After a 30 year career in teaching, I took early retirement in 2003, so my husband and I could travel and enjoy golf and many other activities that had been sidelined while working and raising our two sons. That went well for the first four years, with just a nine week side step for my husband’s prostate cancer treatment. The summer of 2007 altered the course of our lives, when I spent the summer dealing with corneal herpes, superficial blood clots in one calf, and then a dry cough that caused a diagnosis of probable whooping cough. In September of ’07 my cough and I ended up in the emergency room, and during a 12 day stay, I was given the diagnosis of stage IV ovarian cancer. The cough was due to many liters of fluid in my chest and a collapsed lung.
I had two rounds of chemotherapy, a hysterectomy and debulking surgery, followed by six more rounds of chemotherapy. In April of 2008 I was declared to be in remission. It was during that period of remission, as I was resuming my normal activities, that I caught a portion of a Dr. Oz radio program. Dr. Oz was interviewing a young man who was speaking enthusiastically about connecting cancer fighters with survivors. The little bit of the show that I heard stuck with me for weeks, until I sent an email to Dr. Oz asking for more information about that show. To my surprise, I soon got a phone call from the amazingly friendly and energetic Jonny Imerman, and before I knew it, I was signed up as a mentor angel.
Being a part of Imerman Angels has been perfect for me. It has given me a way to connect with other women who are fighting the same fight that I am, and allows me to share my story while hearing and learning from the stories that other women have to tell. I find that each of us feels we are alone in this journey, until that first phone call or email, and then we find that although our numbers are not as large as breast cancer, we have friends and fellow fighters across the country, willing to laugh and cry with us, listen to us, and support us as we battle this silent cancer.
In the nearly two years I’ve been associated with Imerman Angels, I have talked with 10 women, 7 of whom I still speak with or write to on a regular basis. During this time, I came out of remission and have been back in treatment for 15 months. It’s not where I want to be, but now I am also able to talk about and support women who have also had a recurrence. Sometimes the phone calls come one after another, but it is invigorating to work with the Imerman staff, and to know that none of us has to “go it alone.” Thanks to Imerman Angels, we can hold hands and march forward on the path to remission, or better yet, a cure in the future.
One of these days I’m going to be able to meet Jonny in person, either when he’s out her for a west coast engagement, or who knows, maybe one day I’ll make it back to Chicago and be able to give Jonny and Rynell a hug right there in their offices, and thank them for adding an extra spark and purpose to my life.
Charlene McMann and Scott Seaman are champions in the fight against cancer. Scott, an 11-year survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, credits his wife (caregiver and advocate) Charlene for his beating cancer. Together, the couple embarked upon a mission of curing cancer by helping to raise millions of dollars for cancer research, helping people directly through education and patient advocacy, raising public awareness through event organizing and media appearances, forging partnerships with companies, patients, and health care providers, and engaging in public policy advocacy.
After co-founding the Chicago chapter of a national blood cancer organization, spearheading a 5K walk/run that is now held annually in more than 16 cites across the country, they wrote the book that they wish was available to them when their battle began. Charlene received a Jefferson Award for Public Service (the Nobel Prize for community and public service) for her cancer fundraising, education, and advocacy.
Charlene and Scott wrote the book that they wish was available to them (“Battling and Beating Cancer”) when they began battling cancer. Part I of their recently released book “Battling and Beating Cancer – The Cancer Survival Book” takes you along with the authors from diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, follow-up treatments and testing, and provides the insights, fears, and triumphs of a cancer survivor and caregiver. Scott and Charlene´s story of survivorship demystifies the experience and enlightens readers in a very humanistic and unique way.
Part 2 is focused on you – the steps and approach you should consider taking to survive cancer. It covers: (1) the basics about cancer; (2) selecting the best doctors and treatment centers available to you; (3) obtaining a prompt and proper diagnosis;(4) understanding medical tests and diagnostic tools; (5) surviving your hospital stay;(6)an overview of conventional treatments, revolutionary treatments, and clinical trials; (7)understanding survival rates and making appropriate adjustments; (8) developing a “cancer warrior” mentality; (9)taking advantage of complementary therapies and a healthy lifestyle to help you beat the disease; (10) the role of the immune system in beating cancer; (11) the authors´ view that blood cancer research is the superhighway to curing cancer; and (12) the authors´ national call to action to cure cancer.
