the first time. It is five days on, 16 days off. If your blood count is okay with the first, then they up the dose for the second time. My oncologist and two others said each time they up the dosage, that’s good news. By the end of April, early May, I was done, but it is unbelievable how much it takes out of you.

 

BM: What could do and what could you not do?

 

TS: The first round I was in the hospital. They have a program in which you can go in and get a new chemo bag, and I said let’s do that because I do want to go in the hospital and make repeated stays for five days. So I would drive in to San Francisco, get my bag chemo bag replenished and drive home. Then I had a great friend who sometimes took me to the hospital, but when I had bag replenished, it was so nice to be able to stay at home, sleep at home and not be at the hospital six different times for five days. There was a lot I could do, you just don’t feel like it. You have no sense of taste. You don’t feel like eating, and nothing tastes good. Then carrying around the chemo bag had its own set of challenges. In the 16-day periods in which I was off chemo, after five or six days, it didn’t feel so bad; but each new dosage was higher than the previous one. When the chemo dosages were done, there were sores in my mouth and I fell asleep on the couch, which I never do. You just don’t feel like you are ever going to feel good again.

 

BM: Doctors will say chemo is unpleasant, but it is necessary to kill the cancer. Do you now know where they’re coming from when they say that?

 

TS: Oh yeah. I mean what I had, it really knocked me down. Physically, I mean I used to be a runner, and I would try to walk a quarter mile, and I could barely do it. And mentally, you ask yourself, “Am I ever going to feel good again?” It’s hard to see three months down the road, and all the while you really don’t know if this treatment is going to do the trick. The oncologist told me the first day about 70 percent of the time, this works with the cancer you have; but 30 percent of the time, it doesn’t. You did get that last PET scan until like four weeks after the chemo, and the PET scan lets you know if the treatment was successful, so waiting those four weeks is difficult. Because I didn’t like the claustrophobia, they gave me a general anesthetic. But the PET scan came back clean.

 

BM: Going through all this, you must have had some level of helplessness, a feeling of being out of control. What was your source of strength?

 

TS: My family, my parents, they were living close by, my wife was phenomenal, she was such a support for me. You know when I was doing the opioids in December, I was taking them every four hours, and throughout the night or it would just get me. She would set the alarm, she would take care of me, really. That was a great source of strength. My kids, too. You just fight through it, even though you can’t see the other side sometimes.

 

BM: You’d mentioned Lori and how she helped out. Could you elaborate a bit on what she did, not just in a medicinal way, but in an emotional way, to keep you going?

 

TS: She did a ton. And she had just started a job in the summer of 2015, five months before I was diagnosed, as a regional manager. She had a ton on her plate. Now this happens, and I am somewhat incapacitated. She understood when I didn’t want to talk, I mean, my mouth is killing me with all these sores in it. I mean, I just want to lay down and watch TV. And if I was having a bad day, and there were plenty of those, I could cry on her shoulder, which was difficult on her, too. I was homeschooling Shilo for his year in first grade and I am all laid up with chemo all this time and he did great through the whole thing. It was tough.

 

BM: When did you sense some sort of indicator that things were trending in a good direction, and how did that feel?

 

TS: Once I got the good result from the PET scan, and I was starting to feel better. I would be driving with Shilo and we would pass a runner and I would say, “I’m gonna be out there.” So we went to the track near my house and we ran a mile. I ran it in 11 minutes, 30 seconds, and the next day I was so sore. In mid-July, we went up to Sunriver in Oregon for vacation, and we did a couple of nine-mile hikes, at altitude. I bounced back pretty quickly. I wasn’t at 100 percent, but I’d say I was at 80 percent. In September, I was racing again, and close to running the times I was running the year before. It came back fairly quickly. You know, April, May were particularly rough, but you could tell it was getting better. The mouth sores were going away, and that taste that accompanies chemo was going away, so there was light at the end of the tunnel.

 

BM: So how did it feel to be able to eat found again?

 

TS: Great! During the treatment, the only thing that sounded good to me was Taco Bell, like three tacos, just inhale them, and I never eat Taco Bell, but it was great at the time.

 

BM: So you eventually got past cancer. How would you describe the feeling of triumph that came with getting past this?

 

TS: There’s that feeling with both of them, but way more with the lymphoma because that seven or eight months of life being interrupted. The melanoma is still kind of scary, but it’s kinda over. As for the clean PET scan, it was nice, but you don’t feel it’s ever in the past. I go for surveillance for these things, and then I feel something somewhere and I say, “Ooo, what’s that?” And I don’t think that will ever go away. I see both sides to this, and I don’t want to say it’s a ‘fight,’ but my older brother, when all this was going on, he died in 2015 of cancer, and he fought with everything he had, but it was too much. I don’t like the connotation that you didn’t ‘fight hard enough,’ if you die, if you lose to it. I don’t think about battling cancer that much, unless something is bothering me, that makes me think it might be a symptom of something. Otherwise, I don’t really think about it that much anymore.

 

BM: So, at this point, Tim, is there anything that you and Lori and Shilo do periodically to celebrate the outcome of your journey?

TS: We celebrate it all the time just by lovin’ life, really. My eight-year anniversary of OM diagnosis was a week ago. Some years we talk about what that day was like, Lori and I will do that. We didn’t this year. You know, around Thanksgiving, Christmas, we think about the lymphoma anniversary, but we don’t do anything specifically. We just celebrate being alive, and doin’ our thing.

 

BM: The reason for establishing Cancer Interviews was to give back. We’re certainly not alone in that sentiment. Would you talk about the fundraising you have done to exact some of your own giving back?

 

TS: Once I was past ocular melanoma, I was thinking how powerless I felt at times, but I asked myself what could I do to help others, I had to do something. Like I’d mentioned before, I’d played speed golf, and so I thought, we’ll have a speed golf tournament. So I went to Bandon Dunes, a golf resort on the Oregon Coast. They have five courses there. I’ll play all five courses in less than five hours, and raise money. That raised about $18,000. I thought that’s cool, then I thought there were others who might want to do this. So we came up with the Napa (California) Speed Golf Ultra to fight ocular melanoma. So in 2015, we had eight teams, and we played for 12 hours to see how many holes you could play, and we raised about $35,000. We sought to do the same thing in 2016, but the tournament fell in April after I was already diagnosed with lymphoma, so even though I had no energy, we went ahead with the tournament and raised about $45,000 that year. Since then I have done a couple other things, including a 50K on Mt. Diablo in California, which raised $10,000 and then in 2019, we raised $25,000 for my oncologist at UC Davis for the lymphoma. He’s developing a treatment for lymphoma, which would be phenomenal if they could do that. Y’know, just trying to help out.

 

BM: And what’s the feeling that accompanies all this helping out?

 

TS: It feels good, because while you are being treated, you feel kinda powerless about the whole thing. You know, the $100,000 I’ve raised, in the grand scheme, isn’t much. It’s a drop in the bucket. However, if everybody thought that way, we’d never raise any money for these causes. It’s like voting. Does my one vote mean a lot? Probably not, but if everybody felt that way, then nobody would vote. And if I do something, then it gives somebody else a chance to help out.

 

BM: All right, Tim, we’re about to wrap up, but just want to remind you somebody watching right now is someone who was recently diagnosed. If from your experience, there is some bit of sage advice ro information you can pass along to that individual, what would it be?

 

TS: Couple things. Going onto the Internet and reading what you can, that’s something people think about right away. There’s a lot of information out there, but remember the cancer you have has not yet been in your body. Everybody’s different. The statistics are there for a reason. Some cancers are worse than other cancers, but whatever cancer it is, it has never been in your body. The stats are what they are, but in your specific case, that doesn’t mean it’s the end, if it’s a real bad outlook. For OM, I got that initial outlook and thought this is really awful. Then I found out this is 1-B, and I think, hey, not bad, and I felt pretty good. If somebody is watching this, I would just say if you want the information and don’t mind seeing a really bad diagnosis, go ahead; if you are not comfortable seeing, seek other ways to improve your situation through diet, exercise, fine, but don’t get caught in the trap where you’re seeing you have a ten percent chance of survival. It hasn’t been in your body, you just never know. And there’s breakthroughs all the time.

 

BM: Okay, Tim, thanks very much for sharing your story. We were hoping it would be informative and inspirational, and I believe it has checked both boxes. Thanks for sharing your story. We are all better for having heard it.

 

TS: Thanks, Bruce. Thanks for having me.

 

BM: Remember, we are all in this together, and that Together We Achieve More. So, take care and we’ll y’all on down the road.

Episode 5 - Elke - Survivor - Invasive Lobular Breast Carcinoma - Golden, Colorado - USA

Posted on 1 June, 2020 at 3:00 Comments comments (0)


SHOW NOTES:

 

For all the resources and links to helpful information referenced in today's episode, please scroll down to the bottom of this interview transcript. Thank you!

 

Jim Foster: This is the Cancer Interviews podcast. Today we have an amazing guest with us, who is a breast cancer survivor, and I am super excited to have her share her journey with us. There is one previous episode, known as Episode Zero, which is an introduction, with an overview of the Cancer Interviews podcast. So please check that out, if you haven’t already. Please note that we discuss our guests’ stories only and we do not provide medical advice. We suggest you consult a licensed medical doctor for all your medical concerns. After this episode, don’t forget to go to CancerInterviews.com, where you can get our Cancer Quick Start guide and Caregiver Quick Start guide, along with tons of other resources to get you through your cancer journey. Hope you enjoy the show.

 

JF: Welcome, my friends and teammates. We’re glad to have you with us. We want you to know that you and your journey are the sole reason for our podcasts. We refer to ourselves as “Team Journey,” as we share the cancer journey together. I am pleased to introduce our guest, Elke. Are you ready to share the journey?

 

Elke: I am, thanks for having me.

 

JF: Elke had breast cancer, and has been in remission for three and a half years. She lives in Golden, Colorado, enjoys riding her bike, hiking in the mountains and playing with her kitties. We can all learn from hearing what Elke has to say, so please join me in welcoming Elke to the show. We’re happy to have you here. We have given a brief introduction of you, but now we would like to hear more about you, where you are from, and what your life was like before being diagnosed with cancer.

