Look good, feel better
I was 10 years old when my Grandpa Loren died of lung cancer. I have childhood memories of summers spent at my grandparents house raiding the freezer in the garage for popsicles, making potpourri with rose petals from my grandmothers garden, and sipping Sunny Delight at the breakfast table.I distinctly remember my Grandpa Lorens laugh. It was deep and loud andreminiscent of Santa Claus. But it was just that, his hearty smokers laugh, that should have been the red flag to alert doctors of the cancer that consumed his lungs.When I saw him for the last time on my 10th birthday, after months of chemotherapy and radiation, he stood in the kitchen to greet me and I remember thinking, This man is a shadow of what my grandpa used to be. Cancer took his laugh and his life.Nowadays, its challenging to find someone who hasnt been touched by cancer in some way or another whether its a sister, a mother, a friend, a co-worker, or a spouse everyone has a story or even a personal testimonial of the journey theyve been through. And that is who these three women are survivors. This summer each is celebrating a personal victory over cancer in her own way: Graduating high school, planting a rose garden, and making plans for the future. All have one thing in common: a constant, steady confidence to live.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, Sue Rossi of Tahoe City had a mastectomy and endured six weeks of radiation and four chemotherapy treatments. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the good news from her doctor that her cancer was gone.But in May 2006, Rossi found out her cancer was back. The breast cancer had metastasized to her liver and, once again, chemotherapy was necessary. For six months, Rossi was driven every week to Renown Medical Center in Reno by friends and family members for treatment. By her final treatment last December, she learned the chemotherapy had worked, and the tumor had shrunk in size by 75 percent.Rossi admits, I will never be cancer free, but the cutting-edge medication Herceptin administered intravenously every three weeks is now helping her to recover.Still in the healing phase, Rossi is taking it easy to let her body rest, napping in the afternoons and scaling back her daily schedule.Its sort of hard to realize Im sick, said Rossi, who used to work as a hair stylist.Now, as a cancer survivor at the age of 56, Rossi said shes realizing how important it is to take care of yourself. As mothers, we are workaholics and we keep busy nurturing others instead of caring for ourselves, she says.Sinking into her comfy living room couch, Rossi starts talking about her 18-year-old sons upcoming high school graduation, excited but somewhat hesitant to see her only child leave home.Minutes later, the front door opens and in walks the teen home from school. He was only 12 when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.I didnt want to slap it in his face, Rossi said of how she and her family dealt with the effects of her treatment. Im bald. Thats enough to handle.Last winter, Rossi lost her hair from chemo but came up with several fashionable ways to keep her head warm, tying colorful scarves or wearing a blonde, bobbed wig to disguise her changed appearance.I didnt want people to worry for me, Rossi says. I wanted people to pray for me.June 14 marks Rossis second time as a cancer survivor. Once she recovers her strength, she says shes considering signing up for the American Cancer Society training seminar to instruct the Look Good, Feel Better classes, a program designed to boost womens self-confidence while dealing with the effects of cancer.
Truckee resident Carol OBrien went under the knife for reconstructive knee surgery. A year later following a CAT scan, she received a phone call from her doctor telling her, Carol, you have three tumors in your liver.I was kind of numb, OBrien said of the news. But she didnt say, Oh, woe is me, when physicians told her she needed a liver transplant.Instead, she became proactive about her diagnosis.Lets find out what were going to do, OBrien said.She went through 18 months of chemotherapy, split into two nine-month sessions. She lost all her hair and her weight dropped dramatically, since she was fed through a tube during the last two months of treatment because she was too weak to eat.I knew what to expect from what the doctors tell you, but youre never prepared for it, OBrien said.The second round was the worst, she said, but her support system of friends and family helped her get through it. OBriens daughter quit her job in San Francisco and moved to Truckee with her 5-year-old twin sons to care for her.Recovering from the chemo treatments, OBrien rested in bed at home on many occasions. Her grandsons understood their grandma was sick, she said, often playing doctor with about a dozen Ace bandages she kept in the medicine cabinet.The boys would wrap me like a mummy, OBrien said. In their minds they thought they were helping me.After the chemo, OBrien visited a transplant center in Arizona, where she was added to the waiting list and received a pager, which she kept secured on her waist for a year waiting for the beep that would change her life.I hated the pager, OBrien said, but after eight months she eventually warmed up to her 24-hour companion. This is my best