Teri Benning grateful for help from friends
I was so lucky to have two very special individuals with me during my journey. They molded me in many ways into the person I am today.
The first person was Amy, who told me so many things that at the time didn’t make sense. She told me not everyone is “chosen” for this journey and that if I made the most of it I could and would change the lives of others. This cancer journey, changing the lives of others. What the heck was she talking about? I couldn’t change the fact that I had cancer. I certainly didn’t want to be taking this journey, and whose life was I going to change?
She told me how important it was to find out everything I could about my disease and consider that information added weapons in my cancer information arsenal. This was how she guided me – with wisdom and knowledge. As it became obvious the end was near for her I couldn’t help but voice how unfair it was. Her comment to me was, “Just remember, you my dear are here for a reason.” What did she mean by that?
The second person was my friend Steve. We had known each other for some time prior to either of us being diagnosed, but cancer brought our friendship to a totally different level. The summer I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed, didn’t shower for days on end and could barely function as a human being, Steve was going through intense treatments for stage four cancer.
I’d bitch about being puffed up like a tree toad from the steroids and he’d make a joke about what a good looking bald guy he was. I sent him an e-mail that amounted to “why me” and the answer I got back was “why not”. I’d feel sorry for myself and begin whining. He’d calmly state that he tried not to do that because it wasn’t going to change anything. I’d want to give up and he’d tell me that wasn’t an option. How could I be upset hearing those words from someone I knew was dying? The amount of time between e-mails, or any type of communication, got longer and longer. I knew what that meant and it broke my heart. That’s where my story takes a little bit of a turn – and part of what Amy told me came to light.
Shortly before Steve died a good friend of ours told me two things, in this order. He mentioned their company Christmas party had been two weeks prior and said that Steve was going downhill fast. The comment about the party seemed out of place, but as he continued talking it made sense. At the party Steve gave a talk that was partially about me. How I had helped him, been there for him, how important I was to him and how much he looked up to and respected me. How ironic it was that I felt exactly that way about him, but neither of us ever spoke those words.
I then realized I had changed the life of someone else as Amy had changed mine. I had made a difference. Because of both them, and because of cancer, I don’t take one day for granted. I appreciate the little things more than I ever did: a sunrise or sunset, beautiful flowers, the birds singing and the smell of new mown grass. The smile of a friend, and how wonderful a belly laugh really sounds.
In the words of Muhammad Ali, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
Tracy recounts cancer experience
I really hesitated becoming an Ambassador for GRACE. I have never liked being the center of attention and I really don’t like public speaking. I didn’t feel like I have been through nearly as much as many other people with cancer, but my story will hopefully encourage people to get in for their yearly mammograms and other cancer screening tests. We all know that if cancer is caught early the chance of survival is much better.
We all probably wonder how we would react with a diagnosis of cancer and, as I imagined, it was devastating. The initial not knowing what is in store for you is very frightening. I remember feeling like what I imagine a rabbit would feel like when caught in a trap with a big wolf standing over him licking his chops; heart racing and nowhere to run! As most people probably feel, I just didn’t have time to deal with this! I was way too busy and had too many things to look forward to.
My cancer experience began with a routine mammogram in December 2013 at The Richland Hospital. I had just had a physical and neither I nor the doctor had noted a lump. The radiologist noted a questionable spot and wanted me to go to Madison for a more detailed diagnostic mammogram. After that was completed in January 2014 the radiologist did an ultrasound and then wanted to set me up for a biopsy. They were seeing a tiny area that “was very possibly cancer.” Two days after the biopsy was completed I was informed that it was cancer and I needed to see a surgeon. Even though the radiologist knew where the lump was she was not able to palpate it.
After a long discussion with the surgeon I decided to have a lumpectomy. Just the tumor, surrounding tissue, and the sentinel lymph nodes would be removed and tested. The sentinel nodes are the lymph nodes that the area of the tumor flowed into.
During the biopsy metal clips had been inserted so the surgeon would be able to find the tumor. The tumor was about 1/2 inch in diameter and pretty close to the chest wall.
The day of surgery I had to have a guide wire inserted to meet the metal clips. It was done through mammography. The wire guided the surgeon to the tumor. I was then taken to another room where dye was injected in the area of the tumor. This would flow to the sentinel lymph nodes and color them so the surgeon could find them more easily. These nodes would develop cancer first if it had traveled. After all of this I then went to have a nerve block placed and finally to surgery. I did well and went home the same day as planned.
It was still a very stressful two days, as I had to wait to hear if the surrounding tissue was clear of cancer or not, and if it had gotten into the lymph nodes. Finally some good news, it was not in the lymph nodes or surrounding tissue. Tears of happiness came this time.
Chemotherapy was not recommended, since my cancer was not in the lymph nodes. I did need radiation however. I then had more choices to make. I was informed that I was a good candidate for brachytherapy, which delivers radiation from inside the breast. I chose to go with this. Brachytherapy allows physicians to precisely deliver treatment to the tumor cavity and surrounding tissue. Two advantages over whole breast radiation are: it decreases treatment time from six weeks to one week. It also spares healthy tissue from unnecessary radiation.
A catheter was inserted into the tumor cavity and remained there for one week. Twice a day for five days radiation was delivered through the catheter. The actual treatment was only about five minutes, but the prep time was about an hour. During treatment the catheter was connected to a computer controlled machine.
I did develop some fatigue from the radiation and needed a few weeks off from work, but I was blessed with the help and support of family, friends, and co-workers. Many thanks to all of them. Rides to radiation, meals, words of encouragement, etc., were all greatly appreciated!