The book also contains useful resources for patients and caregivers, including: a detailed listing of questions to ask your doctors at each critical phase; some tips doctors may forget to tell you; a checklist of legal and insurance documents; and a listing of organizations, websites, and resources available to help you get the support and information you need about your type of cancer and the treatments and clinical trials available to you. It also includes a patient´s medical information workbook to help you record relevant information. This is an important resource for cancer survivors and cancer fighters alike. You can obtain the book at www.charleneandscott.org, www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnobel.com, or www.borders.com. Proceeds go to cancer research and education.
The couple’s mission to help people impacted by cancer is multifold. Their new internet radio show “Battling and Beating Cancer” will debut on March 9 at 8:00 p.m. central time. This dynamic show will be devoted to battling and beating cancer of all types, with a particular emphasis on lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma (blood cancer). Charlene and Scott will welcome guests including doctors, survivors, patients, caregivers, and individuals on the front lines in the war against cancer. They will tackle the medical aspects of cancer (symptoms, treatments, etc.) the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of cancer, lifestyle issues, and legal and social aspects of cancer. Imerman Angel founder Jonny Imerman will be a guest in an upcoming episode. You can follow the show at www.blogtalkradio.com/battling-and-beating-cancer.
Charlene and Scott and another prominent Chicago couple recently founded Chicago Blood Cancer Foundation and look forward to partnering with Imerman Angels. “Jonny and his angels do wonderful work and we will refer cancer survivors and fighters to Imerman Angels,” says Charlene. “We will be funding research for lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma at the great Chicago area institutions – maximizing impact through minimizing organizational cost baggage and funding high impact, cutting edge research with world class doctors and institutions. People with cancer need someone to turn to and there is no point in our attempting to take on a function that Imerman Angels already does so well” added Scott. Chicago Blood Cancer Foundation will participate in a Bike ride in September and will blog on that event in upcoming weeks.
In the meantime, pick up a copy of “Battling and Beating Cancer – The Cancer Survival Book” and listen to their radio show.
After a flurry of inconclusive tests following the self-discovery of a lump in my neck in June of 2007 (which my then-internist thought was a lymph node), I continued on my merry way. Fortunately, I have an excellent dentist, who, when I called his attention to the lump at my regular cleaning in July, suggested that I see an ENT. Unbeknownst to me, he suspected that I had lymphoma.
A CT scan quickly followed my first visit to the ENT and a definitive tumor growing in my parotid gland was identified. Surgery took place in September by Dr. Richard Arden, an outstanding ENT possessing additional skills as a plastic surgeon. Epithelial myoepithelial cancer (fortunately, stage one) was lurking in that tumor. So NOT what I was expecting to hear!
While waiting for the recommended seven weeks of radiation treatments to commence, I read an article about Imerman Angels in my school’s Tradition magazine. Just what the “doctor ordered!” I quickly sent off an email and, to my surprise – a GOOD one, this time, – I received, in typical Jonny fashion, an email written all in caps! Jon was a former student of mine (an intervening name change prevented my initial recognition of this fact)!! That was the turning point for me to begin to feel like this journey was going to turn out okay.
Jon paired me with a parotid gland cancer survivor named Tim. He was truly an angel as he guided me through my fear of the treatment side effects, which were the “icing” on the dark spot in my heart. I had CANCER! The underlying message of all of Tim’s tips for dealing with the sore throat, lesions in my mouth, dry mouth, loss of taste, nausea, etc., was HOPE! He was my beacon in the darkest of days. If he came through this journey, safe on the other side, I could do it, too!