 

E: I grew up in Germany in a very small village in the Black Forest. I am the second of four sisters. I met my husband while attending the University of Heidelberg. After I graduated, we moved to Florida. I enjoyed living in St. Petersburg. We lived in a neighborhood where almost everybody was between 60 and 80 years old. My best friend in the neighborhood passed away from breast cancer, so that was my first encounter with cancer. We came to Colorado in 1998, and I have been living in Golden ever since.

 

JF: What happened in your daily life to cause you to think something might be wrong with you?

 

E: Actually, I had no symptoms. I went for my annual mammography. Then I received a letter in the mail asking me to come in for another appointment, which sought to exclude any concerns.

 

JF: Was that the test that ultimately led to your diagnosis?

 

E: Yes.

 

JF: What were your feelings and emotions when you learned you had been diagnosed?

 

E: I had received a similar letter before and what happened was they checked me for a lump and it was benign. So I expected the same thing to happen this time. But this time I had to go in for additional tests and a biopsy that led to my diagnosis.

 

JF: And what was your official diagnosis?

 

E: Invasive Lobular Breast Carcinoma.

 

JF: What led to the treatment you selected?

 

E: I have two nurses in the family, so I consulted them first, plus a friend who had had the same diagnosis a few years earlier. I had to make a decision between a unilateral or a bilateral mastectomy. At first, I considered a lumpectomy, but that was ruled out because of the size of my tumor. I also consulted a couple of patients that were my friends, but what swayed me to have the bilateral mastectomy was an x-ray technician who was much younger than I who told me that if I have only one breast removed I will still have to have mammographies performed on the other breast, and I thought, why not be done with this, and I chose to have the double mastectomy.

 

JF: That sounds like a tough decision. Did you undergo the treatment in the town where you lived at the time?

 

E: I had to go to Denver, then spend a week in intensive care, then rest at home for a month. That was my treatment.

 

JF: So were you working at the time?

 

E: I was working until my surgery, then I was off for a month. Then I went back to work.

 

JF: Did you have family or friends close by that could be there for moral support?

 

E: My family lives in Germany, but I had support from friends who live in Golden. They offered to take me to the hospital.

 

JF: In addition to your procedure, did you have to go through radiation or chemo?

 

E: I expected to have chemo, but my oncologist explained that my cancer does not have a different outcome with chemo. So, the estrogen blockers was the prescribed treatment.

 

JF: Did you have anyone you could rely on as a caregiver?

 

E: I had friends to take me to appointments, and some actually stayed in attendance in the exam room with the doctor. I had a lot of support from friends, and talking to my sisters helped as well. Even though they are far away, we talked about what surgery to pursue and what steps to take.

 

JF: That’s wonderful to have that support in that time. One question our audience likes is how the procedure affected your hair. Do your procedure cause you to lose your hair?

 

E: No, because chemo was not part of my treatment. I was also disappointed because a sister of mine had been diagnosed months earlier with ovarian cancer, and she had to undergo very heavy chemo treatment. I was also disappointed that I didn’t require chemo because my sister would e-mail me with the latest types of scarves she was trying out. I wanted to have that same kind of treatment so I could empathize more with her and be in the same boat.

 

JF: That you cared enough about her that you wanted to join her in that experience, say a lot. It also underscores that every type of cancer is different and every treatment is different. As for your treatment, were there any side effects that caused problems?

 

E: Other than losing a major body part, the medicine I am still on makes my joints ache and it is not very pleasant. The first medicine I was on made me confused and dizzy, so we changed the prescription, but that’s pretty minor compared to what other patients have to endure. I did have to take these estrogen blockers for five years.

 

JF: I hope the pain will decrease once you get past that milestone. Now did you have insurance to cover your medical bills?

 

E: Luckily I have insurance through my employer. Other than the co-pays, I was covered.

 

JF: During your journey, what was your low point and how did you deal with that?

 

E: My lowest point was when I learned my sister’s cancer was terminal and that she would not survive. We had sort of lived this experience together, and she was diagnosed one month before I was diagnosed, so that was very sad to know that she wouldn’t make it.

 

JF: I have those same feelings, as I have friends who were diagnosed about the same time as I. There are times when I wonder why I made it and they didn’t. It’s a very heavy burden to carry and I can only imagine how that makes you feel. How did you find the strength to overcome that?

 

E: Actually it was another sister of mine who helped. When we learned my older sister didn’t have much longer to live, we arranged to all meet in Switzerland. We rented a house by a lake. We all got together and had a very fun time. We hiked, my older sister could still do everything, she was very athletic and lived in a healthy way, so we spent two weeks in Switzerland together, celebrating us, and that was the gift my sisters gave ourselves.

 

JF: Other than learning you had gone into remission, is there anything positive about your cancer journey that sticks out?

 

E: It was that trip with my sisters, that was the best thing.

 

JF: On the flip side, was there a setback during your journey and if so, how did you deal with that?

 

E: I have not experienced a setback yet.

 

JF: Was there a time in which you felt you had overcome the biggest part of the challenge?

 

E: I think it was when my oncologist told me I no longer had to come in every six months, and that it was okay to make appointments once a year. That was the biggest leap forward.

 

JF: How did that make you feel?

 

E: Much better because I am sort of a fatalist because that time I saw the oncologist, I was bracing myself for bad news. So, I was just relieved.

 

JF: What have you been doing with your life since then? Is there any change in your day-to-day routine?

 

E: Just getting up in the morning, having a cup of coffee, riding my bike to work, that’s a gift.

 

JF: It sure is.

 

E: I have a heightened sense of awareness of little things. I’ll stop and take a picture of a flock of geese in the morning or a deer that crosses my path. You don’t take things for granted so easily anymore.

 

JF: What are some of your hopes and dreams for the future?

 

E: Just to be able to live long enough to get to retirement.

 

JF: Do you have plans to stay in the Golden area, or would you want to go back to Germany?

 

E: Germany for visits, but I like Golden. I like Colorado.

 

JF: What words of wisdom would you share with folks who have just learned they have been diagnosed with cancer?

 

E: Every person’s experience is unique. There is no recipe. You have to discover what makes you feel good. You might want to join a support group, as my sister in Germany did. Some people don’t want to talk about it, not with just anybody. They might prefer one or two select people they are close to. That was probably my experience.

 

JF: What was the scariest thing about your cancer experience?

 

E: The thought of not being prepared for death, not having my affairs in order, and leaving my cats behind.

 

JF: How did you overcome that fear?

 

E: I have not overcome it.

 

JF: What would you consider an accomplishment during this part of your journey?

 

E: Being here. Being able to talk about this. That’s a huge accomplishment. I want to add I had wonderful surgeons. I want to salute the wonderful team at Kaiser in Denver. I really didn’t think I could live to talk about it, so I really want to give credit to my surgeons.

 

JF: What’s the best piece of advice you received?

 

E: I talked a lot to a friend of mine in Florida. I felt very comfortable talking to her, but I cannot pinpoint any one piece of advice. Talking to this friend was important, and she kept assuring me she came through it and that I will, too. That made me feel very hopeful. Hearing from another person who has had the same kind of cancer is the best advice I can give.

 

JF: If you had this to do all over again, is there anything you would have done differently?

 

E: Yes, I would have taken more time off from work. I could have taken more time, but I was out for a month after a 12-hour surgery.

 

JF: Before we sign off, do you have any words of wisdom?

 

E: Just take one step at a time. Do what feels best for you.

 

JF: Elke, we are so happy for you, and wish you the best.

 

E: It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

JF: Thanks, Elke. And please don’t forget, you are not alone, and we wish you the best possible outcome from your cancer journey. Until next time, please take care and we’ll see you on down the road.

 

LINKS TO RESOURCES AND INFORMATION REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE:

 

 

 

Website: www.CancerInterviews.com - click here

 

 

 

YouTube: www.YouTube.com/cancerinterviews - click here

 

 

 

Newsletter: My Team Journey Newsletter - click here

 

 

 

Facebook: Private Facebook Group - click here

 

 

 

Guidebook: Caregiver Quick Start Guide - click here

 

 

 

Guidebook: Patient Quick Start Guide - click here

 

 

 

Tools: Tools and Resources - click here

 

 

 

Shop: Products, Books and Services - click here


Episode 4 - Greg Oberst - Covington, Washington - USA - Cancer Patient Caregiver

Posted on 29 May, 2020 at 1:00 Comments comments (0)

SHOW NOTES:

 

For all the resources and links to helpful information referenced in today's episode, please scroll down to the bottom of this interview transcript. Thank you!

 

Bruce Morton: Hello and welcome. I’m Bruce Morton, and this is the Cancer Interviews podcast. Our guest is Greg Oberst of Covington, Washington. Greg found himself in the role of caregiver after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Greg, we look forward to your insights and we hope they can be informative and inspirational for someone in a similar situation with a loved on who is battling cancer. So now, let’s get started, and Greg, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Greg Oberst: Thank you, Bruce. Thanks for having me.

 

BRUCE: Greg, first off, provide a snapshot of your life, tell us the story of your life, where you are from and what you have done, up until the time you became a caregiver.

 

GREG: Well, I grew up in Oregon on the Oregon Coast, first 18 years of my life, then left the coast to go to college in Eugene, Oregon, spent four years doing that. After that, continued to work and live in Eugene, in radio, as I had majored in broadcasting and telecommunication in college, and started a broadcasting career while I was in college, picked that up and spent ten years working in Eugene, and then ultimately to Seattle, Washington and have been in radio, television, marketing, advertising work there since then.

 

BRUCE: Within all of that, there was a very blessed day in 1989 when you got married.

 

GREG: That’s right. How could I forget that? I did along the way meet my wife in Eugene, then we moved to Seattle and got married. And while we are talking about major life accomplishments, we did have a daughter, Olivia, ten years later in 1999, then settled down in Covington, Washington, kind of on the southern edge of suburban Seattle, toward the Cascade foothills.

 

BRUCE: Now this was great life path for you, but it did eventually take a turn for the worse. Can you recall when you first had an inkling that Linda might be facing a serious health issue?