I now still have to take a medication to decrease the estrogen in my body, as estrogen helped the tumor grow. Check ups are still needed every three months.
Though I didn’t need any financial support from GRACE, it was reassuring to know help was available if needed. I know that I did benefit through the gifts given towards research and equipment. The research helped me to make my decisions, and receive up-to-date care. The mammogram was able to find my cancer before it traveled to my lymph system. I want to strongly encourage women to go for their yearly mammograms.
I want to thank the many caring and generous people in this community for their gifts to GRACE. You are helping so many people in many different ways. All who have helped in any way should be proud of being part of such a great cause.
Family so proud of Lance Harris
We are so proud and honored for our son to be one of the 2015 Walk with GRACE ambassadors!
Our son Lance Harris is a six-year-old Neuroblastoma survivor. Lance's journey began on Dec. 28, 2008. He was just three and a half months old. It all started when he awoke for a 12 a.m. feeding. He was struggling to breathe while drinking his bottle. In between trying to eat he would gasp for air. We knew something wasn't right. So we packed up to head to the E.R. We were there for about three hours. His X-ray showed what appeared to be pneumonia, so they admitted him. Over the next few days his fluid intake was very low. By the third day they wanted to put an I.V. in his neck or head. We didn't want to see Lance that way, so we asked for him to be transferred to U.W. Children's Hospital in Madison and they accepted the request.
So we had to wait for the Baraboo ambulance to transport Lance to the U.W. On the way there the E.M.T. got Lance to drink a bottle. Upon being admitted they were able to place an I.V. without any problems. We were there another two days with no improvement. It was a Friday, and they felt he would get better at home and we were told to just keep giving antibiotics. We also had to check up with our regular doctor on Monday.
So we went home for the weekend. Everything stayed the same until Monday. On Monday morning everything changed. Upon Lance waking up he didn't seem to be acting like himself. His cry was weak. When we picked him up out of bed it was almost like picking up a lifeless body, although he was still conscious and breathing. His head and limbs just hung there. He had no muscle tone whatsoever. His skin felt leathery and clammy.
We called his doctor, who had him come in immediately. He was then re-admitted to the local hospital and we stayed here for about 12 hours. They became scared for his life and immediately decided to Medflight him back to U.W. He had stayed there another two days with no improvement. His heart had even stopped once due to a breathing treatment being administered. They than decided to do an M.R.I. to make sure they weren't missing anything and they had to sedate and intubate him for the M.R.I. The M.R.I. was supposed to last two hours, but he was gone longer than we had expected.
The hospital was having a dinner catered to the first floor. So we decided since Lance wasn't back we were going to go eat dinner. We just sat down to eat and ate about two bites of our meal. But then the doctor came in a rush to our table asking for Lance's parents. He looked at me as though he looked right through me, making me realize his panic. I knew it wasn't going to be good news. He asked us to come meet with him in a more secluded place to talk.
We met in the theater, as it was the nearest empty room. The first words he said were, "I'm kicking myself in the butt for overlooking this. "Your son has a pretty large tumor, which we believe to be cancerous." Our hearts sank. I sat there in shock as Lance's dad ran to the garbage can sick to his stomach. No more time was wasted. They immediately were taking him to radiation in hopes of keeping the tumor from growing any further.
The next morning they took Lance to surgery to remove what they could of the tumor. The tumor was the size of an adult fist squishing his left lung. It was also wrapping around his spinal cord like a closed fist, paralyzing our four-month-old baby boy. After the surgery the doctors believed Lance's diagnosis to be Neuroblastoma. They had to biopsy the tumor and send it out for testing.
Lance was then started on a study involving four rounds of chemo, followed by an assessment. After the biopsy results and his mibg scan results returned they then determined he would need eight rounds of chemo. Lance was diagnosed with stage four intermediate Neuroblastoma.
Lance spent his first few years in and out of U.W. Due to weak lungs and weak stomach muscles, he couldn't cough efficiently.
Lance gets frequent respiratory infections and has had many other issues due to the tumor as well. He is currently on his third wheelchair, but he also gets around by army crawling. He still attends very regular doctor visits with a doctor in many different departments.
For the most part Lance is your typical six-year- old. He is a pleasure to be around.
Lance is our HERO!
Walk With GRACE set for August 14
The 2015 Walk with GRACE has been set for Friday, August 14, at Krouskop Park in Richland Center.
Food stands will be open at 5 p.m., the opening ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. and the Luminary Ceremony will begin at 9 p.m.
Team packets, raffle tickets and luminary bags must be turned in on or before August 12 in order for them to count towards your team. Luminaries will be available until 8:30 p.m. on Friday, August 14, but need to be turned in by Wednesday, August 12, to go towards team goals.
Additional raffle tickets are available at the GRACE office, Ed’s Family Foods, and Ameriprise Financial.
Additional luminaries are available at the GRACE office, Richland County Bank, and Ed’s Family Foods.
Back again this year is the Team Site Decoration Competition. The Team Sites will be judged, with the winner being awarded the traveling trophy.
Walk with GRACE on August 14 will feature Kids’ Corner activities, lots of fun and fundraising, and bidding on your favorite items at the silent auction.
The Survivors’ Reception-Captain’s Night will be held on Wednesday, August 12, at The Phoenix Center in Richland Center, with the program beginning at 6 p.m. Captains can start dropping off packets at 5 p.m.