I just “passed” my two year MRI a couple of weeks ago – stable. Who would have ever thought that those six letters could hold such meaning? Miles Levin was a young man who could not overcome his own battle with cancer –rhabdosarcoma. However, during his journey, he started a blog, read by legions of faithful followers, myself included. He even appeared on Anderson Cooper’s show. Miles said that “cancer is an ugly blessing.” That phrase resonated with me then and still does now. It allowed me to see the blessings that came with my diagnosis and trip through cancer world.
As I now mentor other cancer fighters as a volunteer through Imerman Angels, I often find blessings in the new friendships I make and through the powerful, powerful connection of survivor to fighter. I would have NEVER experienced this intensity of association with another person were it not for the cancer which led me to Jon and his INCREDIBLE organization. Thank you, Jon, for the gift you have given to all of us. I love you!
Southdale Mall is home to a locally famous cancer fighter in the Minneapolis area: Santa Dan. A 6 year veteran to the mall, Santa Dan spreads cheer to the little ones who come to share their hopes for Christmas morning suprises.
Just two years ago, Santa Dan bowed out of his role due to a cancer fight in his pancreas, bladder and lymph nodes that left him too weak to make it through the Christmas season.
This year Santa Dan did not let cancer stop him from celebrating. Taking a 3 week break from chemo, he has returned to his red suit for a limited schedule, sharing time with Santa Rick at Maplewood Mall. His last appearance will on be Christmas Eve, from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. He’ll re-start his chemo on Christmas day.
Receiving his own special kind of cancer support, Santa Dan is energized by the love of the hundreds of kids who come to see him throughout the season: “I have so many people praying for me and I want to thank them for that. Absolutely, it’s what saved my life.” Keep up the fight, Santa Dan!!
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Brian Pienta (left) at the Chicago Marathon
I was a normal healthy 19 year old. I spent the early months of 2006 playing hockey and skiing, just like every other winter since I was a kid. I noticed a bump in my left thigh, and asked a doctor about it. At that time it was barely noticeable, and the doctor told me it was a muscle contusion or a torqued muscle from skiing. I didn’t think twice about it for the rest of winter, but by June 2006, the lump had gotten significantly larger, and a muscle contusion would have gone away. I went to the doctor again, and this time the doctor decided that I should get an MRI to see if there was a mass. As it turns out, there was a pretty big mass, about the size of a clenched fist, sitting between the muscles in my thigh.
In July 2006, I was diagnosed with a liposarcoma. The tumor was between muscles but had grown onto my sartorius muscle. This muscle stretches from the outside of the hip to the inside of the knee. The doctors told me they needed to take the muscle out to ensure that all the cancer was removed. Within a couple weeks the tumor and sartorius muscle were removed, and I spent 4 days in the hospital and then 3 weeks in bed at home. I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed until my leg healed itself shut again. The doctor warned me that the surgery might have long-term consequences on my physical activity, and I might not be able to play hockey again. As soon as my leg healed from the surgery, I began physical therapy to learn how to walk again. It took me a couple weeks before I was comfortable walking, and then radiation started. 35 rounds of radiation hurt the progress I was making in physical therapy, and gave me entirely new reasons to need more physical therapy. I used a cane for almost 2 months after my surgery, a very strange sight for a college student on campus. In October 2006, I was told I was in remission. I had completed my treatments and cancer was nowhere to be found.
While still undergoing radiation I started to play hockey again (very poorly, but I got on the ice…). The following summer I began cycling to get into shape, and signed up the LiveStrong Challenge in Philadelphia. I completed the 100 mile ride one year after my cancer-free prognosis. The next summer, I met Jonny Imerman and signed up to run the Chicago Marathon with Imerman Angels. I had never been a runner, but the idea of challenging my leg and body to do something I had never done before cancer had me fired up. In October 2008, almost two years to the day after my cancer-free prognosis, I completed the Chicago Marathon with IA. This past summer, I trained for and completed the Chicago Triathlon and I ran the Chicago Marathon for Imerman Angels with my girlfriend. The cancer fighters I met through Imerman Angels this year were my motivation. I have met a few liposarcoma fighters worried about how their body might respond and if they will be able to continue and active life, and I ran to prove that we really can dominate cancer.
- Brian Pienta
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