 

GREG: Yes. Linda has always been very good about visiting her primary care physicians, obstetricians and other assorted doctors through her life, keeping up with her health, and I knew on one particular day in 2013 that she had a mammogram to attend, and like many of her other mammograms over the years, I didn’t give it much thought, thought it would be nothing, I‘m sure, thought it would be negative, I’m sure, so I had to admit to some surprise when I got a call from her and she was frantic and in tears, I was at the office where I worked in downtown Seattle at the time. She was really broken up and I was wondering what it was she was trying to tell me. But the words she could put together through the mild hysteria, I got impression the mammogram didn’t go well, and they saw something in the imagery produced, and it wasn’t good. So she was just getting in her car when she called me, and she wasn’t that far from downtown where her doctor’s office was, and we met downtown. At first, we didn’t say much, then she explained in a little more detail what happened, and what they saw in the mammogram. So that was the first blunt instrument of that experience, getting that call after the mammogram and meeting up with her and getting some information I could react to, and understand the situation a little bit better,

 

BRUCE: Linda had major changes lying ahead. What sort of changes did you anticipate for yourself?

 

GREG: That’s a great question because now you have to think what’s your role going to be, going forward. One thing I quickly discovered was that the last thing Linda wanted to hear was that, ‘Everything was going to be okay.’ As guys, as husbands, we tend to want to fix things right away, for our family and our spouses. In this case, for her was this false sense of security. She didn’t want that. She only wanted the truth, what was real and what was factual, and to deal with that. So, ‘Honey, it’ll be okay,’ was just off the table, we weren’t going to go there with that. What we were going to go with was what we knew and go on a fact-finding mission, so my role, as I quickly found out, was to help her in that regard and be her partner in this fact-finding mission, and there was a lot of ground to cover. It’s true that another set of eyes, caregiver eyes, is always best. It’s unfortunate when someone is facing a major medical procedure, a surgical procedure, has to go it alone, there’s so much information, it’s nearly impossible to do by yourself, I don’t care how smart you are, to take in all that information and filter it so that it can make sense and is appropriate. So I knew my role going forward was to be her partner in fact-finding, gathering and understanding the information, asking the right questions, figuring out which questions to ask, taking it back to her and the two of us working together to figure out the facts and what are the options going forward, what’s the timeline and that sort of thing. Sounds kind of obvious, I mean, of course, you want be there, but it becomes critically important to solidify that plan and when you are in there with that doctor, getting that information and listening to it, that you are really paying attention. One thing we did, with the doctor’s blessing, was to record every doctor’s session; but even with the two of us listening, we would still miss some things, so it became very handy to have a recording of every conversation to go back and reference, along with our notes. That became a tool along the way. I recorded every conversation with every doctor, every step of the way.

 

BRUCE: It sounds as though every step of your game plan was formulated pretty much on your own. You didn’t hear from another person who was a caregiver, but did hear from a great deal of health care professionals. Was there any other external source learned from to aid with Linda’s journey?

 

GREG: Well, the idea of a second set of eyes and ears in the doctor’s office isn’t new for anybody besides the patient going in, I was certainly aware of that. I am sure there was some level of Internet research I engaged in somewhere along the way. I don’t recall reading any books or anything like that, or frankly, getting any advice from loved ones in similar situations. Her family was very supportive, hers and mine, throughout the whole process, and I’d been through enough other medical situations with Linda. The birth of our child wasn’t exactly an easy process. This was a little reminiscent of that procedure. Everybody was ultimately healthy and fine after the birth of our daughter, but it was a difficult and rocky road. So we had little bit of experience in this arena, how to listen to doctors, how to listen as a partnership, how to decipher information, so, now that I think about it, maybe that experience helped us when Linda got her diagnosis for cancer. So maybe we were a bit better prepared than others couples facing a similar experience.

 

BRUCE: So once you formulated this game plan and what you were going to do, what were some of its highlights, things you had to do that you had never done before.

 

GREG: Cancer treatment is pretty daunting, and there are so many layers to it. When it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be one doctor, but a whole army of doctors, oncologists, surgeons, reconstructive surgery technicians and surgeons, it was just an endless line of doctors. So we could see that pathway lining up early on. We had to get ready for this, knowing it wasn’t going to be a quick process. There are steps to the process, and they are going to all take time, and we realized this wasn’t going to be done in days or weeks, more like a year, then there would be the aftercare. If you’re successful, you’re monitoring those followup visits and mammograms and the like. Again, there was the realization that this was going to be a long term situation and something that was going to be with us for a while. That was a bit of an eye opener, but that was the reality of the situation.

 

BRUCE: Okay, there was that team of health care professionals. Did their treatment include home visits?

 

GREG: No. It turned out all of Linda’s visits ended up being in a hospital setting or a clinical setting. We were able to avoid the home care layer.

 

BRUCE: But there were a number of followup visits, and spearheading that transportation workload would be you. What was that like as you tried to mix it with your full time job?

 

GREG: It’s tricky. At that time we had a teenager in high school as well and not quite a driver yet. So managing her schedule, my schedule and Linda’s appointments was a challenge. Early on, Linda was able to drive to many of her appointments and it was just a matter of my meeting her there at the office. We tried to avoid at all costs her going in there alone, and largely we were able to do that. So, pre-surgery, it was just a case of me breaking away from work to meet her at this doctor or that doctor. When we got to the surgery layer of the treatment, that was different. That required time off for both of us, of course. We were quite fortunate to be working for companies that were very accommodating to our situation. We had the time off and we had people willing to cover for us throughout the whole process, so that’s where the wider support network starts to come into play, where your place of employment and family members step up. And then we had friends, if Olivia needed a ride to this event or that, to school and back, we had a nice network of nearby friends who were ready to take Olivia where ever she needed us to be if we weren’t able to do that. So that’s definitely a thing, having kids and transportation involved, but in our case, the support was there.

 

BRUCE: That’s the transportation piece, but the next piece I want to bring up is one that affects some, but not all cancer patients. Sometimes cancer patients have certain dietary needs. Did that apply in Linda’s case?

 

GREG: Not initially. In Linda’s case, she was diagnosed with non-invasive Lobular Carcinoma in Situ, in a very early stage. That it was very isolated at the time and very early and very treatable was a good thing and in her treatment pathway we were able to avoid any kind of chemo and radiation treatments. Those are the kind of treatments where you probably start to think about diet more than she had to, aside from eating healthy and eating the right things and not doing the sorts of things that would challenge one’s body. I think we tried to eat right, but there were no other dietary considerations.

 

BRUCE: So you’re a caregiver, you have a full time job, but there’s also the matter of keeping the house clean, there’s the matter of paying the bills and there’s the matter of dealing with the insurance provider to make sure Linda is getting the proper coverage. That’s a lot of balls in the air. How were you able to stay on top of all this?

 

GREG: The support I had was very helpful. I’d mentioned it earlier. It can’t be understated. I am trying to support Linda as best I can throughout the whole process; but there were also people there to support me and Linda as well in other ways. She needed support at her office so she could get away. I needed the same kind of support at my office, which was absolutely there every step of the way. And then we had friends and neighbors who would just pop out of the woodwork and show up at our doorstep with big, giant plates of food so we wouldn’t have to cook. Around the time of the surgery, I rarely had to cook. That was just a beautiful thing. At the same time, there is a limit. People want to be supportive, but at the same time, the proper amount of distance is important, too. So we kept the support limited to the front door. A party at our house just wasn’t gonna happen. We weren’t in a position to host people.

 

BRUCE: This was a lengthy process. Did your caregiving go through any sort of evolution? Was there anything you did near the end you didn’t do near the beginning?

 

GREG: Yes, I think so. I was doing it a lot better. Because there are so many layers and so many doctors and so many therapists, at first it feels a bit uneven and awkward, but as you get into it, it almost becomes the like a job. You start to get the drill, you start to get the routine a little better, and you’re able to anticipate what’s next, based on your experience. So I could say at the end, I was a better caregiver, simply because of the experience. Filing away all the knowledge, everything starts to become easier, even the medical terminology. Some doctors are better than others when it comes to speaking in layman’s terms, while others drown you in medical jargon; but after a while, that medical jargon became less foreign. And then, along the way, there was a lot of individual research Linda and I were doing to look up what other experiences people have had and what pathways they took. So, the more information, the better. We got better at the fact-finding as we went along. As mentioned, I recorded every appointment and get better and better at transcribing the text of these appointments. This gave us printed pages of what we’d heard, so we could go back and see if we’d missed anything, so we could look at it again and review. It becomes businesslike and you have to treat it with that sort of efficiency. You need to be efficient at your job and you have efficient in this environment as well.

 

BRUCE: A person who is part of this story, of your journey and Linda’s is your teenage daughter. How did she figure into this, and to some degree, did you find yourself being a caregiver for her?

 

GREG: She was a consideration in all this, and the first thing we had to do was figure out how to break the news to her. She was just getting to start her freshman year in high school. That was a dicey time for any teenager. There’s lots of apprehension and nervousness, not to mention biological consideration. Just an awful time in her life for something like this to happen. We didn’t tell her initially about the diagnosis, mostly because we were trying to get all the information we could. In many cancer diagnosis situations, you get the information slowly. In Linda’s case, you get the mammogram, then you get the biopsy. Well, the biopsy takes ten days to two weeks to come back. Then you get the call. That was the worst time of this whole process, waiting for the biopsy results after the mammogram to precede the diagnosis. So we didn’t say anything to Olivia right away. We had a vacation planned to the Oregon Coast, so we went ahead with that. For Linda and I, it was a bittersweet vacation because we knew within a day or two of our return, we would be getting the biopsy results. So when we got the results, we met with an oncologist to figure out a path forward. Shortly after that, we sat Olivia down to give her the news. It was the last thing she was expecting to hear, of course. I’ll never forget the moment. She was speechless and didn’t know how to respond. All she could think to do was get up and go hug her mother, and that’s all she needed to do at that point in time. I was very proud of her. As she started to get her arms around the situation in the coming days, then she started to ask more questions. I let her be involved in the process as much as she wanted to be, short of coming along to the doctor and listening in on the exam room conversation. She did become attentive in terms of wanting to know how a visit went. We then were able to filter the information to provide a layman’s description of how the appointment went. Going forward, we were very truthful all along the way, holding nothing back. We also warned her there would be times in which we wouldn’t be able to take her here or there, and became proactive in arranging her own transportation through her network of friends. I also told her, without success, that I would like more help in her terms of cooking and cleaning. She was, after all, still a young teenager. But it wasn’t a huge issue, especially when all the food started showing up.

 

BRUCE: Well, Greg, we’re happy to report that you got through this and Linda got through this, and that Linda got the upper hand on her cancer. What was your reaction when you got this outstanding news?