friend, although the damn thing never went off.She was right. At 9:30 a.m. on June 10, 2002, OBrien didnt get a page. Instead, the life-saving news came by phone.I got a call, and he said, Ms. OBrien we have a liver for you, and I almost dropped the phone, she said. Can you be here by 2:30 a.m.?Later that day she hopped on a flight to Phoenix, eager to receive a new liver.As she was wheeled into surgery a nurse asked, Are you frightened? and OBrien replied, I have all the confidence in the world that Im going to live.The surgery was a success. OBrien spent the next eight weeks recovering at the center. When the doctor asked if she wanted to see the cancerous liver he removed, OBrien surprised him by saying yes.They had a bucket with my name on it and I looked at it and I could see the tumors, OBrien described. It looked like charred London broil.OBriens donor liver came from an 18-year-old boy who was killed in a car accident. She wrote five letters to the family, thanking them for the gift of life, but never met them face to face as its the familys decision, she said.To be so close to dying and get your life back is Im not a real religious person, but it was truly a religious experience, OBrien said.Five years later, OBrien remains cancer free. She swallows 26 pills a day 10 anti-rejection pills and other vitamins and visits Tahoe Forest Hospital once a year for a CAT scan, MRI and blood work.She started volunteering with Tahoe Forest Hospice two years ago and also works part time at the Truckee Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.To celebrate her five-year cancer victory and honor her mothers memory, OBrien planted five rose bushes in her front yard and plans to add another to her garden in each year to come.
Seventeen-year-old Jenny Geresy has been through a lot.Saturday night though, it was all about prom: Posing for plenty of goofy pictures with friends, dancing all night, and living in the moment.On prom night Geresy wasnt wearing the faded San Francisco Giants baseball cap thats been her security blanket for the past year. Instead shes chosen a simple little beach dress I got for, like, $50 thats black with lime, for the special evening.Its a good assumption that the Tahoe Truckee High School teen likely wasnt thinking about the 5-pound cancerous tumor doctors removed from her right ovary just over a year ago.In December 2005, Geresy, then 16, said she started getting stomach aches on a consistent basis, but they eventually went away so she and her mother didnt worry much about it. But one day in January at school the stomach pains worsened, and she went to see her doctor.Geresy said her physician thought her abdominal pain was a cyst and sent her to Reno for surgery. On Feb. 13, 2006, Geresys doctor had to stop in the middle of the procedure to inform her parents hed discovered a tumor on the center of her right ovary.When Geresy woke up from surgery, doctors told her they needed to start chemo. And I was like, excuse me?Because Truckee is a small town, word spread quickly across the high school campus about Geresys diagnosis. My closest friends treated me like normal, Geresy said. …But after surgery, everyone looks and becomes my new best friend.Juggling class work and school events, she flew to Texas to see a specialist regarding her treatment. Geresy said the specialist told her that the form of ovarian cancer she had was extremely rare, with only about 300 known cases.Geresy spent one week at Renown Medical Center and three weeks at home, receiving a total of five chemo treatments. During that time her friends and family kept her occupied with games, magazines and conversation. Her father and her older sister even snuck her cat, Mindy, into her hospital room by hiding her in a bag in the elevator, Geresy said.She prepared for the physical changes of chemo ahead of time by chopping off her long brown locks.I was never officially bald, but I had little spikes, Geresy said. I wore this San Francisco Giants hat, like, everyday. My hats my comfort. I take it off I feel naked. Im a huge Giants fan so that helps too.Geresy credits her easygoing whatever happens, happens attitude as what helped get through the experience.
Geresy convinced her parents to drive to Reno with her on Feb. 13, 2007, to get her first tattoo to commemorate her first anniversary of being completely healthy.She stood up to show off a feminine 1-inch teal ribbon inked near her hip the color representative of ovarian cancer also revealing the sizable scar across her stomach in the process.Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer dont be afraid to get tested, she said.As an athlete, Geresy said shes had a tougher time getting back into shape. Shes a member of the cross-country track team and the softball team.I have lungs like an 80-year-old smoker, Geresy said.While Geresy is free of cancer, one health question remains. Will she be able to have children someday?Her doctors arent sure yet, she said. Geresy said it was something she didnt think about when she was going through treatment but, I know I want it for the future.After prom, Geresy graduates in June and is moving on with her life, headed to Chico to take classes at Butte College in the fall. She plans on studying child development to teach second grade.
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