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!!
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
Meaghan's surgery scars don't stand a chance against her tattoo!
She has told her story to millions of people all over the country, but it was almost as if she was sharing it for the first time when I spoke with Meaghan Edelstein, the youngest survivor of terminal cervical cancer.
It was 2007 and Meaghan was a 28 year old law student, like anyone else. She noticed some unusual bleeding that led her to several doctors who tested her, scanned her, and advised her that nothing was unusal. As the bleeding and discomfort increased, she knew that something was wrong but no one would listen to her concerns. She was perscribed anti-anxiety, sleeping pills and, finally, szitchoprenia medication to alleviate what others were claiming as feelings resulting from “over stress due to law school”. A desperate night where she nearly cut open her stomach sent Meaghan to the Emergency Room demanding answers. Something was inside of her and she wanted it out. She knew she was dying.
What the tiny cameras did not see, while looking for cysts and tiny tumors during doctor visits, was a giant tumor that was pushing up against her organs. She was diagnosed with 3B terminal cervical cancer and started on her journey though chemo and radiation. Told that she did not have a chance to live, she ignored the recommendation to give up and pushed herself through treatment, greatful to finally be heard: if nothing, she had a diagnosis.
Today, Meaghan is a survivor. Though her body and life are changed from the experience, she has emerged with a new sense of purpose and appreciation for her life. She knows the answers to questions like “What is it like to know you are going to die” and has experienced the feeling of her body shutting down. An advocate for adoption, Meaghan will be a mother, should she choose to, by adopting one of the many children in this country who are in need of a good home.
Meaghan’s personal blog is straight from the hip, just like her. It’s a great resource for anyone who has been diagnosed with cervical cancer or HPV, a disease that effects a high number of people all over the country. She also has created an organization called “Spirit Jump” that spreads love to people fighting cancer. It’s a great way to show support for a cancer fighter, as an individual or together as a family. Head to her sites to learn more about Meaghan’s “against-the-odds” victory over cancer and ways that you can support other people fighting similar battles all over the country.
Thanks to Meaghan for sharing her story.
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Here is my journey to the marathon…
It was October 12th 2008 and we were downtown cheering on my brother who was running the Chicago Marathon. Feeling the excitement of the day and watching as thousands of athletes accomplish their goal of finishing, I decided then (not knowing what lies ahead for me) to run the 2009 Chicago Marathon.
…I went to the Doctor a few days prior to the marathon for some uncontrollable itchiness which I thought was an allergy to my laundry detergent and a small lump in my neck. The doctor disregarded my itching, but wanted to check out the lump in my neck so he ordered a CT scan for October 13th. The day after the ’08 marathon I thought I was going to go in for the scan and, be told everything, is fine, it is just a swollen gland, but to my surprise, I received a phone call few hours after the scan and was told that I need to come in the following day to get my results. That couldn’t be good! I went in the next day to get my results… my physician had set up an appointment for a biopsy. He said they think its Lymphoma and that they have to biopsy it to determine what kind. The biopsy results came back and I was told that I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The thought of running a marathon was now the furthest thing from my mind. Now I had to deal with the fact that I have cancer.
I underwent more tests and scans and was now going to be starting chemo therapy. While I was sitting in a room getting my “wonderful” treatment, I saw a pamphlet on the wall for Imerman Angels. Now, I was doing pretty well with my chemo. Physically, I was doing pretty good, recovering rather quickly from each treatment, only felt “HORIBLE” for about 6 days every other week… but I wanted to talk to someone who knew what I was dealing with. So I called Imerman Angels and left a message describing my diagnosis. To my surprise, I received a call from Jonny about an hour later. We talked for about a half hour about everything. It was like I had known him forever. He came to my next treatment and that’s where my IA experience began.
4 months after starting chemo, I had more scans to stage my progress and everything came back clear. I was now cancer free and only had 4 more treatments to finish. I now had more to look forward to, a new life, a life as a survivor. What was I going to do after cancer? I remember the doctors telling me that working out and exercising helps the body recover from chemo, so at that point I decided I was going to run. The thought of running the ’09 Chicago Marathon started to look like it may be possible… so I registered. Timing couldn’t have been any better. I had my last treatment scheduled for April 23rd, 24 weeks before the race. That would give me 4 weeks to recover from chemo and 20 weeks to train.
Well, I gave myself about 2 weeks to recover. I knew I would need the extra time to train, considering I was never an avid runner. I didn’t know what to expect, would I be able to do it? Would I be able to run the grueling 26.2 miles? I had to do it. I wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy. That I had a new lease on life. That I was a survivor. That I could accomplish what I set out to do.
Training for the marathon was HARD. As the weeks passed and the mileage increased, I had doubts that I was going to be able to finish. The longest I made it through the entire 20 week training process was 16 miles. And after those 16 miles, I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk again… The big day came and I was ready, or at least as ready as I was going to be. I just wanted to finish, I knew I wasn’t going to going break any records. I just wanted to cross the finish line and know that having cancer wasn’t going to stop me.
Well…I did it! 4:59:08 after starting, I crossed the finish. 26.2 MILES. 20 weeks of training. 24 weeks after my last treatment.
I am now a cancer survivor and am looking forward to what lies ahead…
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