 

GREG: Linda’s cancer was at an early stage in one breast, so her choice was a mastectomy, and we knew that the chance of recovery was very high and the prognosis was good all along. This goes back to my earlier point about her not wanting to hear me say that everything was going to be okay, but it was different when the doctors were able to check that box. When the surgery choice was made, we could see that the prognosis was very good. That was great to hear, but it wasn’t a guarantee, either; they don’t offer guarantees in this sort of work. But we felt very confident through this whole process. When the surgery took place, it was very successful. The followup didn’t show any residual cancer hanging around, so that was just another step in the process, more good news, a gradual situation, and we had more and more confidence that we had solved it at the moment. Then again, there are the annual return visits back, the checkups and you’re not completely confident until you hit that magic five-year mark, which she did hit eventually. For me, the biggest celebration was getting to that milestone. It was only then that I began to feel that we had licked this thing. We survived it. She survived it, and she has been healthy since.

 

BRUCE: Is there any way you guys celebrate this milestone?

 

GREG: No. We have other milestone events that we celebrate, but not that. We were happy to have it behind us.

 

BRUCE: Now that the caregiver experience is behind you, how would you rate yourself as a caregiver?

 

GREG: I wasn’t perfect. There was a lot to learn and I did learn a lot. At the end of it, I think I was pretty good. In retrospect, there are things you might have done differently, but not in a major way. No regrets that led to any unfortunate outcomes. I guess I would give myself a B+, maybe an A.

 

BRUCE: Not bad. Greg, we are going to wrap it up now, but before we do so, I would like for you to think of someone who is watching and listening right now who is on the verge of the position you were in. If there is any overarching bit of information or advice you would like to pass along, what would it be?

 

GREG: I would say it’s being there in the doctor’s office with your partner or your spouse or whoever you are offering the care to. Different people go into different doctor’s offices in different states of mind. As a caregiver, you can go with a more settled state of mind, a clearer head, perhaps. So I would say the single most important thing is to be there, and listen. Listening with another set of ears for procedure options when you are hearing diagnosis or recovery options, really any bit of medical information, that second set of ears is just so important. And take as many notes as you can. If you have a cellphone or other device, then record the conversation. Make it clear you are recording the conversation. I don’t know of any doctor that would wave that off. Ours didn’t. They supported it. They wanted to make sure we got the information correctly. But that little tool was very helpful, and it gave me confidence because you are taking in so much information, you’re thinking, “What if I miss something?” So it is a tool that is practical and it gives you peace of mind in the moment that you are not going to miss something important.

 

BRUCE: Greg, that is a great story and one that was well-articulated.

 

GREG: Thanks, Bruce. Anytime. Thanks for having me.

 

BRUCE: And please know that if you are listening, that you are not alone. We are in this together, and that Together We Achieve More. And so until next time, take care and we will see you down the road.

Episode 3 - Suzanne Foster, Co-Host - Golden, CO - USA - Cancer Patient Caregiver

Posted on 27 May, 2020 at 9:45 Comments comments (0)



SHOW NOTES:

 

For all the resources and links to helpful information referenced in today's episode, please scroll down to the bottom of this interview transcript. Thank you!

 

Jim Foster: Welcome to the show, my friends and teammates. If you’re joining us for the first time, we’re so grateful to have you here with us today. We refer to ourselves as “Team Journey,”: because we are not alone. We’re a part of a team, and we are all here to share the cancer journey together. So let’s get started. I’m so exited to introduce our guest today, my wife, Suzanne Foster. Suzanne, are you ready to share the journey?

 

Suzanne Foster: Yes I am.

 

JF: Suzanne was the primary caregiver for me when I was going my second journey, with Hodgkin lymphoma cancer. Fortunately I survived and we are very happy about our health, and sharing our lives together. Suzanne lives in Golden, Colorado and enjoys being a mom to our wonderful daughter, Jessi. Keeping physically fit, riding her horse named “Cowboy,” and spending her time with her mom and sister, who live nearby. She currently works as a paralegal at Jefferson County and I hope we can all learn a great deal from what she has to share with us today. Please join me in welcoming Suzanne to the show. Welcome to the show, my dear.

 

SF: Thank you.

 

JF: Well, I have given a brief introduction of you, Suzanne. Before we get into our cancer caregiver journey, please take a moment to tell us where you are from, and what your life was like before prior to becoming a cancer caregiver for me.

 

SF: Well, I was one of the few Colorado natives left. I was born here, lived in New Mexico for six years, then moved back here, attended junior high and high school in Colorado and from there on have done a lot of different things with my life. I met Jim in 1998, we got married, I’ve been a mom and worked a full time job, do a lot of things outside and just have an active life.

 

JF: What happened in my life to make you think that for a second time, something was physically wrong with me?

 

SF: I remember meeting you in 1998, and you were well on your way of being cured from your first bout with cancer and doing well. We got married in 1999. I became pregnant in January 2002 and your were short a few weeks of five years remission, and I want to say in March, I believe you felt a lump in your neck again. You’re always very conscientious about checking your lymph nodes and know where to look for those things. I remember thinking, Oh My Goodness. It was pretty scary.

 

JF: Well, it was pretty scary, and that lump in my neck led to a biopsy, which came back positive and they came back and did a PET scan and ultimately I was diagnosed once again with Hodgkin lymphoma, which was just shy of five years remission. It was tough for us, I remember that, you being pregnant, there was a lot going on. So what was your reaction to that?

 

SF: I vividly remember the day that it happened. I was at work and I was thinking there was no way this could be happening. There was just this weird lump, and I got a phone call at my desk and you told me that it had come back. And there were a lot of things that ran through my mind. It’s amazing what you’re thinking. Am I going to be a single mother? How can I think that way, I have got to be optimistic, but the worst case scenarios run through your mind initially and you have to somehow work through it and pull the positive out and think about how you are going to get through it. I was pretty much in shock, and it took a while to digest the news that I had heard.

 

JF: We both had a lot to digest that night and in the days that followed. At what point in the process did you realize you were about to become my personal caregiver, and did you think that was going to entail?

 

SF: We had meetings to go to, classes to go to, and they talked about food prep and certain things you would have to do for someone having to go through a stem cell transplant, and I don’t think it hit what my caregiver capacity would be until the visiting nurse came by after work and she put down a lot of instructions that completely baffled and bewildered me about how much work it was going to be and I remember thinking at one point I am just going to ask the doctors to put him in the hospital for this whole thing. It was very involved, but I managed it and it worked out. At first it’s overwhelming and you think there’s just no way, but you can do it with the help of family and friends, and the initial hands-on caregiving I did by myself and it was definitely an experience.

 

JF: And thanks a lot. I owe a lot of my life to you for that. Tell me this. Had you ever been a caregiver for anyone else who had cancer or any other major illness, and if so, what was that like?

 

SF: No, I had not, and I guess I consider that fortunate. The family that I come from, everybody’s been healthy and nobody was in a position in which I had to be a caregiver, so it was definitely an experience, and now I have that knowledge and that compassion when someone’s sick. There’s a lot involved and you get through it, you definitely do.

 

JF: We were also fortunate in that we lived in the same town where I was getting treatment. It was 20-25 minutes back and forth to the hospital. A lot of people have to travel a long way or relocate and so forth. It’s a lot of work getting a patient to and from appointments. In my case, after a while I became too ill to drive myself to and from appointments, and you were a big part of helping with that. What was that like?

 

SF: I think a big part of that is being organized because your mind is going in every imaginable direction; but if you can keep a strategic plan in terms of what treatments you have given the patient and how they’ve reacted and the questions you have for the doctor, and making it to the appointments and getting home, if you can get some rest after you get home, that’s a huge thing. One thing you need to understand is that the medical field has put a lot on family members and that’s to avoid extra insurance and such, and you kind of become responsible to make sure everything gets done. You do it because you love them and you want them to get well.

 

JF: Being a caregiver is a very vital role to a cancer patient’s success. I am very grateful that you were my primary caregiver the second time and my parents the first time. I know there are people out there who don’t have a primary caregiver and I just feel for them. If you are a caregiver, don’t be afraid to say to a friend or co-worker, “I need help,” someone to keep me organized, like a personal assistant, because there is so much work, so much information that goes into it. Even getting someone to drive to appointments when you are stressed out and that sort of thing. One thing I would like to ask is did you family or friends to help you in the caregiver role?

 

SF: Yes, I did, and it’s amazing how many people want to stand up and help. When we were going through the food preparation classes, we had my dad, my stepmother, their friends, people were just showing up to find out what they needed to do to help us with meals. But I found out with Jim’s stem cell process that he wasn’t hungry, so all that extra food prep really didn’t matter that much. That said, my mother-in-law was always bringing something over for me. I slept most of the time when I had a break, being pregnant and Jim slept 99 percent of the time, so having people coming over wasn’t really something we wanted, but there were a lot of phone calls, keeping in touch that way. Now there’s social media and a lot of ways to get up to date on people. If you don’t have people to help, there are a lot of support groups out there, and you should seek it because you don’t want to be alone.

 

JF: We were fortunate to have family and friends that wanted to help, and did help. Now, as for your everyday schedule, tell us about some tasks you faced on any given day.

 

SF: I think the biggest task was making sure you got your medication on time. There was a time when you had a port put in your and I had to get up at four o’clock in the morning and put the medication in the port and then take it out, you have the IV bags hanging and I would deal with that for several days. Keeping the thought process organized and remembering what needs to happen and not mess up. It’s pretty huge if you mess up. I just remember writing things down, keeping a calendar because you’re tired, you’re stressed. If you need a reminder call, get one because you are helping someone who doesn’t know what’s going on and what they need.

 

JF: I am so grateful, and I want to reiterate that Suzanne was pregnant at the time. The timing of all this was terrible and impossible. She was pregnant and she was getting up at midnight to give me an IV, again at 4:00 a.m. and again at 8:00 a.m. before she left for work. It was absolutely insane. It was a rough road and we got through it. I have to ask: How did you stay so organized and remember when to give my IV and when to give me my pills? How did you do all that?

 

SF: I just used the old-fashioned method of writing stuff down. The visiting nurse gave me a chart of what you needed to have and when you needed to have it. It was all tangible, piece of paper and a pen.

 

JF: During this process, what would you say was one of your lowest points during the cancer journey we share together?

 

SF: I think the lowest point was when I too time off work and I was doing the ports and I was exhausted and getting no sleep and I was thinking how are we going to get through this, and in the meantime I am going to have a baby and still have to get the bills paid. There is a point in time in which you feel hopeless. But then there’s that glimmer of hope and a lot of that comes from the medical staff. We went to the cancer center and they were upbeat and getting a positive experience there, then when you get home and re-process things. Your friends, your family, they bring you back to reality. You don’t just give up. That’s not a good option.

 

JF: When we got married and we took our vows and Pastor Ed said, “In sickness and in health”, that really came true in our lives and I am grateful for that, so, thank you. What would you say is your favorite memory about your caregiver journey?

 

SF: I think my favorite memory is watching you get better, knowing we had a child on the way that has turned out to be a healthy, healthy child, and always looking to the future and where we were going. As far as being a caregiver, knowing you were getting better, I mean, it’s not like things were getting worse. There were so many days in which you looked better and felt better, knowing there is an end in sight to this journey. People do get well. It’s amazing we’ve got this technology. And attitude is important. Your attitude was so positive. Your business was busy at the time, and your partner was showing up and having you sign on documents. We still had a lot of great things going on.

 

JF: It’s very hard being positive when you’re a patient. I did try to stay positive, and we know not every patient has a positive outcome, but being positive helped me through my journey. I couldn’t imagine going through it any other way, regardless of the outcome. I tried to be positive and having a caregiver like you made it easier to remain positive, so I am very grateful for that. Here’s another question: I know how I felt when I learned my cancer had gone into remission, but as a caregiver as my wife, what was your reaction when you got the news?

 

SF: I felt like this was a special sort of treatment you went through, a stem cell transplant. I felt like this is going to keep you well, forever, throughout your life. This is an amazing thing. It wasn’t like the first time, I didn’t know you the first time when you went through chemotherapy. This time seemed so much more like a treatment that could be a cure. I felt confident that you would stay well.

 

JF: So grateful. Let me ask you this: Is there something we had been looking forward to, once we got that news, just to celebrate, just to acknowledge our happiness at that point?

 

SF: Well, Jessi was not born yet. We would go to our land in Wyoming or we went to Estes Park and we just got away to get our mind off everything.

 

JF: I remember the first night we went to Estes Park with our dog at the time, Mr. Bojangles, and we stayed in a cabin right on the river, and it was so nice being in a different place altogether, having a chance to reflect on being grateful and knowing that the journey was being one step behind us.

 

SF: I would strongly suggest that people do things to get their mind off the situation, get for a walk, get some fresh air.

 

JF: As for your life, what have you been doing with it now that you are no longer a caregiver for me as a cancer patient?

 

SF: We have been raising our daughter and moving forward with life, raising our daughter and the day-to-day routine that most people live.

 

JF: We have been very fortunate. Jessi is a teenager, which makes you a caregiver for her and a caregiver for our family. You do such a great job of keeping Jessi and I organized, sort of a continued role as caregiver, and we probably need to pitch in and help out more than we do, but I just can’t say enough about the kind of wife and mother and caregiver that you are. Speaking of the future, what are your hopes and dreams?

 

SF: I think just maintaining the good health we enjoy. I don’t need a lot in life, I like simplicity. I want to do what everybody else does, I want to be able to go on trips and get through my daughter’s teenage years and see her go off to college and make sure she has a great life and that one day we can retire and just be comfortable, and not stressed.

 

JF: I bring up one thing about Suzanne our audience doesn’t know, but Suzanne growing up, got her first horse in elementary school and she loved horses and worked at a racetrack after high school. It had been a dream of ours after we met to get a horse for Suzanne and we were very fortunate to get property in Wyoming where we could have a horse. Tell us about your horse, what his name is and what you enjoy doing with that part of your life.

 

SF: We have a horse named Cowboy, and I enjoy riding him and I am an outdoorsy person and he’s getting up there in age. I enjoy doing rodeos here and there, and that’s my hobby.

 

JF: It sure makes me happy to know that someone who did so much for me gets to have a high level of enjoyment in their life, too. Here’s another question: Now that my cancer is in remission and that part of our journey has been in remission for 15 years now, why don’t you reveal how we like to celebrate certain milestones.

 

SF: We like to take trips, we like to go to Wyoming to our land and we like to go out to eat, we do that a lot.

 

JF: It is kind of nice every year, with our remission date in August, which coincides with my birthday, so I am grateful for that. What words of wisdom would you give someone who is just beginning their journey as a caregiver?

 

SF: I would say in the beginning, it’s just gonna be surreal when you find out this is the road you’re gonna be going down. Try to take a step back, breath and realize it’s not as bad as it appears. People do make it through this, so be a good support system and think the best and keep thinking the best and don’t think the worst. You will be amazed at how you can get through this. And one thing as a caregiver, you have a tendency to put things in the past and I think patients do, too. Life goes forward and you will go forward and there are always great things ahead.

 

JF: Now let’s move on to the lightning round, and it’s a series of a few questions and we want your brief responses to them. First question, what was the scariest moment that you experienced as a caregiver?

 

SF: I would say the scariest moment was knowing I was pregnant and my husband had cancer.

 

JF: How did you overcome that fear?

 

SF: Trying to be futuristic and think that my daughter was coming, trying to prepare my life for having a child and hopefully having a father. I just overcame it, that’s all you can really do.

 

JF: Give us an example of something you accomplished during your cancer caregiver journey and how that made you feel.

 

SF: Well, I accomplished working full time, except for the two weeks I took off. I feel like I accomplished preparing to be a mother, which was a huge accomplishment and I accomplished getting you through your illness.

 

JF: Now, what was the piece of advice you received and how did that help your caregiver journey?

 

SF: I wouldn’t even call it advice. It just the same words I heard from friends and family: “Suz, we’re here for you. Jim, we’re here for you.” And that’s all you really need to hear from people.

 

JF: Yeah, we’re very grateful for the way people stepped up, that outpouring of love that people shared with us. Here’s another question: What was a resource that you found useful as a caregiver that you might recommend?

 

SF: I can say now that there are resources today that I didn’t have when we talk about organizing and writing stuff down. I do know that there is now a book called the “Can Plan,” and it was put together by a young woman that took care of her mother who had cancer. It is a great resource. It tracks what is going on with the patient. There is also a book that is great for the patient and caregiver. It is called the Altologist stem cell transplant book, that’s a great resource. I would also recommend the “Eating Well Through Cancer Care” cookbook, simple recipes for patients and for families, that’s a great resource.

 

JF: And as you found out being head chef during my care and most of the time throughout our marriage, I can say that as a cancer patient, your appetite has huge swings and what you have an appetite for and what tastes good, and having a cookbook that is designed for cancer patients whose tastebuds might be altered during treatment and the short window of time you have to prepare something that might be appetizing and nutritious is a big part of meal preparation. So those are some outstanding resources. I know the “Can Plan” organizer, I wish I would have had one of those during both my cancer journeys because not only does it keep the patient and caregiver organized, but it also has inspirational and motivational content in the planner that can help you day by day stay positive and be optimistic about the future and about the outcome, so those are some great resources. Another thing I would like to ask you is, obviously we made it through the cancer journey, you successfully gave birth to our daughter, Jessi, and she is healthy and I have been in remission for 15 years, but if you had to do it all over again, and if you knew that we all were going to receive the same positive outcome, what would you have done differently?

 

SF: I would say I would try to have more patience through the whole process. I feel like there was a point in time that you feel impatient, you want it to go quicker. I would have taken some steps back because you can lose patience with the patient, trust me, and you regret that somewhat. So, I’d try to have more patience and try to keep in perspective that this, too, shall pass, because it will. If I look back and think about it, I think patience and positive are the most important things of being a caretaker, and we talked about before, don’t be afraid to ask for help because there are so many people that will help and don’t forget support groups, there are gofundme pages, but you cannot not ask for help because it will drain you. Just know that people are there for you.

 

JF: Well, you were there for me, and my hope and wish for every patient listening is that you have someone like a Suzanne that can be your caregiver. And it may not be one person, it could be two or three or four, but it’s very hard to ask someone to help you. They might not understand and might ask why are you putting so much burden on them, but is truly is one of the most important parts of the cancer journey. I couldn’t have done it without Suzanne, and the first time I could not have done it without my parents, who were there to take care of all the details. There’s so much that goes on with insurance companies with appointments and medications and cooking and chores around the home and cleaning, and it is endless, the workload a caregiver undertakes and being able to delegate to others the work that needs to be done in a way that is organized, is key. Suzanne was wonderful in doing that, and doing that while she was pregnant was just unbelievable and I am so grateful for you, Suzanne and so thankful, it’s unbelievable what you did. I hope that people listening can take from take away something from your words of wisdom. You have laid so many resources and tools and tips that you used through our journey and I hope that people can gain some insight in their journey as a patient or caregiver because having someone helping behind the scenes is vital and Suzanne was definitely rock star status when it came to that. Before we wrap it up today, all of the resources Suzanne talked about can be found in the Show Notes at the bottom of this podcast or at CancerInterviews.com on the Show Notes page for this episode and there will be links to the resources like the Can Plan and the cookbook, so we want you to check that out. Suzanne, could you leave our listeners with one or two final pieces of advice, then let us know if there is a way to follow you online, with your Facebook handle or something like that, and then we’ll say goodbye.

 

SF: One piece of advice I would have is to encourage the patient to get better because I know there will be times in which the patient feels so run down and crummy, and you have to offer that encouragement as a caretaker, and just keep doing that, as frustrating as it can be at times, because it does pay off, and they need to hear it. Just remember that you are their guidance as they move toward the end of this journey, and getting better and moving on, enjoying life, from here on out. I am not on Facebook often, but my handle is Suzanne Foster, Golden.

 

JF: Well, Suzanne, thanks for your time and your expertise and your knowledge. Team Journey salutes you, and we’ll see you on down the road.

 

SF: Thank you.

 

JF: To all of you listening, please know that you are not alone, we are all in this together, and Together, Everyone Achieves More, and until next time, take care and we'll see you on down the road.


Episode 2 - Bruce Morton - Prostate Cancer Survivor - Brachytherapy, also know as Seeds radio-active treatment

Posted on 27 May, 2020 at 2:05 Comments comments (807)



SHOW NOTES:

 

For all the resources and links to helpful information referenced in today's episode, please scroll down to the bottom of this interview transcript. Thank you. 

 

Jim Foster: This is the Cancer Interviews podcast, interview number two. Today’s guest is a prostate cancer survivor who underwent a radiation seeds treatment, known as brachytherapy. As always, we are not offering medical advice, but personal experiences and stories, and we recommend that you seek out the advice of a licensed medical doctor regarding your personal situation. And don’t forget to stop by CancerInterviews.com to check out a variety of helpful resources. Hope you enjoy the show.


Welcome to the show, my friends and teammates. If you happen to be joining us for the first time, I’d like to personally thank you and invite you to be part of our team. We want you to know that you and your journey are the sole purpose of this podcast. We refer to ourselves as Team Journey. You are not alone and you are part of our team, and we are sharing the journey together. So let’s get started. I’m so excited to introduce a personal friend of mine, Mr. Bruce Morton. Bruce, are you ready to share the journey?


Bruce Morton: Ready, let’s do it.

 

JF: Bruce is a prostate cancer survivor. He has been in remission for 17 years. He lives in Denver, Colorado and has enjoyed a long career in the radio sports business. He enjoys international travel, and we can all learn from what Bruce shares with us today. So join me in welcoming Bruce. Welcome to the show, my friend.

 

BM: Thanks very much, Jim, great to be here.

 

JF: I’ve given you a brief introduction, but before we get into your cancer journey, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from and what you interests were. And what your life was like prior to experiencing cancer.

 

BM: Well, Jim, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and became interested in pursuing a career in sports broadcasting at a very early age, when my father and grandfather took me to a college basketball game and right afterward, my dad hoisted me on his shoulders, I was eight years old, and saw the broadcasters of the game wrapping up the broadcast, I was fascinated by that and that began my interest in a career in sportscasting. I eventually bounced around the country working for various radio stations. Then in 1984 I got my big break when I was hired as a producer and reporter for ABC Radio Sports in New York. That’s where I was for 17 years and not long after that, I moved to Denver.

 

JF: I know we have been friends for quite a while, and I have had the opportunity to visit you in New York, and we’re glad you are in Denver now. Regarding your cancer diagnosis, did something happen that led you to believe something might wrong with you?

 

BM: Well, I didn’t feel anything abnormal, there was no pain or anything like that. It’s that in the summer of 2000, I went in for my annual physical. It was interesting to note that in previous years, I would go in for my physicals and afterward I would joke with my father, telling him I am not a candidate for prostate cancer. But in the summer of 2000, my physician noticed something awry with my PSA tied to the routine bloodwork they did as part of my annual physical. That led to a chain of events that included a biopsy and then in December of 2000, that’s when I was diagnosed and learned that I had prostate cancer.

 

JF: So it was just an annual physical and blood test and so forth, and that’s what led to your diagnosis.

 

BM: That is correct. I had a PSA of 4.1, which is not through the roof, but was higher than normal, and enough to get the doctor’s attention.

 

JF: What was your reaction when you got this terrible news?

 

BM: I was in the doctor’s office, and as he gave me the news, tears started rolling down my face. I couldn’t believe this was happening. And then the doctor’s office to which I went was only about a half-mile from my home. So I walked to the doctor’s office, then I walked home. I had walked down this street literally hundreds of times in the time I lived in Hackensack, New Jersey, and now here I was in broad daylight making this walk, a grown man walking down the street, just crying my eyes out. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

 

JF: What did you do after that? Did you seek more than one medical opinion as to a course of action?

 

BM: I have to go back to the day I was diagnosed. I called a co-worker of mine who was based in Florida, and he suggested I contact my former boss from my job at ABC. I contacted him and he said I should get a second opinion. I was 47 years old at the time, and he made mention that that’s an extremely young age for someone to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was correct. He felt the urologist making the diagnosis was overreacting a bit by saying I should have my prostate removed, which is why he felt I should get a second opinion. So my ex-boss immediately assumed the role of being my boss, and told me, “Here’s what you are going to do. You’re going to go to Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York,” which is an elite cancer hospital and then, “You’re going to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore,” which is another elite cancer hospital. He said, “You know where Sloan-Kettering is and if you don’t know your way around Baltimore, I will drive you there myself.” That really made an impression on me. I went to Sloan-Kettering on Martin Luther King Day 2001, and got a second opinion, then a second second opinion, or a third opinion. They told me there was no need to get my prostate removed and that I was a perfect candidate for the seeds, or brachytherapy, in which tiny radioactive needles are placed in your prostate, and that kills the cancer. Anyway, while this was going on, a radio friend of mine in New York was also diagnosed with prostate cancer at a young age. He was diagnosed about six months before me and I contacted him and he told me about another two cancer doctors at another New York hospital, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, and he said, “I want you to see these guys. They saved my life.” So I was seen by those guys, a urologist and a radiation oncologist, I saw them independently and both of them said I was a perfect candidate for the seeds. So I had gotten a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion, and by then, I was convinced. I never contacted the doctor in New Jersey again, and I wanted to be very proactive about this. In February of 2001, I went into St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, got the seeds and have been in remission 17 years.

 

JF: It worked out well for you that you had more than one opinion, and you learned you had more than one treatment option to choose from. It sounds like you made an informed decision by going inand talking to all of those doctors.

 

BM: I felt that way at the time and certainly feel that way now.

 

JF: Bruce, I know you were living in Hackensack, New Jersey, but were you eventually treated by the doctors in New York City?

 

BM: Yes, the procedure was done at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. The previous night I had stayed at a hotel so I could make a nice, ten-minute walk to the hospital, underwent the procedure on an outpatient basis and that evening, a co-worker took me home to New Jersey, stayed the night with me just in case something went wrong, which it didn’t, then he brought me back to St. Luke’s in the morning for a followup visit.

 

JF: That was a good friend to have. So when this happened, were you able to continue to work? Did you have to take some time off?

 

BM: I only took a couple of days off. Then after that, I was in there, working.

 

JF: That’s pretty rare.

 

BM: Yes, I guess that is testament to the fine work done by the doctors at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt.

 

JF: In addition to your friend, did you have family or anyone there to give moral support?

 

BM: No, because anyone who would have been close enough to me, they were scattered in other parts of the country. So the only one who really helped me was the co-worker who took me home after the procedure.

 

JF: A question that a lot of our teammates have is, did you lose your hair as part of the procedure?

 

BM: Thankfully, no, that was not a problem.

 

JF: What were one or two of the worst side effects of the procedure?

 

BM: I would say there was a lot of frequent urination and it reached the point in which I was put in a position in which I had to track how often I went to the bathroom. I had to urinate into a clear plastic container that measured the volume of my urination. So I had to keep track of how often I urinated and how much.

 

JF: Did you ever have to deal with a catheter?

 

BM: Yes, the catheter was put in when I under anesthesia during the procedure, so I had no idea what was going when it was put into me. The next day at the followup visit, that’s when the catheter was removed.

 

JF: And what was that like?

 

BM: That was probably the greatest amount of physical pain I had ever felt in my life, but it was like a lightning bolt, done in half a second, done right away. Once that was done, I had to learn if the muscles that regulate my peeing were still functional. The nurse told me to start drinking lots of water, then pointed the way to the bathroom, and wished me luck. So I went to the bathroom, began to urinate, then tried to hold it, and with great relief, I was able to do so. There was some pain in the urinary canal tied to trauma related to the catheter, but knowing that I could control whether I urinated was relief beyond measure.

 

JF: As for paying for the procedure, did you have insurance?

 

BM: Yes. The total cost of the procedure was about $11,000 and insurance paid for all but $2,900 of it.

 

JF: What would say was the lowest point of your cancer journey?

 

BM: I learned it is standard procedure that with the seeds, at about the 18-month mark, one’s PSA will go up. I was told by the doctors that this is normal, and there is nothing they can do about it, but that it will come back down in time. To me, that was cold comfort, being told I would simply have to wait three months for my next blood test. When I took that test, my PSA inched its way down. It wasn’t the precipitous drop I was hoping for, but three months after that, the PSA took a bigger decrease. And three months after that, it fell to almost zero, and since then, it has been less than 0.1.

 

JF: That’s great. It was a long wait for that good news. How did you deal with the stress that came with that waiting period?

 

BM: This happens many times to many people when the illness appears to be bigger than they are. I prayed a lot, I put it in God’s hands because I didn’t feel I could overcome it on my own. So that was, and is, part of my recovery scenario, then and now.

 

JF: Other than being told your cancer was in remission, what was one of your favorite memories of your cancer journey?

 

BM: I am not sure if I have a favorite moment, but I guess the best parts were the repeated good news of a good checkup followed by another good checkup. Once the PSA started veering in the right direction and getting on course, that was very uplifting and I was extremely thankful for that.

 

JF: Were there any setbacks that came along during your cancer journey?

 

BM: Just the increased urination, especially in the first year. A byproduct of the procedure is my taking sort of a pre-emptive approach to peeing, so I don’t put myself in a position in which I have to go to the bathroom right away and don’t have immediate access to a bathroom.

 

JF: So when your doctor told you your cancer was in remission, I guess that was based on getting a great regarding your plummeting PSA. Is that basically when you found out you were in remission?

 

BM: I guess the best news came not from a doctor, but from a milestone. With my procedure, the conventional wisdom is, if you get to the five-year mark and you are cancer-free, the conventional wisdom is, there is a strong likelihood you have beaten it. So when I got to the five-year mark, that’s when I really rejoiced.

 

JF: Was there anything you did to celebrate that big day?

 

BM: As part of the work I do, in 2001 and 2002, I worked for Tennis Radio Network, which sent reporters to different tennis events around the world. In February of 2002, I covered a tennis event in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was put up at a very high-end hotel., which was not consistent with my usual hotel experiences. I stayed at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires. I had a fantastic experience there and said to myself I really want to come back when I am not in a working capacity, but because it would be so expensive to pay for it myself, I would have to have a very special reason for returning. Then it occurred to me that getting to five years and beating cancer, that’s special. That merited something over-the-top like this, so in 2006, I came back to the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires to celebrate this major milestone.

 

JF: That’s wonderful. I know when you went there, you told me you discovered a restaurant you really liked. What can you tell you about that experience?

 

BM: The name it is “El Mirasol,” which in Spanish means the sunflower, and I don’t know what sunflowers have to do with steak, but in Argentina, steak is a big deal. When I was in Argentina in 2002, what I did involved a lot of work and very long hours. So one night, here it was, 11:30, I had been working for 12 hours and still had a lot of work to do, and I decided to call ‘time out’ to get me something to eat. That’s when I discovered “El Mirasol”, which was about a five-minute walk from the Four Seasons. Buenos Aires is kind of like a European city, a lot of people eat very late at night, and the restaurant was packed. But I went on to have the best steak I had ever had in my life. I never forgot that meal or that night, and when I came back in 2006, I told myself I had just had to return to El Mirasol once or twice. So I went in there, and although I am not fluent, I know a little Spanish. I told the waiter I was in Buenos Aires to celebrate my beating cancer, and that I specifically wanted to come to El Mirasol to celebrate this. I then told him my hotel was only five minutes away, and asked if it would be okay for me to go back there and return with a camera, so I could get a picture with him. He said that would be fine. So I returned and this was after I’d finished eating, and the manager directed me to a table and the only thing atop it was a glass of champagne. I really don’t care for champagne, but this was not the time to say it; I was so touched that these people, total strangers, would go to these lengths to honor, to acknowledge this very special juncture in my life, that they would do that. So I took a picture of this glass of champagne and had a picture taken with the waiter, so that was one unforgettable experience.

 

JF: That is priceless. So what have you been doing with your cancer journey and entering remission?

 

BM: Well, I was working in Denver as a reporter, covering news and then covering sports for Metro Networks, which was a national radio news service. In 2008, they experienced some financial reverses and closed down various news bureaus across the country, and the Denver bureau was one of the casualties. As a result, I lost my full time staff position with Metro. I continued to cover sports for Metro on a freelance basis, which I do to this day. But I didn’t have full time employment and didn’t have benefits. That ushered in a very dark time in my life, as I looked for a job doing something, anything to keep the lights on. About five years later, in 2013, I got a job at a hotel in downtown Denver, working as a bellman and I am happy to say that I have been there ever since.

 

JF: That’s wonderful. I also know you reached the 15-year mark of being cancer-free and had a chance to go back to Argentina.

 

BM: Yes, I went back there with a friend of mine from San Francisco. We kind of decided the Four Seasons would be too expensive, and because I was working for a hotel chain, I was able to get us a room at a Buenos Aires hotel that was affiliated with my hotel, and it was still a pretty good hotel. We were there for five nights and just had a great time.

 

JF: And you went back to El Mirasol?

 

BM: Twice. If there was anything I insisted upon while we were there, it was that we go to El Mirasol twice.

 

JF: That was great. As to the future, what are your hopes and dreams?

 

BM: I am 64 years old, and I am looking forward to the day I can retire from full time work. As I said, I still do radio sports work on a freelance basis and plan to continue that, but I hope to retire from full time work in late 2019.

 

JF: Good luck with retirement when it comes. If you had one or two messages for teammates, what would it be?

 

BM: I don’t have anything deep or complicated, and the following is not an original thought by any means, but to keep a positive outlook about your journey. Health care professionals of every stripe have said maintaining a positive attitude can only be therapeutic and can only aid your journey. So keep a positive outlook, and I am not saying that in itself will cure you or turn things around on a wholesale basis, but it will help.

 

JF: So I want to move on to what I call the highlight round, with a series of short questions and short answers. What was the scariest part of your cancer journey?

 

BM: I would say just the news that I had cancer. Once the procedure started, I felt I was in good hands. Just before the procedure started, I was joking with the OR team. I was making them relax instead of the other way around. So I would say the scariest part was getting the news and the stage 18 months in when my PSA went up.

 

JF: Can you give an example of a small achievement along the way?

 

BM: I was pleased that I could still run. I used to be a competitive runner. In an unrelated development, I was diagnosed with tendinitis in my left quad where it attaches to my knee, which sometimes affects how I walk. But overall, I am just thankful that I can live a normal physical life.

 

JF: What would say was the best piece of advice you heard, advice that helped you through your journey?

 

BM: The best of advice was from the ex-boss to get a second opinion and from the radio friend who ultimately got me to go to the doctors that performed the procedure. I had always had a positive outlook about the journey, and that was not the product of any advice. The best advice was getting another opinion and going to the doctors that I went to. My friend had said "they saved my life" and I guess I can say the same thing.

 

JF: Oh that's wonderful. Thanks for sharing those words of wisdom, Bruce. And, Team Journey, this comes from someone who has walked the walk, and I hope you can take some of this valuable information and apply to your own journey. Well Bruce, we're so happy for you and we wish you continued good health. And thank you so much for being so generous with your time, your expertise and your knowledge and we truly appreciate you sharing your journey with us today. Team Journey salutes you Bruc and we’ll see you down the road.

 

BM: Thank you so much Jim. Great to have the chance to share this with you.

 

JF: Your welcome. Thank you.

Episode 1 - Cancer Interviews Trailer

Posted on 15 April, 2020 at 8:00 Comments comments (0)


SHOW NOTES:

Jim Foster: Welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast. If this is your first time joining us, we’d like to say that you and what you are going through is the sole purpose of this podcast. We look forward to bringing you interviews with amazing people who have experienced cancer in their own lives and we look forward to sharing the cancer journey together. Being able to give back to others facing cancer has been a dream of mine for many years, after battling Hodgkin lymphoma cancer twice. I soon realized I needed help from others to make this dream come true. That’s why I invited Bruce Morton, prostate cancer survivor and longtime friend of mine, to join me, along with my wife, Suzanne Foster, who was my caregiver during my second cancer journey. Thank you both for being here today, and Suzanne, why don’t you tell a little about yourself prior to becoming a caregiver.

 

Suzanne Foster: Hi, I am Suzanne Foster, and I currently live in Golden, Colorado, with Jim. I was born in Denver, Colorado, lived for a short while in New Mexico as a child and learned to love to ride horses at that point in time. I came back to Colorado, where we still enjoy horses and we go to our land in Wyoming, kind of a recreational activity. I work for Jefferson County as a paralegal, and in the past, I was in social work for ten years. Now I am going to introduce our next team member, Bruce Morton.

 

Bruce Morton: Hi, my name is Bruce Morton. I am a native of Castro Valley, California, which is in the San Francisco Bay Area. In pursuit of a radio career, I have lived all over the country, was living in Hackensack, New Jersey and working in New York City in the year 2000, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 2001, I moved to Denver, Colorado, where I have lived ever since. Now it’s my pleasure to bring on the founder of Cancer Interviews, Jim Foster.

 

JF: Thanks, Bruce. And now we want to share a little bit of our backgrounds, and how we ended being on the Cancer Interviews podcast. My journey began in 1995, after rafting the Grand Canyon with my friend, Jim Murrell. Shortly after returning to Denver, I fell down at work face first, ending me up in the hospital and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I spent time in several hospitals, even flew to a well-known clinic in Minnesota, where I still wasn’t properly diagnosed until 14 months later, when a doctor who was working weekends, saw my eyes dilate unusually and called for some additional tests that I had never had before. The original diagnosis was Stiff Person’s Syndrome, which is extremely rare and it was unknown at that time what the possible cause of that might be. Fourteen months later, a biopsy revealed a lymph node in my neck and it was determined that I had Hodgkin lymphoma cancer, Stage 3-B. At that point, I became a cancer patient and underwent six months of chemotherapy. After that, scans showed that my cancer was clear, and I was determined to be in remission. I was very thankful at that point, and went on with my life. Later that year, I met Suzanne, and we got married in 1999. In early 2002, she became pregnant and we were really excited about having a baby. A couple months after that, a lump appeared on my neck, and I went in to have it biopsied and it came back that my cancer had returned. At that time I went through additional chemotherapy and an altologos stem cell transplant and high dose chemotherapy regimen, and prior to our daughter being born, I was found to be in remission again, and have been ever since 2002. So it’s been a long time coming, but ever since the first cancer journey, and the second cancer journey, I really wanted to find a way to give back to others who were going through a cancer diagnosis, and their families to help them in some way. So I am very grateful to have the opportunity now with my friend, Bruce, and my wife, Suzanne, to bring valuable information and informative information to you that may, in some small way, help you with your cancer journey. So, without any further adieu, I will turn it over to my co-host, Bruce Morton, and, thank you.

 

BM: Thanks, Jim. As mentioned earlier, my days in radio took me on quite an odyssey. I went from Reno, Nevada to Reidsville, North Carolina to Newport, Vermont to Berlin, New Hampshire to Boise, Idaho to Eugene, Oregon, and then in 1984, I got my big break when I got a job with the ABC Radio Network, working as a producer and reporter for ABC Radio Sports. When I was in New York, I was pretty healthy, I was a competitive runner, I was averaging six and a half minutes a mile and thought I was in good health, but in the year 2000, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was in December. In February of 2001, I underwent brachytherapy and am happy to report I have been cancer free ever since. But I’ve gotta tell ya, I would have loved a site like Cancer Interviews at the time I was diagnosed. I sought expertise from multiple health care professionals, but I would have loved to have heard the story of people’s cancer journeys, just regular people talking in regular terms. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why I want to be a part of Cancer Interviews.

 

JF: Thanks, Bruce, and we’re sure excited to have you as part of the team. Suzanne, what’s your story as to why you are excited to be part of the Cancer Interviews team?

 

SF: Well, I want to be part of the team to share my journey as being a caretaker. Some of the situations I went through and what I have to offer other people, whether it’s advice or support. I just have to say anytime you can end up being a caretaker for somebody. I can say it was kind of a long road for me, and thank goodness we’re okay now, but I was pregnant at the time when Jim became sick with cancer the second time. It was a long journey, for sure. I just know there is a lot of assistance out there, whether it’s emotionally, physically, through the health care system and places you can go. I like to tap into resources and share resources, and I hope that someway, somehow, I can be of help to somebody who has gone through the same situation that I have gone through. Back to you, Jim.

 

JF: Thank you, Suzanne, and we’re excited to have you part of the team. On behalf of Bruce and Suzanne, thank you for joining us. We look forward to bringing many informative and interesting interviews in the future, and the opportunity to share the journey with you. Please remember you are not alone. We are all a part of a team, and Together Everyone Achieves More. We wish you the best possible outcome with your cancer journey, and until next time, take care and we’ll see you down the road.


 

LINKS TO RESOURCES AND INFORMATION REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE:

Website: https://www.cancerinterviews.com/

Youtubee:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnWc3N7KE_c9eFpmpMRkswA

Newsletter: https://www.cancerinterviews.com/my-team-journey

Facebook: Private Facebook Group:  https://www.facebook.com/cancerinterviews

Guidebook: Caregiver Quick Start Guide:  https://www.cancerinterviews.com/caregiver-library

Guidebook: Patient Quick Start Guide:  https://www.cancerinterviews.com/patient-library

Tools: Tools and Resources:  https://www.cancerinterviews.com/tool

Shop: Products, Books and Services:  https://www.cancerinterviews.com/books

Episode 0 - Inaugural Episode of the Cancer Interviews Podcast with Jim Foster, two-time Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor & Co-Host

Posted on 11 April, 2020 at 10:00 Comments comments (0)


Thanks for checking out our first official blog post here at CancerInterviews.com! This is the inaugural episode of the Cancer Interviews Podcast Episode 0 with Jim Foster, Podcast Co-Host! This Cancer Interviews Podcast episode is designed to give Team Journey an overview of what to expect from future episodes.  Below is the transcript of this episode along with the Show Notes and links associated with this episode.


Jim Foster: Hello, my friends. I’d like to thank you for joining us for the inaugural episode of the Cancer Interviews podcast. It’s great to be with you today and I want to thank you for joining us, and let you know that you and what you are going through are the sole purpose of this podcast. We want you to know that you are not alone on this journey. We want you to be part of our team, and we believe that Together, Everyone Achieves More. We refer to our team as Team Journey. We are here for each other and we are sharing the cancer journey together. Now I must say this is about the seventh time I have recorded this introductory podcast. I have taken some online courses about how to podcast and how to record video interviews. All the experts say if you are embarrassed by your first podcast interview, then you waited too long to start. I am not certain this will be the best, but here goes.

 

JF: I can’t wait to get started in what I hope you will find to be an enjoyable and informative podcast. I’m Jim Foster, and our mission is to improve the lives of ordinary people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. By sharing the journey with amazing people from around the globe who are sharing their journey with us. We’re striving to bring you real life information from real life people who are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. By hearing from these people, you will be able to learn key pieces of information that will inspire you or someone you know.

 

Today’s first episode will be fairly short, and I will provide an introduction to our podcast and let you know what to expect on our regular episodes, including different types of questions that we will ask of our guests and what the flow of the interviews will be like. I’ll briefly mention my two cancer journeys and let you know where you can find out more about them. We’ll let you know where you can learn, share and engage information via social media and lastly, I’ll let you know why I am so passionate about sharing this podcast, who this podcast is dedicated to and how our recording studios got their names. So let’s get started.

 

First I want to say this podcast is not about me. I’m just the host. Our regular episodes will last from 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon each person’s story. Initially, we will try to put out new two or three new episodes a week, but that may change after we get into a more organized routine. In certain situations, we may have a guest host.

 

We believe that every day that we survive cancer we are a survivor. Sure, we all hope that our cancer will be in full remission, and that is our sincere hope for everyone listening to this podcast; but we advocate taking one day at a time. We believe that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and we believe that life is about the journey and not the destination.

 

Most of our guests will be cancer survivors or caregivers. However, some may be medical professionals or individuals with a charity that provides helpful information and tools for cancer patients and their loved ones. The format will be based on different questions based on the type of cancer affecting each guest. So you can see similar issues and challenges and take away helpful hints to apply in your own journey. We’ll get to know each guest personally, where they’re from and what their interests are, how cancer became part of their lives, what their journey has been like, what their lowest point was and how they overcame it, what their most fulfilling moment was, what book they recommend, what their favorite resource was during their journey and what they would do differently if they could do it all over again, assuming their same successful outcome. Hopefully, from these and other questions we’ll be asking, we can learn a great deal from each guest’s personal knowledge and experience. So you might be asking yourself: What inspired me to host this podcast?

 

Every day I wake up and I am extremely grateful to be alive. As a two-time Hodgkins lymphoma survivor, husband and a father, it is my life’s passion to give back to those who are facing a cancer diagnosis in their own life, or life of a loved one. If you’d like to learn more about my cancer journeys, please visit the ‘about’ page at CancerInterviews.com, where I share details about both my battles with cancer.

 

I won’t go into detail here, but I first knew something was wrong with me in September of 1995, after just turning 29. I was very ill for the next 14 months and was finally diagnosed in October of 1996 with Stage 3 Hodgkins lymphoma cancer. I underwent chemotherapy for the next six monthes and entered my first remission in April of 1997, which last almost five years. I met my wife, Suzanne, in 1998 and we were married in 1999. In January of 2002, Suzanne became pregnant and we were so excited. Then in March of 2002, I underwent an Algologist stem cell bone marrow transplant and high dose chemotherapy regimen and entered into my second cancer remission in August of 2002. Two months later, our daughter Jessi was born.

 

Looking back on my two cancer journeys, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my parents who were my wonderful caregivers, my wife who was my caregiver during my second journey and to all of family, friends and dozens of doctors, nurses, paramedics and literally hundreds of medical support staff, not to mention the answer to many, many prayers, some from people I didn’t even know. Thank you, all. Finding a way to give back has been a dream of mine ever since, and with the technology available today through podcasting, video and social media, we truly can share the journey together with the millions of people around the world who are dealing with cancer in their own life, or the life of a loved one. So that’s how CancerInterviews was born.

 

I knew that a lot of the online information available was very institutional, some statistical, all of which are very important in the fight against cancer; but there wasn’t much information from patients, caregivers, survivors, family members, loved ones and others involved in the daily cancer journey. As a cancer patient, you can often feel lonely and isolated. Hopefully in this podcast, you can learn from real life people and their real life situations. We hope can get some encouragement and inspiration along the way.

 

I just want to clarify that I am not a medical doctor and do not provide medical advice. At times, we may have health care professionals as guests, but they will not be providing medical advice on this podcast. On behalf of future guests and myself, we urge you to seek advice from a licensed medical doctor.

 

I have put together a lineup of amazing and inspiring guests to be interviewed on the podcast, and I invite you to nominate yourself or someone you know who could be a guest on the podcast. Please feel free to check out our website, CancerInterviews.com, and click on the ‘request interview’ link, and we’ll reach out to you about scheduling an interview. From time to time, I will be scheduling these interviews in different studios.

 

The first one here is what I call Grateful Studios, because I am grateful to come here and share this journey with you. Grateful Studios looks over the skyline of Denver, Colorado, USA. Some of our interviews will be conducted in this two-room studio, however many will be conducted via Zoom with guests from all over the world. The second is at my family’s property in Wyoming. Ever since I was a child, I loved Western TV shows and my favorite show was ‘Bonanza’. During my cancer journey and hospitalizations, I watched a lot of television, and dreamed of having a ranch like the Ponderosa. Shortly after my marriage to Suzanne, I had the opportunity to buy into a partner-owned dude ranch in Wyoming and it truly was a dream come true. My studio is in our RV, and I have named it ‘Dreams Come True Studios’ because I believe that dreams can and do come true. The last studio is our mobile studio for when we are traveling and hopefully meeting people like you from around the world. I’ve named that studio the ‘Global Mobile Studio,’ which features a duffel bag of portable recording equipment.

 

Before we wrap the first episode of this CancerInterviews podcast, I would like to share with you the inspiration for it that I am so passionate about. This podcast was inspired by the millions of people around the globe who are battling cancer. There are three people who are very important in my life, and this podcast is dedicated to their character, inspiration and memory.

 

The first person this podcast is dedicated to is my friend, Tuck, who was my physical therapist during my first round with cancer. I saw him for over a year at the hospital, and although I was not sure if I would survive, he remained positive and said one day that we were going to play golf together someday, and that he was going to teach me how to flyfish. Those seemed impossible at the time, but both came true. About a year after I went into my first remission, Tuck came down with a rare form of bone cancer from which he never recovered. After he passed, his wife gave me his flyfishing rod, which is now one of my most valued material possessions.

 

The second person who inspired me was my friend, Linda. She and her husband were there to help me through both of my cancer journeys. When I first met Linda, she was already a breast cancer survivor. Shortly after we met, her cancer returned and she overcame it for a second time. Many years later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which ultimately took her life. Her husband later gave Linda’s piano to my daughter, Jessi, who Linda knew shares Jessi’s love of the piano. I often sit at the piano, play it and reflect on my many fond memories of her.

 

The third to whom I dedicate this podcast is my friend, Brian. He is a bit older than me, and when he graduated from college, he was drafted into the military and joined the United States Navy. He became a jet fighter pilot, like in the movie, ‘Top Gun, ’ except in Brian’s case, it was the real deal in Southeast Asia. He also completed an ironman triathlon on the island of Guam. During the last year of his life, he battled pancreatic cancer. Brian was not a quitter, never gave up and I never heard him complain about his situation. He was a true competitor and loyal friend right to the very end.

 

Lastly, I dedicate this podcast to wife, Suzanne and our beautiful daughter, Jessi, to family members and friends who have been with us through all these years, and to all others facing their cancer journey. This show truly is for you.

 

However you found us, I just want to let you know where else you can find us on social media. Our home base is CancerInterviews.com, with tons of information and resources to help you with your cancer journey. You can also find us on YouTube, at the Cancer Interviews channel, on Facebook at Cancer Interviews, on Twitter at Cancer Interview, or on itunes, Stitcher or other platforms at Cancer Interviews.

 

From time to time, as social media evolves, we may add or discontinue social media channels, but now, these are the places where you can find us. So I hope you will check back regularly for many great interviews to come, with many who are sharing the cancer journey. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for listening, and please remember, you are not alone. You are part of our team. We’re all in this together, and we wish you the best possible outcome with your cancer journey. So until next time, please take care, and we’ll see you on down the road.


LINKS TO RESOURCES AND INFORMATION REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE:

Website: CancerInterviews.com

YouTube: YouTube.com/CancerInterviews

Newsletter: CancerInterviews.com/my-team-journey

Facebook:  Facebook.com/cancerinterviews

Guidebook: Patient Quick Start Guide

Guidebook: Caregiver Quick Start Guide

Tools: CancerInterviews.com/tools

Shop: CancerInterviews.com/shop


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